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Toronto Gay Naked Group Wins
Court Battle:
Naked dances resume!

Even the police couldn't get TNT!MEN to cover up

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26 June 2002

NEWS ANALYSIS north of the border by JIM W.

In a legal decision handed down just before noon today, Wednesday 26 June 2002, Ontario Provincial Court Judge Robert Bigelow, in Toronto, ruled that mere nudity does not constitute disorderly conduct and does not violate local liquor licensing laws. The ruling clears the way for TNT!MEN to resume complete nudity at their dances, including their popular, once-a-month afternoon nude tea dance at The Barn. And although it does not directly bear on the issue of nudity in public -- such as TNT!MEN's extraordinarily successful nude contingent in the Toronto Gay Pride parade each year -- it does make it much more difficult for a group of out-of-control local police to make good on their threat to arrest nude marchers.

Although the court proceeding was at some level quite serious, it did have a humorous moment when the judge asked Barn owner Janko Naglic if he pleaded guilty or not guilty. A bit unsure of his English, and presumably thinking of the fact that he was not going to deny that patrons were nude, Janko at first replied "Guilty". But his legal counsel, the efficient Andrew Czernik, immediately caught his eye and shook his head. "Not Guilty," Janko then replied, and the courtroom observers breathed a deep sigh of relief.

Back-Room Power Grab?

The Barn had been cited by renegade police officers from Toronto's notorious 52 Division in what insiders describe as a "back-room power grab." The local liquor licensing board had long ago stopped caring about what bar patrons wore while they consumed their alcohol, and several decisions of the board had led to the conclusion that nude bar events were completely legal. Conservative forces, however, decided to try an end run around this logical and sane policy, and recruited local police officers in an attempt to usurp the licensing board's authority in these matters. If they got away with it, the police would for all practical intents and purposes have replaced the licensing board and been able to control nudity in bars -- and eventually, presumably, most other aspects of bar regulations and behavior.

That's how back-room politics work: You pretend that you're just enforcing the law, ma'am, and if the local courts and politicians believe you, then... bingo! Your bureaucracy has just successfully extended its tentacles into an additional realm, and you have acquired more power. Your backers reward you for your chutzpah, your enemies get a little more fearful and self-censoring, and your budget goes up. What more could a bureaucrat want?

What ordinary citizens want, of course, is the ability to conduct their social affairs without interference from bluenosed social censors. As long as the nudity does not in fact cause disorder -- no knife fights, undue noise, prostitution, or other illegal behavior -- then cops should keep their hands off.






News Analysis

Page 2

TNT!MEN wasted no time in publicizing today's ruling and announcing how it will influence their Gay Pride events coming up this very weekend. Although the legal case concerned an event at The Barn, the local Toolbox bar had also been warned by the renegade police about nudity at their Thursday "Nude Nights." As we went to press, it was unclear whether the Toolbox would resume that event before Pride -- namely tomorrow, Thursday 27 June. TNT!MEN's Nearly Nude Dance scheduled for Saturday the 29th suddenly became, once again, a Nude Dance. And the 52nd Division's threat to arrest nude marchers in Sunday's Gay Pride Parade -- if they "violate the law" -- instantly seemed a lot more hollow. If merely being nude (as opposed to being nude and sexual) was not disorderly, then what law would the marchers be deemed to be violating? Arresting peaceful marchers engaging in their Canadian right to free speech, in the context of a public demonstration of Gay Pride and self-acceptance, and in a Pride March whose very slogan this year is "Uncensored" -- now THAT would TRULY be disorderly conduct.

Tea Dances Versus Tea Rooms

The charges dismissed today against The Barn were originally laid over two years ago as a result of a TNT!MEN-sponsored nude dance. According to media reports, the renegade officers stormed onto the premises and headed straight for the bathrooms where, apparently, they had expected to find sexual activity taking place. Alas, what they had remembered about gay culture from their sociology classes was wrong; restrooms harboring sexual activities are called "tea rooms" (not tea DANCES), and they're not typically found in gay establishments, but in hetero locations like department stores and libraries. Astonishment that there were not any sexual activities taking place there didn't stop the police from citing The Barn for permitting disorderly conduct on their premises.

