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The Naked Truth About Unintended Legislative Consequences

An advocacy group for nude recreation has been a presence at the annual meeting of state legislators for decades — not to advertise, but to prevent inadvertent disruption of a way of life and a multibillion-dollar industry.

A lapel pin distributed at the 2023 summit of the National Conference of State Legislatures is the 30th in a series from a group monitoring legislation that can inadvertently affect clothing-optional recreation.
(Carl Smith/Governing)
INDIANAPOLIS — Well over 200 organizations had booths in the exhibit hall at the recent meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Government associations, nonprofits and private companies were all there, offering a wide range of perspectives and resources.

It might seem incongruous for the American Association for Nude Recreation (AANR), to exhibit at such an event, but they’ve had a booth every year since the early 1990s. AANR doesn’t come to promote nudism, but to help lawmakers understand the ways that laws intended to curb illicit activity can inadvertently affect legitimate, family-friendly businesses.

Erich Schuttauf, AANR’s executive director and legal counsel, recognizes that nudism is not for everyone. But it’s a bigger industry than most people realize, encompassing clubs, resorts and even cruises.

The sector is especially strong in the Sun Belt, bringing an estimated $4 billion in direct revenue each year to Florida alone. The total economic impact from nudist visitors is believed to be well over $7 billion.

The most oppressive regulation passed since AANR’s formation in 1931, says Schuttauf, was an Arkansas bill passed in 1958 that restricted advocacy for nudism. It hasn’t been enforced for years, but he's hoping to see it dropped off the books, nonetheless.

More often, a bill intended to restrict activity in strip clubs or on film sets will include language or words that inadvertently cause these restrictions to apply to clothing-optional businesses. For example, it could become illegal for such businesses to serve alcohol with a meal even though that was outside of the intent of the bill.

In recent years, there have been more bills seeking to censor library materials, Schuttauf says. “That could affect us because we have literature on file to explain what nude recreation is about.”

“We need them to write bills for the purpose they are looking for, but to exclude us,” says Kathy Watzel, a past president of AANR. “We’re not why they are writing that bill.”
AANR executive director Erich Shuttauf and past president Kathy Watzel in the NCSL exhibit hall with a photo showing 25 years of conference pins.
(Carl Smith/Governing)

Put a Pin on It

After their first visit to the NCSL meeting, AANR members brainstormed ways to foster attention and engagement with lawmakers attending the conference. The idea emerged to create a lapel pin that would change each year, a collectible that would bring people back to the booth again and again.

The marketing strategy worked. The idea that a group promoting clothing-free activities was giving away lapel pins was fertile ground for jokes, and even the occasional headline.

The collection now includes 30 pins; spend a few minutes at the AANR booth and you’ll see a stream of NCSL attendees arrive, eager to see the latest design. (The 2023 pin honors the host city, Indianapolis, depicting a woman in a race car.)

AANR’s advocacy might seem relatively insignificant in the scheme of things. But there’s no good reason for the state to make things complicated for those who seek clothing-optional recreation or relaxation in places specifically created for such activity.

Schuttauf is not happy a 1958 Supreme Court ruling that “nudist” magazines were not obscene and could be sent through the postal system opened the door for a mail-based industry selling material that actually was obscene.

There are countless examples where government actions have had unintended and unwanted consequences, whether because politics demanded a narrow course of action or because a problem that was not fully understood was involved. Perhaps AANR’s experience is a comparatively nonthreatening way to introduce a conversation about a very serious subject.
Carl Smith is a senior staff writer for Governing and covers a broad range of issues affecting states and localities. He can be reached at or on Twitter at @governingwriter.
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