Butts, seriously

The roots behind a rebuff of nudists who refuse to surrender the beach Twelve years ago, Marianne Cervasio's flirtations with public nudity were limited to topless sunbathing in the backyard of her Brooklyn, New York home. When she and her husband, Frank, first visited a nude beach in Florida, "I thought, 'I'm not going to take off my clothes.' Then we got there. I took my clothes off faster than Frank." Now she considers nakedness an intrinsic part of her life. "Put on a bathing suit, I couldn't do it. We feel the human body is beautiful." As members of Central Florida Naturists, the Cervasios have had their lifestyle exposed to scrutiny by politicians, police and the Religious Right. In July 1996, Marianne Cervasio went to jail for the first time in her life after protesting efforts to chase them off a secluded stretch of federal beach. "I cried," she says of being handcuffed by Brevard County sheriff's deputies, the latest force brought to bear against those unwilling to end the tradition of stripping down on Playalinda Beach at the Canaveral National Seashore. On a recent afternoon, five pelicans soared in perfect formation over the dunes buffering this 24-mile stretch of white sand from which the tall launch facilities at the Kennedy Space Center are clearly visible. But the tranquil setting belies the bitter, protracted battle that pits local, state and federal officials against a small but game group of individuals unwilling to don a bathing suit. "They're after stomping out nude recreation -- period," says Frank Cervasio, who directs Central Florida Naturists from his Orlando home. "We intend to hold onto that beach." Dissatisfied with the pace of the Naturists' tactics, more radical nudists are pushing harder. "They've got us by the balls in the courts," said activist Bryan Morris. In coming months, Morris' group, Americans Fighting Anti-Nudity (intentionally designed to mimic the acronym of the American Family Association) plans to protest naked in front of the offices of federal seashore Superintendent Wendell Simpson and State Rep. Randy Ball (R-Titusville), the duo that nudists have targeted as their principal foes. Last month, Marianne Cervasio agreed to help coordinate the work of the first North American office of the Naturist Human Rights Watch, an international group calling for tourist boycotts of Brevard County and other "communities that codify hate into laws." Her husband says, "If the park service does not deal with this, we'll call for another meeting in Washington. The nudists will be out in their formals." While, according to a 1995 Brevard County law, it is illegal to be naked anywhere on the beach, the battle lines have been drawn near two walkways, known as Crossover 13A and 13B, that serve the parking lot at the north end of the beach. The nudists, along with such unlikely supporters as conservative Rep. Tom Feeney, (R-Orlando), believe a clothing-optional area should be set aside. However, signs stating "Beyond this point you may encounter nude sunbathers" were taken down late last year, after a county judge said the signs scuttled successful prosecution of nudists under the county law. And Simpson himself insists that the federal government "will not designate an area at this time." Minus the safe haven, on March 8 new Brevard County Sheriff Phil Williams unveiled Operation Playalinda, the department's latest anti-nudist offensive. Seven deputies using a helicopter and five all-terrain vehicles caught 37 bare beachgoers in a dragnet covering nine miles of beach; the scofflaws, ranging in age from 24 to 70, hailed from Florida and five other states. Most were simply issued tickets and told to get dressed. However, three, including a University of Central Florida instructor, were arrested -- the teacher accused of spitting on deputies, the two others for having the audacity to return to sun in the buff after having been ticketed. On April 8, uniformed deputies cited three more nudists; on May 7, they ticketed another five. Over Memorial Day weekend, nine beachgoers were cited, including a woman who was simply topless and three people in swimwear considered too risque. In coming months, deputies will continue to checks the section north of Crossover 13, which has been regarded by beachgoers as clothing-optional since at least World War II. "If the problem persists, if they come out in numbers, we'll go out there again," says Brevard Sheriff's Commander Jimmy Jackson. Meanwhile, the push for laws outlawing beach nudity continues -- and all despite a succession of public-opinion polls siding with the nudists. Leading the charge is Rep. Ball. In March, he made his proposed beach law the first order of business of the House Committee on Crime and Punishment, which he chairs. It would have banned nudity at all 10 national preserves in the state and empowered federal rangers -- currently barred from enforcing local laws -- to act on the state's behalf. His committee killed it. Ball's background is