Citizens of Spokane, Washington, are gathering signatures for a proposed anti-nudity initiative. The initiative would create a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison, for exposure of “at least half of a female breast, any part of of a female areola or nipple, or any part of male or female genitals or anus at any place the public has a right to be or see.” The Spokane City Council rejected similar rules in October, leading supporters to seek voter approval through the initiative process.
The nudity ban movement reportedly arose as a result of “Topless Tuesday,” a promotion for local espresso chain “Devil’s Brew,” now known as “XXXtreme Espresso.” Workers at the event wore “G-strings and pasties” to serve coffee drinks to the public. The event caused concerned citizens to worry about Spokane’s family values. City Councilman Mike Fagan, sponsor of the failed October proposal, reportedly said, “If we’re going to promote Spokane based on family values, we’re going to let this continue?”
The initiative implicates more than the “family values” concern about what children might see in a public place, however. The proposed ban is overinclusive, if aimed at the larger issues of nudity or exploitation in marketing (see, for example, allegations of prostitution at a similar Washington State “bikini espresso stand”). The ban also criminalizes women who staff espresso stands. Stand owners, who presumably crafted these dress policies in a bid for increased profits, likely wouldn’t face misdemeanor charges under this proposal.
And the idea of people voting on the expressive rights of others is troubling. In Spokane, however, both sides of the issue agree that a public vote is best. As reported, ban opponents on the City Council are in favor of letting the public decide. And so is Sarah Birnel, owner of Devil’s Brew/XXXtreme Espresso, who told the council that “voters should set nudity standards.” Referring to the vote, she is quoted as saying: “As an American, this is what we should stand for.”