Making the Case for Nudity

(Not That There’s Anything Wrong With It)

Posted July 20, 2007 at 5:59pm

Snicker if you will, but the American Association for Nude Recreation means serious business.

The lobby for stripping down is making a bid for acceptance in the buttoned-up halls of Congress. And Congress appears, at the very least, quite willing to listen.

About a dozen nudists from the group suited up and fanned out across Capitol Hill last month for their annual lobbying blitz, now 17 years running.

It’s a lobbying campaign designed more to aggressively promote the lifestyle as (relatively) mainstream than focus on any detailed legislative agenda. But there is also a pre-emptive strategy behind the group’s annual Washington, D.C., visit.

“There isn’t a specific burning issue as far as a bill, but who knows

what can happen next month or next year?” said Steve Hubbard, a member of the group’s government affairs team and a politically conservative grandfather from Bellingham, Wash. “We don’t want the first time we meet with folks to be when we’re having a crisis, so we stay in touch.”

The association’s wish list is modest to the point of being meek. There’s no federal prohibition on nudity on public lands, but nudists hiking or swimming in the buff sometimes encounter park rangers unaware of the rules and end up with citations for lewd conduct. So the group wants the U.S. Forest Service to make sure rangers are clear about what’s OK.

And — at some point in the future — AANR would like to see more park land dedicated to nudists. Right now, however, they don’t have anything too specific in mind.

The group’s approach to Washington reflects a broader caution designed to make sure no one gets rubbed the wrong way. AANR’s unofficial motto: “We’re nude when possible, dressed when appropriate.”

Honoring it, they don suits for Hill visits. They stress that they never want to make fellow recreators uncomfortable, and promulgate rules for polite nakedness. (Rule 6 from the Nudist Beach Etiquette guide states “Especially when on a nude beach, always get permission before taking scenic photographs.”)

Not necessarily what you’d expect from a collection of skinny dippers 50,000 strong. But then, the organization’s origins run against type.

A Dutch Reformed pastor named Ilsley Boone co-founded the group in 1931 as the American League for Physical Culture. During training for a mission, he had been offended by the church’s insistence that he focus on clothing his converts, according to AANR Executive Director Erich Schuttauf. Enthusiasts began organizing picnics, then formed into clubs. The group renamed itself the American Sunbathing Association and remained that way until 1995, when it dropped the euphemism and became the AANR, a name which also reflects its broader range of activities.

In recent years, the organization for those who dare to bare has focused its increasingly sophisticated lobbying effort at beating back broadly drawn proposals that inadvertently target nudists, mostly at the state level. This year, for example, a measure to amend Oregon’s constitution to expand the definition of public indecency could have limited nudists’ ability to go au naturale in their own backyards.

“In the past, we would have hired lobbyists to handle that,” said Shirley Gauthier, an AANR government affairs volunteer from Springfield, Ore. “Instead, our national president flew in to testify, and our local members went to the state House and spoke from the heart.” The proposal died in committee.

Schuttauf said the group uses programs such as Capwiz and State Net to monitor legislatures across the country. Vigilant members stay on top of any municipal threats by staying plugged in with local decision makers.

At the federal level, the group has partnered with more established organizations to help refine its profile. The fly-in last month occurred in conjunction with Great Outdoors Week, organized by the American Recreation Coalition, an umbrella group that also represents snowmobilers and recreational vehicle enthusiasts. Schuttauf has made a point of being active with the American Society of Association Executives, lobbying shoulder to shoulder with other members of the group on tax and trade show liability initiatives.

“We’re very proud of the coalition building we do,” he said.

Lest conservatives caption nudists as hippie holdovers, the group points to its roots in American tradition, citing evidence that Benjamin Franklin took naked walks and John Quincy Adams enjoyed nude swims. And they angle to identify with small government types and advocates for private property rights.

Members of the group’s volunteer lobbying team said they received nothing but warm — if curious — receptions on the Hill last month. Schuttauf said he is unaware of any nudists in Congress, but he pointed to an AANR-commissioned poll that showed 40 million Americans have skinny dipped.

“I’m sure Congress is no different,” he said. “So if you extrapolate, that’s one in five.”