equal parts Baptist, Marine Corps, and law and order. For 12 years ending in 1992, his father was Titusville police chief. Before being elected as a state representative in 1994, Ball investigated sex crimes as a Brevard County Sheriff's detective. He holds a master's degree in religion from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, founded by televangelist Jerry Falwell. His father-in-law is pastor of Temple Baptist in Titusville. In 1994, Ball says, he and his family were relaxing at Playalinda when a nude person stopped and stood in front of them. The incident incited his personal crusade. At first blush, Ball makes a coherent argument. He says that nudists no longer recognize the Crossover 13 buffer. "These people are not just going south, they're in your face," he says. "They're an aggressive, belligerent bunch." But Ball is wrong when he says the federal seashore is the domain of Brevard County. Asked why he continues his fight despite the defeats in Tallahassee and the opinion polls, he responds, "I don't particularly care what the majority of people who live elsewhere think we should do with our beach." Also undercutting his argument are his periodic asides objecting to the appearance on the beach of "men, mainly in pairs." Could Ball's anti-nudist fervor be at least partially traced to homophobia? Ball sought support for his bill from the American Family Association and Christian Coalition. Yet it was defeated by legislators who questioned the need for a statewide law to solve a local problem on federal lands. "Does it hurt anything? No," said Rep. Sally Heyman (D-North Miami Beach), who led opposition. "You're dealing with people that want to legislate morality." The solution at Playalinda? "If there's 24 miles, give them one little section." Ball may be stalled, but other initiatives could erode the nudists' position. On the same day that Brevard deputies struck the second time at Playalinda, the Titusville City Council approved its third resolution backing the crackdown -- this one overruling a 1995 resolution that recognized the issue was none of its business. And anti-nudity advocates appear to be working for a regional consensus. They have urged Volusia County -- thus far futilely -- to outlaw bare buns on Apollo Beach, just north of Playalinda, where some nudists retreat to avoid getting busted in Brevard County. Over the past decade, state laws used to charge nudists have been found unconstitutional `see sidebar`. And those challenges continue. On May 20, an appeals court bounced back to Brevard County a lawsuit stemming from five beach arrests in 1996. And on May 29, the first to challenge the Operation Playalinda dragnet -- Jim and Dolores Estes, an elderly Titusville couple -- are expected to be in court. Until recently, nudists had relied on legal strategies and the actions of a small leadership group. But this has limited their success. While organized opponents can tap an army of supporters willing to write letters or step to the microphone at meetings, few of the 400 members of Central Florida Naturists are willing to acknowledge their nudism publicly, much less risk arrest. Even in the safety of the Cervasio's enclosed back yard, wearing nothing but hats and shades, members of the group declined to identify themselves. "If they'd just leave me alone with it, I wouldn't care if they knew," said a maintenance worker for the Brevard County school district. "If I get arrested for nudity, I would lose my job. It's not that I don't want to fight the war. I can't afford it." Those embracing nudism come from all walks of life: lawyers, doctors, teachers, small business owners. A local businessman declined to provide his name, explaining that he was involved in a civil lawsuit and "I know for a fact `that his nudism` will have some color on the decision." A woman who said she worked for local politicians explained, "I don't think I could do anything to make them look bad." Although frustrated by members' fear of exposure, Cervasio is sympathetic: "Their positions and careers could be ruined. People cannot come forward and say, 'I'm a nudist.'" Visible or not they clearly are losing ground. More than half of Florida's counties have -- or are considering -- laws outlawing beach nudity. Where nudists in Florida could choose from among 23 beaches in the 1980s, nudists today count only three clothing-optional beaches, including Playalinda and Apollo. Only Haulover Beach in Miami has remained entirely amenable to nude sun-bathers. One good reason: in 1996, more than $500,000 in parking fees were collected from people who used the lot serving the beach. This isn't likely to happen at Playalinda while Wendell Simpson is in charge. Since assuming his post at Canaveral National Seashore in 1990, Superintendent Simpson has managed "his own private vendetta," says Central Florida Naturists' Vice President Marvin Frandsen. In 1993, Simpson's rangers cited more than 100 nudists under a state disorderly conduct law; last November, a