All that went down the drain Wednesday as a result of Judge Bigelow's decision. The Barn's legal counsel was able to cite a long string of court and liquor-license decisions which all underscored the legality of simple, nonsexual nudity. Eventually, it all boiled down to the definition of the word "disorderly." The Crown said that wearing clothes inherently made a bar more orderly;

the judge said that there was obviously nothing disorderly about being naked.

Of course, in reality, it was much more than that. As one insider explained, "The whole thing boils down to a popular cultural misconception: that nudity equals sex. It's very difficult for ordinary police officers, who are trying to do their best under very difficult circumstances, to make distinctions which the rest of their hetero world doesn't make. To most straight people most of the time, being naked is equivalent to flaunting your sexuality. Even some gay guys think so. But the whole point of the nudist movement -- gay and straight -- is body acceptance, not open sexuality. There's nothing wrong with sex, but that's not what TNT!MEN promotes at their events, and that's not what TNT!Men is trying to say by marching naked. If they were, they'd only allow slim, young-looking circuit-type 'boys' at their events or in their Pride March contingent -- but in fact, all men are welcome. Simple nonsexual nudity underscores the beauty of the human body, the emotional attractiveness of having the courage to be nude when others aren't, and the mental-health benefits of accepting one's body and oneself as they are: as divinely beautiful creations of god and/or nature."

Nothing Comes Between Me and My Calvins

And who in our society has an interest in promoting body acceptance? Certainly not the clothes designers. Calvin Klein can donate as much (or as little) as he wishes to gay causes, but his company's underlying financial interests do not favor nudity! Will you ever see a Calvin Klein model NOT wearing underwear? If a Calvin Klein model is ever nude, will his or her nudity ever make people LESS likely to buy clothes? Can it be very long before he starts trying to sell us pajamas?

We're not trying to be nasty and pick on just Calvin; obviously the genius assholes at Abercrombie and Fitch are doing the same thing, as are most clothing designers. But Calvin is a tempting target because (remember?) he got his start by selling Calvin Klein jeans, and many of THOSE ads featured lines like "Nothing comes between me and my Calvins." Wasn't it Brooke Shields who slithered around wearing jeans and, pretty obviously, nothing underneath them? But once he started selling underwear, that slogan disappeared. How quickly we forget!






News Analysis

Page 3

Back-Room Politics Again

This latest decision is just the most recent in a long, drawn-out battle between that handful of renegade police officers and the forces of goodness and light. You learned back in high school civics class that when the City Council decides something, everyone down the chain of command follows their decision, including the police force, right? So if the City Council votes that a beach be designated as an official nude beach, then the police will allow nudity there, right?

Wrong! That's not how back-room dirty politics works. If the City Council votes a nude beach, and you're a police officer who doesn't like that decision, then you hunt up some obscure regulation from somewhere that the Council forgot to rescind (or didn't think needed rescinding, or which they interpreted differently and didn't think was relevant). And you go to the nude beach and arrest people for being nude anyway, in spite of the Council's clearly voted opinion! The hope is either that other forces of repression will awaken and help you defeat the nude beach outright, or that if the case gets referred to a sympathetic judge you can effectively countermand the Council's decision. Along the way you may scare enough people away from the "nude" beach so that it becomes a deserted beach.

Then you can ask your philosophy professor if a nude beach is still a nude beach if no one goes there!

Push Comes to Shove

Nude guys at Hanlan's PointAnd that is exactly what some Toronto police officers tried to do in April, 1999, soon after the Toronto city council voted to make Hanlan's Point a nude beach. The officers lost in court then, just as they lost in court today. But if a bunch of renegade officers tries, figuratively, to push you around like

this, the only recourse is to push back if you value your freedom and you believe that police should be controlled by the city council, not vice versa. That takes courage, and that takes resources. And persistence. And brains.

