Florida is a great state with horrible rulers. This seems to be the case with Florida's clothing-optional beaches, or the absence of them. According to Michael Boyd, editor of Naked Places: A Guide for Gay Men to Nude Recreation and Travel:
Florida should be a nude beach paradise, but it simply is not. There is a clash of cultures at play in the state. Florida's mild weather and beautiful beaches have made it popular with gay men and with international tourists from places where beach nudity is not controversial. Despite such cosmopolitan influences, Florida is still very much part of the Bible Belt. Florida has a state anti-nudity law, and there are hardly any places where authorities leave nude sunbathers alone.
In a previous article I wrote about Florida's gay nudist scene - Fort Lauderdale and Key West are two of the three capitals of gay nude recreation in the US; Palm Springs, California being the third - as manifested in its gay nudist clubs and clothing-optional resorts. Here I will limit my scope to Florida's nude beaches, and here the news is both good and bad.
Highest on the list of good news for Florida's nudists (gay and otherwise) is Haulover Beach, located in the north end of Miami-Dade County. Florida nudists' greatest victory was establishing a clothing-optional strip (with gay and straight sections) in the north end of Haulover Park. According to no less an authority than USA Today:
while the rest of Haulover Beach is virtually empty, the clothing optional section hosts in excess of 1 million beach-goers annually from around the world.
Gay men (and others) frequent the "gay section" of the Beach, where they talk, tan, eat, swim, cruise and take in the scenery. Haulover is also popular with adventurous heterosexuals: Openly straight heartthrob Enrique Iglesias shocked Matt Lauer of the Today Show recently when he spoke of his love for "Miami's nude beach" and invited Lauer to join him there. Haulover Beach is a lucrative tourist attraction, which is why the attitude of the Miami-Dade County government is generally benign. Haulover's biggest foes are not moralists in power but developers, who would like to tear down the only public beach left in North Miami-Dade County and replace it with another high-rise monstrosity. According to the gossips, no less a figure than Donald Trump himself wanted to expand his empire at the expense of Florida's only legally-sanctioned, clothing-optional beach.
Elsewhere in Florida, the news is mixed. There are nudists all over the Sunshine State - according to "Florida's Nude & Clothing-Optional Guide," an online piece by Dawn Henthorn, tiny Pasco County is "the North American Capital of Nudism." Across the state on the Space Coast, nudists frequent Apollo Beach in Volusia County and Playalinda Beach in Brevard County, both part of Cape Canaveral National Seashore. But while Volusia County authorities have a live-and-let-live attitude towards nude sunbathing in Apollo Beach, the folks in charge of Brevard County do their best to suppress buff beach-going in Playalinda. Recently the Brevard County Sheriff's Office increased its harassment of Playalinda Beach-goers, as if Brevard doesn't have more serious crimes to deal with. This BSO went so far as to fly a helicopter over the beach - equipped with binoculars no doubt - searching for nudes. In short, naturists would do well to avoid Playalinda (and Brevard) in favor of Apollo (and the much-friendlier Volusia).
While nude beaches flourish on the Atlantic, the more conservative Gulf Coast is less hospitable, Pasco County to the contrary. One group that hopes to turn things around is Tampa Area Naturists, which is trying to establish a clothing optional beach in Tampa Bay to rival Miami's Haulover Beach. Using Haulover as a model, the folks at TAN want to create a publicly-sanctioned beach at Fort DeSoto Park, south of St. Petersburg. Having failed to convince DeSoto Park authorities of the wisdom of their cause, TAN is now working to influence the local tourism industry and the Pinellas County Commission. TAN is also collecting petitions and letters from both Tampa Bay residents and tourists asking the Commission to establish a clothing-optional beach. Signing a petition is easy: just visit the TAN Web site.
Meanwhile, each year the Florida Legislature - when I write about horrible rulers the Legislature is what I have in mind - considers bills that would ban nude beaches throughout the State. And each year the activists of South Florida Free Beaches/Florida Naturist Association (SFFB/FNA) do their best to stop such punitive legislation. This year the main enemy was Florida House Bill 801, introduced by State Rep. William D. Snyder (R-Stuart). The bill would have upgraded Florida Statute 800.3, which regulates the public exposure of sexual organs, from a misdemeanor to a felony and make nudity within 1,000 feet of a "state, county, or Municipal Park" or "a public beach" an automatic felony at any time.
Needless to say, naturists were up in arms about this bill, for it would have done away with nude sunbathing at Haulover, Playalinda, and everywhere else in Florida. Happily, SFFB/FNA activists convinced Rep. Snyder to remove sections of the bill that would have banned clothing-optional beaches. Since this is an election year, SFFB/FNA is also making contributions to the campaigns of naturist-friendly candidates for the Legislature from its Legal Defense/Political Action Fund. (Visit www.sffb.com for more about SFFB/FNA and its political endeavors).
When it comes to nude beaches, as with other matters, Florida combines the best of places with the worst of places. As Dawn Henthorn put it:
Bare if you dare while you're in Florida, but be sure to check local laws wherever you go.
To which I say, amen.
Jesse Monteagudo is a freelance writer and lifelong nudist who lives, works and plays (often nude) in South Florida. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.