federal judge overturned all the charges, ruling they were guilty of "public nudity -- no more, no less." No federal law or park regulation prohibits folks from disrobing. But in 1996, a local judge who dismissed charges under the Brevard County law said he might have acted otherwise if there had been no signs warning that nudists were nearby; Simpson's office promptly removed the signs. Simpson obviously is aligned with Ball and Brevard County officials against the nudists. During a phone interview, he bristles and threatens to hang up when the questions turn to his alliances, particularly those of a religious nature; recovering his composure, he dismisses those who say he is driving the anti-nudist movement. "I wish I did have that kind of authority," he says. Convinced Simpson is understating his influence, on July Fourth, Morris and the Americans Fighting Anti-Nudity plan a protest outside of the park service office in downtown Titusville. Morris plans to be naked, except for placards resembling the downed beach signs. Last year, members of his group were arrested after a protest at Playalinda. He is prepared to be arrested again. "We really want to put Wendell in the spotlight," Morris says. "The problem at Playalinda is Wendell Simpson." But the problems faced by nudists go beyond the efforts of a federal bureaucrat. In a clothed world, the natural look is -- at least for the moment -- politically incorrect. As a boy learning to swim in a private pond, Sheriff's Commander Jimmy Jackson never saw fit to drop his drawers. "I've never been skinny dipping in my life," he says. But he insists there is nothing personal in the county's stand. "This is not my morality," he says. "I have to respond to the law." Right now, at least, that law is winning. Sidebar: Bare facts Sidebar: Bare facts 1595 Spanish priest Francisco Pareja complains about women from the Timucuan tribe wearing only skimpy moss garments along what is now the Canaveral National Seashore. 1917 State of Florida passes law 800.03 which prohibits indecent exposure of sexual organs. However, the law is not applied at nude beaches for many years. 1975 Canaveral National Seashore designated. 1976 Nudists frequent Playalinda without drawing law enforcement's ire. 1977 The Florida Supreme Court rules against a naked Jacksonville dancer, but states its ruling "is not meant to suggest that nudity or exposure in all circumstances" would violate Florida law. 1981 Florida District Court of Appeal establishes that state ban applies only when nudism is accompanied by "lewd or lascivious" exhibitions. 1984 District Court of Appeal ruled Harry John Goodmakers was wrongly convicted of indecent exposure on a Collier County beach, because he was "asleep or unconscious, motionless on his back, and not in a state of sexual arousal." 1985 Brevard County Sheriff Jake Miller cites nudists at Playalinda under state law 800.03. One of those cited, Sam Anderson, is found innocent in a jury trial. July 1993 Under new concurrent jurisdiction provisions sought by park Superintendent Wendell Simpson, federal rangers citing state law begin ticketing nudists at Playalinda. Eventually, 104 citations were issued. November 1993 In United States of America vs. A Naked Person, a federal judge rules nude sunbathers arrested at Playalinda under state law are guilty of "public nudity -- no more, no less," and overturns charges. May 1995 Brevard County Commissioners pass a county ordinance prohibiting public nudity "for the purpose of protecting societal order and morality and suppressing the adverse secondary effects that public nudity generates." June 1995 Federal authorities erect signs near north end of beach advising beachgoers that they might encounter nude sunbathers in the area. September 1995 Naturists Unyielding Demand Equality (NUDE) holds a protest of the county law. Those refusing to get dressed are arrested by sheriff's deputies. July 1996 Naturists stage a play in the nude and are arrested by sheriff's deputies. November 1996 Brevard County judge dismisses charges against nudists arrested under new county ordinance, but states that he might have done otherwise if signs warning beachcombers about the presence of nude sunbathers had been removed. The signs are promptly removed. March 1997 As chairman of the Florida House of Representatives' Committee on Crime and Punishment, Rep. Randy Ball (R-Titusville) hears testimony on his third bill proposing to outlaw nudity at Playalinda. A week later, his committee defeats the proposal. March 1997 In Operation Playalinda, deputies ticket about 40 nudists, arresting three, in the first action by Brevard County Sheriff Phil Williams. April 1997 Florida Naturists establish first North American office of the Naturist Human Rights Watch, an advocacy group encouraging tourist boycotts of 28 Florida counties with anti-nudity ordinances. Note: This history was derived from various historical documents and interviews.
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