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Seeing past the nudity at San Francisco City Hall


San Francisco has long been known as a city where you can let it all hang out. Nudists from all over the world flock here to participate in events like the Folsom Street Fair, but the city seems to have had enough of the buff. Last week, city supervisors voted to ban public nudity as of February 1. 

An only-in-San Francisco sort of civics lesson

With only 15-minutes left before the San Francisco City Supervisor meeting begins, the chamber is packed. For the moment, everyone is fully clothed. But that could change at anytime. Opponents of Supervisor Scott Wiener’s proposed nudity ban plan to strip down if the final vote does not go their way. They are easy to spot in the crowd: loose clothing, large robes hiding protest signs; no bags that could be left behind when they are inevitably kicked out of the room. 

“In San Francisco there are no surprises. Anything is possible, you know,” says John DiDonna. He has attended these weekly meetings for over 14 years — nudes or no nudes.

With his white cap, glasses, and plaid shirt, DiDonna looks like “Junior” Soprano, but smiling and with a black cane by his side. 

He says he comes to the meetings because it’s free and he feels like “it's [his] civic duty to stay aware and just be involved in what's happening in the city politically.” 

We only have a few more minutes before the meeting begins. I take a seat next to DiDonna just as the meeting begins. Officers are posted in every corner of the room, with stacks of blankets ready to censor even the slightest hint of genitalia… They don’t have to wait long. 

The Supervisors rule 7-4 against public nudity. If this were shirts versus skins, the skins are unhappy. 

What ensues is an uproar, with naked people everywhere and over 60 percent of the clothed crowd disrobed. Security rushes to cover them as quickly as possible.

“I knew it was going to pass,” DiDonna adds. “But, there’s a nice lookin’ body, anyway. I wonder if you get to keep the blanket!”

Officers remove the protestors stunningly fast.  The flashing mob is gone in just a few minutes.

“Now the meeting gets dull and boring, that’s the end of the excitement,” says DiDonna. “When they’re all gone, then we’re going to fall asleep.”

Here’s the thing, though. In San Francisco, the boring part of the meeting isn’t always that boring. Like all city meetings, this one has a public comment period. 

Before I go, DiDonna points out a few of the regular speakers: “There's our bible thumper. You're not familiar with these characters – I'm one of 'em ​– but that guy standing up, he carries a bible and when he gets up he gives a sermon for two minutes.”

Then there’s the singing guy. 

“He sings to the board," DiDonna says. "That's his gimmick. He sings. And they allow that. They're here every week.”

Just like John DiDonna. For him, this is just another day participating in San Francisco’s democratic process. And eventually, like he does every week, he will get up and make some comments of his own. 

You can watch San Francisco City Supervisor meetings online at SFGovTV.