MISSOULA — Opponents of a clothing-optional bike ride packed City Council Chambers on Monday to demand the city stop the Aug. 17 event – and rescind a permit for “Bare as You Dare.”
“Our children will be scarred for life if they see anything like this,” said Valentine Simonovich.
“In all my years, I have never seen anything so disgusting as the approval of this measure by the city,” said Leroy Lowry.
“Anybody who rides without clothing in our city should be arrested, put in handcuffs and taken to jail,” said another member of the public.
Earlier this summer, organizer Nita Maddux announced she planned to hold the clothing-optional bike ride in Missoula – similar to nude rides in other cities – as a way for people to demonstrate acceptance of their bodies and express their inner child.
The city approved a permit for the event, though City Attorney Jim Nugent warned that participants could face indecent exposure charges if an onlooker perceives lewd behavior and reports an incident.
The ride wasn’t on the Missoula City Council’s agenda Monday, but most of the people in the standing-room-only crowd came to express vehement opposition to the affair, some through tears. Some even demanded the council take another vote – although the matter had never come before the body for approval.
In a statement in response to opponents of the event, Mayor John Engen said it isn’t illegal to ride a bike without wearing clothes; communications director Ginny Merriam read his comments in his absence. Engen also said the matter is linked to freedom of speech.
“Public nudity is not necessarily indecent exposure. It is not illegal, and it is not a basis for denying a permit,” Engen said in the statement.
At the meeting, opponents spoke for nearly 90 minutes. Tiffany Gardanier wants to launch a petition to stop the ride, and she said it represented “an all-time low” for Missoula. She also said photos of riders would become pornography on the Internet.
“I have lost sleep over this. I want to shut this down,” Gardanier said.
Tessa Fausett, 16, said she finds it disturbing that a 33-year-old man could be riding his bike naked next to a young person. She fears people who are disabled – and sweet and childlike – also will be harmed.
“As a Christian and a Mormon, I stand for purity,” Fausett said. “And I would like to ask everyone here what they stand for, and I think when people think of Missoula, Montana, they should think of it as a place that stands for goodness.”
Many people worried about the effect the nudity would have on children, but Kathi Blair said some adults don’t want to see others without clothes in public, either. As a Montana resident, she’s been exposed to nudity twice, once at Lolo Pass, and once hiking to Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park.
“There was a woman that wanted to take off all of her clothes and show us all that she was nude,” Blair said. “And these experiences were unwanted. We talk a lot about our children, but I didn’t want to see it. I wanted to enjoy the day.”
Many people said they had hoped Engen would be in attendance to hear their comments, but Merriam said Engen could not be present – he was in the hospital caring for his mother. However, Merriam said he had been responding to comments from the public in the past weeks, and she read an abbreviated version of the statement he’s been sharing with concerned members of the public.
“The city is not endorsing, supporting or otherwise encouraging the event,” Engen said in the statement. “The city can only permit the event or not permit the event.”
If the city denies a permit, it must have a legal reason for doing so, he said. “There are no legal reasons for denying the permit.”
If the city denied the permit, the ride likely would take place anyway, he said. Approving the permit allows the city to manage it.
“We’ve limited the duration of the event to one hour,” he said. “We’ll have public safety personnel along the route, and we’ll be prepared to respond to criminal or safety issues.”