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Activist Woody Miller has died, age 66
The public "naked guy" was a visible and revered member of the San Francisco LGBTQ+ and activist communities for decades
Woody Miller, a prominent nudist and civil rights activist known as one of San Francisco’s “naked guys”, passed away on May 4th, 2023, at the age of 66. Miller was known for his advocacy for body freedom and for being a vocal opponent of legislation aimed at restricting public nudity in San Francisco. He had leukemia.
Woody Miller was born Elwood Miller on May 15th, 1956 in eastern Pennsylvania. He first experienced social nudity as a teenager, skinny dipping with friends in a local creek. "It [was] hot, so we'd all take our clothes off and go swimming, and I liked it and wanted to do more of it."1
After moving out of his childhood home, he began practicing home nudism. Asked about camping trips with friends in which they would swim naked, Woody told a friend, "I was the one who was not ready to put my clothes back on when it became time to do that."2
Miller moved to San Francisco in 1982 where he pursued a career as an artist, often working—and even exhibiting—his work in the nude. To many, he was known as the “naked artist”.
In the 1980’s, Woody started a naked sketch group with some artist friends. Participants would get together and sketch in the nude, taking turns modeling. As a means of showing their artwork, they created a series of "Naked Nude Art Shows", at which the artists and all attendees were required to be naked. He gave up painting in 1999, but continued living his life—especially around San Francisco’s Castro District—as an open, public nudist.
Woody got his Associates in Arts from City College of San Francisco, and completed his BA in History at San Francisco State University in 2012. While later pursuing a Masters in the same program, he did some writing about body freedom and nudist history.
“We equate nudity with both contamination and sex, and we are taught to see sex as shameful. We ascribe seemingly illicit motivations to those who do not see shame in their bodies or in their sexual urges because we imagine illicit motivations to be the only viable ones which could possibly motivate such perspectives.”3
Miller became a face of nude activism in San Francisco in 2011, when the San Francisco Board of Supervisors introduced a proposal to ban public nudity, specifically targeting the "naked guys" who frequented Jane Warner Plaza in the Castro district.4 Woody Miller was one of many nudists who protested the proposed legislation,5 arguing that it was an infringement on their civil liberties and a form of bigotry. Despite their efforts, the ban was eventually passed in 2012.
"The idea that the body is obscene or indecent is learned behavior, which I believe makes it a form of bigotry"6
Woody was later arrested for violating the public nudity law in 2013, alongside nudists Gypsy Taub and George Davis, while participating in a dance performance protest in the Castro’s Harvey Milk Plaza.7 All three nudist activists were featured prominently in the 2020 documentary Nak-Ed, which covered the events surrounding the San Francisco Nudity Ban.
Woody Miller was a fiercely vocal and visible activist and advocate for nudism and body freedom. He was an artist and thinker interested in our civilization and its relationship to concepts such as disability, race, and identity. He was known and highly regarded around his community.8 His passing marks a significant loss for San Francisco's naked community and the movement for body freedom. His unwavering commitment to civil liberties and opposition to legislation aimed at restricting public nudity will continue to inspire those who share his passion for personal freedom and self-expression. As we reflect on Woody's legacy, let us honor his memory by continuing to fight for the right to be comfortable in our own skin, free from the societal norms and prejudices that seek to constrain us.
Woody is survived by his husband, John Wilson (the couple lived together in the Castro for 35 years), and a sister, Kathy Martin. 🪐
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Unpublished audio interview, 2023.
Unpublished audio interview, 2023.
Miller, W. “The Naked Body: Disabled by the Clothing Compulsion”. Naktiv.net. https://www.naktiv.net/members/nudewoody/bb/
Memmott, M. “Will San Francisco Tell Its Nudists To Cover Up?” NPR. https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2012/11/19/165474753/will-san-francisco-tell-its-nudists-to-cover-up
Reed, B. “San Francisco nudists vow to bare all and be damned”. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/nov/23/san-franciscon-nudists-vow-bare
“SF supes move closer to banning public nudity”. ABC7. https://abc7ny.com/archive/8874530/
Palmer, C. “Nudists stand up to charges in court”. SFbay.ca. https://sfbayca.com/2013/06/05/nudists-stand-up-to-charges-in-court/
“Nudists continue to cause controversy despite citywide ban”. KALW Public Media. https://www.kalw.org/show/crosscurrents/2013-06-27/nudists-continue-to-cause-controversy-despite-citywide-ban