Body paint during Fantasy Fest must also be accompanied by opaque coverings of the private parts. CAROL TEDESCO/ Contributed

Only in Key West (and perhaps New Orleans) can one hear prominent city officials discuss nudity, nipples, genitalia and the definitions thereof for more than an hour at a public meeting. 

The discussion happens every five to seven years in Key West, and inevitably involves the city’s annual Fantasy Fest event in October.

At the June 21 city commission meeting, officials eventually approved a three-year agreement allowing the Tourist Development Association to produce the October festival. (Note: The TDA is not to be confused with the Monroe County Tourist Development Council, or TDC, a division of county government that collects bed tax revenue from overnight lodging guests and markets the Florida Keys as a tourism destination.)

The agreement states, “Nudity and lewd acts will not be permitted.”

That’s when things got interesting on Tuesday, and slightly heated at times, particularly during discussion of whether body-painting is considered nudity, and whether a Fantasy Zone should be included in the TDA’s new agreement to maintain designated downtown areas where certain behaviors are allowed.

Commissioner Greg Davila asked the question, “Wouldn’t body paint be considered an opaque covering of the genitalia and the top of the nipple?” He was reading from the city’s Code of Ordinances and its definition of nudity. 

According to the city code: Nude or nudity means the exposure of the human male or female genitals, pubic area, or buttocks with less than a fully opaque covering or the exposure of the female breast with less than a fully opaque covering of any portion thereof below the top of the nipple. A mother’s breastfeeding of her baby does not violate this section.

And when it comes to body painting, the City Code states: During the week of Fantasy Fest (the preceding Monday through the Saturday of the parade), a person who has had his or her body painted shall not be considered nude, provided that such person not display genitalia or the pubic area in a public place. Body paint shall not be deemed to clothe or cover genitalia or the pubic area. This body painting exception to the nudity prohibition is applicable only to a person who is located within the boundaries of a “Fantasy Zone,” the area designated by the city for the primary Fantasy Fest activities. For the purposes of this section, the meaning of “body painting” shall include “airbrushing.”

After nearly two hours of discussion, the commission voted 5-1 to approve the three-year agreement with the TDA to produce Fantasy Fest, and added language saying the city may soon amend its nudity ordinance. Mayor Teri Johnston dissented, and Commissioner Mary Lou Hoover was absent.

“I don’t want naked people on the main street of Key West,” Johnston said, and repeatedly added that naked people don’t always stay in the Fantasy Zone, which is designated around Duval Street.

Commissioner Sam Kaufman pointed out that the Fantasy Zone makes it easier for people with children and those not participating in Fantasy Fest to avoid those behaviors, events and costumes.

Johnston reminded the commissioners that a December workshop among city officials and city directors had come to the consensus: “It’s broken and it’s not the direction we want to take this community.” 

But Kaufman then reminded her that the December workshop included no members of the public or local business owners. 

Key West business owner Paul Menta spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, and asked that the TDA, in addition to advertising the event as a “creative costumed event,” also include “more powerful messaging telling people what NOT to do. Do not expose yourself to our kids. The chamber of commerce, the TDA and the city can send press releases telling people what not to do. You do have the power to send a powerful message.”

Duval Street gallery owner Amber Shaffer also cautioned the commission against trying to change too much too quickly when it comes to Fantasy Fest. “Most of our guests have made reservations a year ago for this year’s event.”

So in the end, the TDA will produce Fantasy Fest for another three years. Body paint is allowed, but does not count as an opaque covering of the genitalia, nipples and buttocks. And as of now, the agreement does not include provisions for a Fantasy Zone. Festival director Nadene Grossman Orr told the Keys Weekly after the meeting that the TDA was asked during contract negotiations to remove the Fantasy Zone, and did so at the city’s request. 

The discussion likely is not over. It never is.

Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.