Public indecency is an offense punishable by fines and even jail time, but some LGBT advocacy groups say that gay men are targeted more because of their skimpy outfits at Pride events than straight people wearing just as little, if not less at the beach.
The San Diego Reader offers one case in point with their story about Will Walters, a young man who dressed in a micro-leather kilt to the 2011 Gay Pride Festival. The garment exposed Walters’ thighs, hips and part of his rear.
Walters was approached by police at the event and asked to either cover up or get taken into custody. Walters refused to comply and therefore spent the night in jail.
LGBT advocacy groups question whether there is a double standard among police when it comes to gay men dressed in revealing clothing at public events as opposed to women in scanty bikinis or thongs in the same situation.
On March 11, a federal appellate court will determine if Walters was wrongly arrested for his refusal to cover the kilt resulting in his incarceration.
According to The Reader , in 2012 Walters sued the City of San Diego and the lieutenant in charge, subsequently two years later a district judge would hear the case and dismiss it saying there was not evidence of discrimination.
LGBT groups became concerned that nudity laws are discriminatory and that police treat offenders differently based on the theme of the event.
Lt. David Nieslit is San Diego Police Department’s officer in charge of special events. He says he met with Pride organizers before the 2011 event to make sure they understood he was going to take a more aggressive approach to ‘public nudity’ than did his predecessor.
Nieslit, after the Walter’s lawsuit was filed, gave his reasons for the confrontation in his testimony.
“The fact that I could see the side of his buttocks and more of his buttocks is what caused me to contact him," Nieslit said.
Nieslit continued to say that he approached many people that day and they complied with his requests my using various clothing tied around their waists to hide their exposed skin.
Walter’s attorney Chris Morris says that other city events such as Comic –Con, Mardi Gras and Over the Line are filled with attendees who wear revealing clothing, but they are not approached.
"The city was asked to turn over copies of all public nudity citations and arrest reports issued by the San Diego Police Department over the last five years," Morris wrote in the appeal. "The city produced 104 redacted citations and reports. In not one of those reports was a person arrested or cited for wearing a thong or a g-string type bathing suit bottom."
Gay rights groups such as Lambda Legal and HRC sent a letter to the appellate court in support of the case being re-heard.
They fear that if the ruling stands it might bolster discriminatory practices and possibly create more in the future, threatening the Fourteenth Amendment Rights of historically marginalized groups.
"There can be little argument that the implementation of one standard for ‘public nudity’ at gay events and yet another standard for ‘public nudity’ at straight events, standards that in this case were adopted by the same commanding officer, violates the Equal Protection Clause,” the letter stated. “If allowed to stand, this discriminatory enforcement policy sends the clear signal to the gay community that their legs, hips, and thighs are somehow offensive and should be covered, but the legs, hips and thighs of straight people are not."
Walter’s attorney is appreciative of the Ninth Circuit’s approval of hearing the case.
“We look forward to presenting the overwhelming evidence of discriminatory conduct by the San Diego Police Department to a panel of judges and are hopeful that the outcome of the hearing will be positive; not just for this case but for the entire LGBT community.”
The case will be heard inside Courtroom 2, at the U.S. Court of Appeals in Pasadena; 125 South Grand Avenue, Pasadena, 91105.