Vermont town bans public nudity after brash displays

BRATTLEBORO, Vermont Wed Jul 18, 2007 11:37am EDT

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BRATTLEBORO, Vermont (Reuters) - A Vermont town that is gaining national attention for brash displays of nudity -- from teens in the buff to naked elderly people -- awoke on Wednesday to an emergency ban on nakedness in most public places.

Officials in Brattleboro voted 3 to 2 on Tuesday night for a temporary 30-day ordinance prohibiting people from going about in the nude.

Public nudity made headlines last summer when the weather grew hot and a couple of dozen teens took to holding hula hoop contests, riding bikes and parading past stores wearing only their birthday suits. The disrobing has resumed this summer.

But many locals say it has gone too far. Some cite a case in which a senior citizen from Arizona strolled through the center of town wearing only a waist pack and sandals.

"We've received quite a number of complaints on this," Assistant Town Manager Barbara Sondag said. "This was brought up last summer ... and kind of died down. Then a couple of incidents again this summer have got the issue to resurface."

Vermont has a live-and-let-live tradition, allowing skinny-dipping and nude sunbathing. Brattleboro, the first permanent English settlement in the state in 1724, is home to a community of writers, artists and musicians as well as transplanted entrepreneurs from Boston and New York.

Although skinny-dipping and nude sunbathing will stay legal in the state, doing the "full monty" in the middle of this town has now become taboo. A violation can cost $100.

The topic is hotly debated at Harold & Son's Barbershop, where Heather Birmingham, 30, cuts and colors hair.

"(Nudity) does rub some people the wrong way," she said.

"Some people say 'to each his own'. But some of the older people say 'be respectful'."

She disagrees with the ban. "This whole town is about peace and about being your own person. So if it is, then why isn't nudity accepted?"

Caleb Morris, 15, said he wasn't surprised by the town's tough response because outsiders could find the nudity offensive, but he added that Vermont has always been unique.

"It's a lot more free-spirited than some other states. We don't have a lot of laws banning things here."

The ban covers nudity in the main part of town and near schools and churches and is part of a broader anti-nudity proposal that is likely to be decided next month. Breast feeding in public will still be allowed.

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