Written by Erika Maldonado
A luminous Florida sun reflects off of the lake at the Caliente Resort on a Saturday morning in April. Rich Pasco stands next to his groomsmen, clad in matching bow ties as his wife to be, Julianne, walks barefoot down the aisle. Draped in a veil crowned with a floral wreath, Julianne is the only person in his world.
Her three bridesmaids stand with plastered smiles as they hold their pink bouquets, floral wreaths atop their brows. The duo’s closest friends come together in Land O’ Lakes, Florida for the clothing optional ceremony. The couple met three years earlier at a nude resort in Los Gatos.
“I had been swimming in the pool and there was one open lounge chair right next to Julie,” says Rich. “We got to talking and she brought up her disabled niece. There was such compassion and love in her heart and this sparkle in her eye that she got from talking about her. I knew I needed someone like that in my life.”
The wedding invitations explained that it was fitting to pledge the couple’s union before the community that supported the growth of their love.
“When my mom got the invitation, she wrote me a five-word e-mail saying ‘I was sick. Sick. Sick,’” says Julie.
Nudity, to the Pascos, is not a form of sexual expression that should be expressed in public areas or nudist resorts. They believe the human body is God’s divine creation and should be celebrated with pride.
“I never liked to label myself as a nudist,” explains Rich. “I just enjoyed being naked on a beach now and again, but since my wife and I spend so much time on nudist resorts, I guess we are nudists.”
Rich is the founder and coordinator of the Bay Area Naturists. For twenty-five years, Pasco and his fellow naturists from the San Francisco and Monterey Bay have been advocating for the acceptance of suitable areas for nude recreation. The society believes people should live in harmony with each other, and acknowledge the responsibility to preserve the environment. BAN believes in the wholesomeness of the human body, and regard it as neither an object of shame nor a subject for degrading exploitation.
“About 35 of my friends and I showed up at Bonny Doon Beach in Santa Cruz for a clean up day as our first event,” recounts Rich. “We were just as disgusted as anyone else was at all of the trash on the beach and hauled away more than a half a ton of it. We were known as the South Bay Naturists back then, but are now the Bay Area Naturists.”
Membership fluctuates – at its peak the group had 300 members. Another popular meet up is Baker Beach, where the naturists’ host the annual Nude Beach Olympics. There is no federal law that bans public nudity, but different cities and counties have different policies.
California Penal Code Sec. 314 on nudity states “every person who willfully and lewdly either exposes his person, or the private parts thereof, in any public place, or in any place where there are present other persons to be offended or annoyed is guilty of a misdemeanor.”
In San Francisco, public nudity is only illegal if followed by lewd thoughts or acts. Arrests can only be made if a citizen signs a complaint card. The only exception to the legality of public nudity is in San Francisco’s recreation and park departments. Anyone naked at Golden Gate Park, would receive a citation or could be arrested. The grey area is nude beaches where a citation or arrest can only be issued after several attempts are made for individual compliance.
“Bathing suits are offensive,” says Rich. “To me it covers parts of your body that society defines as ugly and needs to be hidden. I don’t want to have to look at bathing suits. But, I keep my offense to myself. I don’t have to go to legislators to complain about it.”
Bay Area beaches are not the only places people walk around au naturel. Former mayoral candidate George Davis and a core group of other nudists helped make Jane Warner Plaza in the Castro a common meeting place for nudists. Although he is straight, Davis frequents this location because it is an established area for freedom of expression.
“I got less than one percent of votes running against Gavin Newsom in 2007,” says Davis, “But I am the most remembered candidate. I’m known as the naked guy that ran for mayor.”
As a San Francisco resident, Davis says he walks around the entire city in the buff. Davis decided to run for mayor after he was arrested 15 times and received 23 citations for pubic nudity. He was never detained for more than seven hours and has never had any trials or convictions, but made it a point to run in with law enforcement to ensure the legality of public nudity.
“The last time I talked to a police officer in the Castro, he asked me if anyone was bothering me,” explains Davis. “I don’t get hassled anymore.”
Responses to Davis’s nudity are usually positive. Tourists visiting the city often ask to take photos with him. Despite this, Davis avoids the Tenderloin because people in the streets tend to freak out when they see him. Usually, he walks around town with another nudist because it makes him look less conspicuous. He just walks on if people give him a hard time because arguments are a losing battle.
“People who are uncomfortable with public nudity usually have body image problems, are angry, authoritarian type people or religious nut cases,” says Davis, “I think the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are wilder than me. But hey, what do I know.”
Like Rich and Julie, Davis prefers “clothing optional” rather than the nudist title. He is usually publicly naked depending on his location and if the weather is accommodating.
Up until last November, nudists were allowed to dine in restaurants. However, a recent ordinance proposed by supervisor Scott Wiener now prohibits it. The ordinance also requires that nudists sitting on public benches or public seating have a barrier such as a towel to ensure public safety. Many view the law as redundant because having a barrier between a naked body and a public seat is nudist etiquette.
“It’s just not sanitary,” said Wiener in an interview. “I think if you ask most people would you want to be eating at a restaurant and have a bunch of naked people sitting at the next table, most people would probably not like that. And if you ask someone if you’d want to sit down at a public bench that a naked person just sat on without covering, most people would probably prefer to avoid that as well.”
Rich believes restaurants should individually establish rules and guidelines for proper customer attire.
“The part about the restaurants really gets to me,” says Rich. “I understand that it’ll prevent the sweaty guy off the street from coming and sitting at a restaurant, but there are restaurants all over that allow nudity. There’s an upscale restaurant in the Los Gatos nudist resort. Even in New York, groups can reserve a private room and can be as naked as they want.”
When the ordinance was introduced, more than 50 nude protesters, including Davis, swarmed Jane Warner Plaza for a nude-in. The majority were men, only one woman protested. Men are more likely to be naked in public in the Castro than women.
“My female friend who comes to the Castro nude sometimes says women have more issues with body image than men, which is why it isn’t as common,” explains Davis. “Personally, I think women have more to deal with when it comes to sexual objectification than men have to worry about.”
Bay To Breakers is one of the city’s oldest and largest annual foot races that welcomes nudist runners. Julie and Rich participate every year and claim to see an even ratio of men and women. Though the race is a family event, Rich said the 2010 race reported zero complaints about public nudity.
“People on the side lines always cheer us on. We hardly get people telling us how sinful we are and that we’re going to hell,” says Rich. “I remember one year I was running by a kid that was with his dad. Instead of pointing out the fact that I was naked, he asked his dad why I didn’t have any shoes on.”
Rich and Julie live in San Jose, where public nudity is illegal. Rich says he has seen people get arrested and regards San Francisco as a special place.
“I love the people of SF with their live and let live mentality,” says Rich. “It makes it a wonderful city.”
Along with coordinating BAN, Rich works as a freelance computer consultant. Julie spent several years working in funeral services and seeks out working with family-oriented, ecologically friendly cemeteries. They live bi-coastal and own a home in a nudist gated community in Florida where they can live naked within the community.
Since their 2009 wedding, Rich has managed to win over his mother-in-law. The couple supports and help Julie’s mother and stepfather, as they grow older. Julie and Rich have five children who all are accepting of their clothing optional lifestyle.
“Nudists in general don’t want to offend anyone. It’s not our intention to upset people. Everyone has a right to make their own choices. People shouldn’t tell others how to live,” says Rich.