Push Comes to Shove

And that is exactly what some Toronto police officers tried to do in April, 1999, soon after the Toronto city council voted to make Hanlan's Point a nude beach. The officers lost in court then, just as they lost in court today. But if a bunch of renegade officers tries, figuratively, to push you around like this, the only recourse is to push back if you value your freedom and you believe that police should be controlled by the city council, not vice versa. That takes courage, and that takes resources. And persistence. And brains.

Peter Simm receiving awardLuckily, even though TNT!MEN lacks substantial financial resources, they've got everything else. The legal brains to go look for precedents and historical parallels (in this case very largely due to Peter Simm, a lawyer and member -- see photo). The persistence to keep supporting The Barn for years, when many other groups and bar owners would just throw in the towel and say, hey, we're making enough money with "nearly naked" events; why rock the boat by trying to go the rest of the way? The courage to stand up for what you believe in, even if people around you tell you that the nudity issue pales in comparison with racism or the other ills which plague our society. The resources and the connections to make people realize that body self-acceptance is NOT a trivial issue. It's related to depression. It's related to self-medication via illicit drugs and a search for self-validation via unwise sexual liaisons. It's related to low self-esteem and the attempt to alleviate it by spending, spending, and more spending on needless clothes or other consumer goods which turn out, in the end, not to make you happy after all.






News Analysis

Page 4

And luckily, there are enough people in the gay and lesbian communities to make the connection between gay liberation and self-acceptance, including body self-acceptance. Two and a half decades ago, it took incredible courage for those first gay pioneers to take up the banner of gay liberation, figuratively and literally, and march down the street saying that they're proud of their sexual orientation, even if society at large said that a gay orientation is shameful. It also takes incredible courage for Toronto's first nudist pioneers to march down the street saying that they're not ashamed of their bodies, and to put their clothes where their mouths are by marching naked. And, finally, it also takes courage to take off your clothes and dance naked in front of hundreds of other men.

We're not saying that there's something wrong with you if you march with your clothes on, or if you stay at home. We here at are just saying that there's something wonderful about those who have that courage and who show it. Even if the people who see the nude marchers never so much as take their shirts off, viewers must confront their own ideals, their own body images, and their desire to appear attractive to others. We've been trained since infancy to cover up certain parts of our bodies, and reading an article or two, or seeing a nude marcher or two, isn't going to change that overnight. The social forces which favor clothing -- both pernicious and benign -- are powerful and well entrenched. We've been subject to their propaganda for decades as individuals, and for centuries as a culture.

But speaking out about this is what free speech is all about in a free country, right?

Right! Well, maybe.

Will Police Try More Arrests?

About a week before Judge Bigelow's decision, a meeting was held involving the chief of the 52 Division, TNT!MEN representatives, city councilman Kyle Rae, and a representative of the Gay Pride committee. The topic? Whether marchers in this year's parade would be arrested if they were "nude" -- by which was meant, if police saw any penises.

There is, alas, disagreement about what was said at the meeting. TNT!MEN, backed up by the city councilman and the Pride Committee rep, claim that the police promised to consult with their in-house legal advisors before deciding on their arrest policy. The police claim not to remember making such a promise, and imply that there is no need for them to do so since they will simply arrest anyone who breaks "the law." But in the light of today's decision, just what IS the law?

Understand that the police are between a rock and a hard place: they have to be responsive to community concerns, but community conservatives want police to clamp down, whereas community liberals want police to be rational and reasonable. The police have to justify their actions to both groups of citizens while trying to appear unbiased. This leaves a lot of leeway for political maneuvering and the application of pressure, both obvious and subtle. There is evidently disagreement within the police department about what course of action to take: some cops want to arrest, others want to permit.






