Body paint will do
at Fantasy Fest

By Tim McDonald

Key West’s hedonistic reputation will be on display – literally – again at this year’s Fantasy Fest, as police say they won’t arrest topless female partygoers as long as their breasts are painted.

"The truth of the matter is, if they [breasts] are covered, they’re not exposed," said Assistant State Attorney Jeff Overby. "So if they’re covered with paint, they’re not presumed to be exposed under the technical definition of the law."

The city has struggled with its public-nudity laws through the years during the annual week-long event, which culminates with Saturday night’s parade down Duval Street. City officials have been criticized for being too liberal by conservative groups, and too puritanical by both civil-liberties groups and business organizations pushing Fantasy Fest as an international tourist event.

The city statute itself has been criticized as too vague, and the State Attorney’s Office has shied away from prosecuting nudity cases, including arrests made two years ago. "At that point, we said ‘OK, then we’re not going to make any arrests,’ " police spokeswoman Cynthia Edwards said. "What’s the point?"

The city law prohibits "exposure of the male or female genitals, pubic area or buttocks with less than a fully opaque covering." It also requires the covering of female breasts "below the top of the nipple." The law also prohibits body paint in lieu of clothing, but has proven difficult to enforce, especially during Fantasy Fest, when thousands of revelers invade downtown streets.

Florida law prohibits the exposure of "sexual organs" in public or on private premises where they can be seen from another property "except in any place provided or set apart for that purpose." According to instructions that are read to juries in nudity cases, there must be evidence that the sexual organ was exposed in a "vulgar, indecent, lewd and lascivious manner" and that the act infringed on the rights of others.

What if someone conveniently forgets the paint? "I think if someone is really blatant about it, the police are going to ask them to cover up," said Mayor Jimmy Weekley. "But if they’re painted, then I think there will be a little more discretion used by the Police Department." Overby said his office would look at violations on a case-by-case basis.

"I think the one thing the public knows by now is that Fantasy Fest, certainly the night events, are not children-oriented," he said.

Re-Printed with permission.
Publication Date: Wednesday, October 23, 2002
© 2002 Keynoter Publishing Company Inc.