Florida Lawmen Crack Down on the Tiny Thong, but Brave Bathers Simply Turn the Other Cheek

updated 08/06/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/06/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

When Todd Keefe went to catch a few rays on Sarasota, Fla.'s North Lido Beach last May 17, it turned out to be him who got caught. No sooner had the 27-year-old waiter settled into a beach chair, clad only in his black-and-white-striped string-back bikini, otherwise known as a thong, than the law descended on his nearly naked behind.

A police officer made the pinch, arresting Keefe and four other thong-wearing people—three men and a woman—who violated an obscure city ordinance prohibiting the revealing of, among other body parts, the "anal cleft." At the county jail, the five were fingerprinted, photographed, handed standard-issue uniforms—which concealed the cleft nicely—and put behind bars. Four hours later Keefe posted $120 bail and was released.

Enacted in 1985 after North Lido "was casually allowed to be a nude beach," according to Sarasota Vice Mayor Fredd Atkins, the law went virtually unnoticed until this spring. Then, fresh from battle with the raunchy rap group 2 Live Crew, on June 12 Florida Gov. Bob Martinez cast the net wider, approving a revision of an antinudity rule calling for covered hindquarters in 140 state parks.

Though the initial arrests occurred on a beach frequented by many gay men, pro-thong protesters—the majority of them women—quickly got behind the issue. At the Sheraton Ocean Inn near Palm Beach, spectators waved the flag and copies of the Bill of Rights at a July 22 "Thong-A-Thon." Says Sarasota swimwear-store owner Rich Unger: "You set a very dangerous precedent with this—taking away a person's choice of clothing." Unger says he has gathered more than 10,000 signatures urging the city and the Governor to back off. So far they haven't, but on the 675 miles of Florida beaches not affected by the ban, some folks are still wearing thongs.

Meanwhile, charges against Keefe and the other four arrested thong wearers have been dropped. Sarasota commissioners decided that the law was not adequately posted at the time of the bust, and new signs are going up. "I don't think what I did warranted mug shots and fingerprints," Keefe says. He plans to keep wearing his thongs—although not in Sarasota. He'll be studying respiratory therapy in the fall—and moving to Indianapolis.

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