Teen nudity exposes town's bare-bone rules
POSTED: 11:40 a.m. EDT, September 4, 2006

BRATTLEBORO, Vermont (AP) -- Public nudity isn't new to this bastion of bohemia, but it usually bares itself in more subtle places than the downtown parking lot.

This summer, a group of teenagers has disrobed near restaurants, bookstores and the town's many galleries, igniting a debate about whether Brattleboro should ban a practice long tolerated until now.

"Brattleboro tends to be a laid-back town and pretty accepting of the unusual, but this is really pushing limits," said Police Chief John Martin. "It's clearly to outrage people, it's clearly rebelliousness."

By most accounts, the stripping started on a whim in early summer when a young woman sat naked on a park bench, Martin said. Then another woman started taking her shirt off downtown.

A music festival promoting nudity and rebelliousness set up in May in a downtown parking lot attracted nude hula hoopers.

Last month, a half dozen young people bared their bodies in a parking lot, encircled by the backs of bookstores, coffee shops and restaurants.

"It's just an act of freedom," said 19-year-old Adhi Palar. "We're just doing so because we can."

Palar said he and the others "do not consider nakedness to be innately sexual or rude and it shouldn't be confined to that."

All the bare skin has raised eyebrows, even in this town of 12,000 residents that has seen clothing-optional swimming holes, streakers and an event known as "Breast Fest," which featured women parading topless.

"To most people, it's not a big deal," said Catherine Kauffman, 57, who calls Brattleboro "a don't-take-away-too-many-of-my-rights kind of town."

At Everyone's Books, co-owner Rich Geidel, 50, said the parking lot may not be the most appropriate place for nudity, but "as long as people are polite, don't block the entrance, we don't ask them to leave."

To others, it's disturbing and something more than harmless rebellion.

"It's a bad image for Brattleboro," said Ozzie Kocaoglu, 43, who owns the Sundried Tomato restaurant at the far end of the parking lot, which has long been a teen hangout.

Vermont has no state laws against public nudity, but communities can write their own bans. At least eight cities and towns have anti-nudity ordinances, according to the Vermont League of Cities and Towns.

So far, Brattleboro has chosen not to join them, but the teenagers' disrobing may change that. Officials in the southeast Vermont town, about 80 miles west of Boston, are researching how other communities have responded.

Nudity has been used for social protest and rebelliousness for years. This summer, nude bicyclists rode through Burlington to protest the country's reliance on oil, part of an event known as the World Naked Bike Ride. PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, has often used nudity as a shock tactic to draw attention to the treatment of animals in research and fashion.

The 50,000-member American Association for Nude Recreation espouses nude recreation in appropriate places, but doesn't use nudity "for social commentary, or rebelliousness or an act of civil disobedience," said Mary Jane Kolassa.

In Vermont, voters have shot down nudity bans before. Prompted by complaints about nudity and sexual activity at a swimming hole, the Wilmington select board passed an anti-nudity ordinance in 2002. But supporters of the freedom to skinny dip rejected the ban in a public vote.

"There were some ugly moments in the debate with some name calling and lots of good healthy debate about reasonable rights and responsibility under those rights," said Wilmington Town Clerk Susie Haughwout. Officials weren't sure how they would have enforced a ban and to what extent, she said.

For now Brattleboro is weighing its options, and waiting for summer to turn to fall.

"As soon as winter comes, there won't be a story anymore," said Town Clerk Annette Cappy.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.