Cover up: Anti-nudity rule passes

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Wednesday, July 18
BRATTLEBORO -- Walking down Main Street naked will no longer be tolerated after the Selectboard passed a temporary anti-nudity ordinance by a vote of 3-2.

In fact, it will get you a $100 ticket.

Brattleboro has become known around the world for the handful of nudists who have strummed guitars in the Harmony Parking Lot and on Main Street, for a naked bicyclist and for a senior citizen from Arizona, who visited Vermont just to walk naked during Gallery Walk.

And just last week, a 50-year-old man from Whately, Mass., was threatened with a ticket for riding nude on his skateboard on a public sidewalk. Wearing no clothes was not illegal, it was riding his skateboard downtown that got him in trouble.

The emergency ordinance -- and its proposed permanent version -- wouldn't ban public nudity completely from Brattleboro, only along the Route 5 and Route 9 corridors. Outside of the boundaries defined in the ordinance, walking on a public street naked would still be legal as long as it's not within 250 feet of any school, church or place of worship. Living Memorial Park and the village of West Brattleboro were also mentioned as no-nudity zones.

On Tuesday night, the board passed an emergency ordinance and agreed to hold a public hearing on Aug. 7 on whether the ordinance should be made permanent.

"People have a reasonable expectation that when they are going out, they're not going to run into any nude people," said Selectboard member Dick DeGray, who crafted the ordinance with acting Town Manager Barbara Sondag and Bob Fisher, attorney for the town.

DeGray said all of the media attention was making Brattleboro a laughingstock, which would all go away once the ordinance was passed.

One member of the audience was concerned that business owners' concerns were taking precedent over someone's right to express themselves by taking their clothes off.

"This is not a business issue," said Selectboard member Stephen Steidle. "It's an issue of principle and expectations."

"I have not had one person tell me if we enact this ordinance, they're not going to come to our town," added DeGray.

"It's absolutely about business," said Selectboard member Rich Garant, who referred to the clause in the ordinance which calls nudity "a nuisance to commerce."

The Selectboard should respect the rights of people before business, said Nancy Crompton, whose son was arrested for lewd and lascivious behavior for what she called dancing naked in a puddle. He was given a one-year deferred sentence.

"He is a kind-hearted young man," she said. "He just wanted to express himself as a human being."

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Crompton added she was opposed to the ordinance.

Of the half-dozen business owners he talked to, said Garant, none of them were in favor of the anti-nudity ordinance. But Garant was challenged by Peter Johnson, who said of the 49 business owners he talked to, "every single one was in favor" of the ordinance.

"This is not about the guy who owns the business," insisted Bob Woodworth, the owner of Burrows Specialized Sports. "It's about the customer. In this case, the rights of the individual are subservient to the rights of the group."

"I understand a lot of people find it uncomfortable to be faced with someone nude," said Selectboard member Dora Bouboulis, but that's based on their cultural and religious values.

One of the best things about living in the United States, she said, is "we're careful not to legislate morality." Bouboulis and Garant voted against the emergency ordinance.

Steidle, DeGray and Selectboard Chairwoman Audrey Garfield voted to approve it.

"The people not in support of this are really in the minority," said DeGray, who said he was willing to pay the political price "right here, right now" for voting for the ordinance.

In the proposed ordinance, nudity is defined as the showing of genitalia, buttocks or female breasts. A provision to allow breast-feeding in public is the exception to the ordinance. Nudity is prohibited in "any location likely to be observed by members of the public and where the public is present or likely to be present, including streets, sidewalks, parks, parking lots and business and commercial establishments."

"I'm not looking for a townwide ban in every nook and cranny," said DeGray. "We though we would start in a smaller region. This is the primary area of concern."

If the ordinance makes it into permanent status, he said, the area of coverage could be expanded if residents ask for it.

"I have no problem covering the whole town," said DeGray.

Another audience member asked if people had "a Constitutional right not to be offended?"

"There are a lot of potentially offensive things out there," said Lise LePage.

"Public nudity is not a Constitutional right," said Fisher. "Let's be clear on that."

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273


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