News Analysis

Page 5

So each interest group takes actions which are, in due time, either endorsed or rejected by other parties to the process. If arrests are made, will the prosecutor's office prosecute vigorously or half-heartedly? Can a judge find a way to ensure a particular result, or is he hemmed in by precedents or actions taken by the attorneys involved? Does a judge's decision seem rational and reasonable, or is it strained and thus more easily attacked by the city council or by appeals courts?

The Crown's prosecuting attorney today was a poorly prepared fellow. He lost his train of thought at least three times, appeared to be unfamiliar with many aspects of the case, and had some of the lamest arguments ever seen this side of a kangaroo court. This is not in itself a shameful thing; every prosecutor has to acquire experience, everyone has to have practice. But politically savvy observers agree that the back-room political message is unambiguous: The Crown did not send their best people to this trial, and that must be because they don't agree with the actions of the renegade police. (Indeed, that's how we know that these police should be called "renegade" in the first place.) By not sending their best people, the Crown is (1) satisfying the legal requirement for them to prosecute cases triggered by police actions, and (2) indirectly telling the police not to bring such actions in the future because they will not be permitted to succeed.

Now nudity behind the closed door of a bar is different from nudity openly on the street in a parade. Perhaps the police will be hoping to set up a test case this Sunday by arresting a nude marcher or two and letting the courts have their say in the coming months. If the courts rule against the police, then they can justify not making more arrests to the conservatives. "We did our best," they can say, "but our hands are tied."

Parade Nudity: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

The problem is that anyone with any brains knows that the police will fail. Failure was likely even before Judge Bigelow's decision; now it is practically assured. The Pride Committee is not an enthusiastic proponent of Pride nudity, but they're not opposing TNT!MEN's position, they're not throwing TNT!MEN out of the parade, and the theme for this year's parade ("Uncensored!") was practically tailor-made for TNT!MEN's benefit. The gay newspaper in town supports the marchers, even going so far as to post a prominent News Update in their storefront when news of The Barn's acquittal missed their deadline by a few hours.

Every year, the reactions of the crowd watching the parade are hugely positive: cheers, smiles, overwhelming applause, cameras using up miles of film. From coast to coast, gay citizens are complaining that Pride parades have lost their zip and are no longer addressing really important political issues... but no one is saying that about Toronto! Toronto is where the action is, where the smart people go, where real issues are really being debated and real actions are being taken.

TNT!MEN has all its political ducks lined up in a row, but the renegade police are in disarray. It is, obviously, a waste of taxpayers' money to spend time and resources on a few swinging penises visible in public. Frankly, if I were the director of Toronto's 52 Division, or Toronto's police chief, I'd use today's court decision as the perfect excuse. Sorry, my conservative friends, our hands are tied. There is really no chance that the courts -- or even the prosecutor's office! -- will back you up on this one. We can't draw the line between penises and no penises anymore. Instead, we have to fall back and draw the line between soft penises and hard penises -- between nonsexual nudity and open fornication.

Finally: A Thought About September 11th

And I'd top off the argument with a 9/11 kicker. In the context of September 11th, it is a dangerous distraction to look for penises instead of terrorists on the streets of Toronto. Even if it is true that Al Qaeda agents are unlikely to target a Canadian city or event, it would be tragic and embarrassing if the investigation of a future terrorist episode showed that some operative slipped into North America through the Toronto point of entry while the cops were preoccupied with TNT!MEN's genitalia. It's a simple matter of the deployment of limited police resources. The chief of police now can say sorry, my conservative friends -- the higher-ups have made it clear that we will get far more mileage out of fighting terrorism than we will from fighting nudists. In the long run, it is far more likely that we'll secure increased staffing and more resources if we assign 52 Division officers to the anti-terror squad instead of the nudism patrol.

Real TNT -- dynamite -- kills people and destroys buildings. Toronto's TNT!MEN may have explosive ideas, but no one ends up in the hospital or the funeral home as a result. When it comes to clamping down on "disorderly conduct," the correct priority is unquestionable: go after the terrorist group, not the terrific one.


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