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Check out the pictures (3, 4 and 5) at this site. Why is this NOT considered a sexual offense? Also, why is this site posting these photos? Couldn't that be considered child porn?
BY NANO RILEY
Editors Note: Newspapers, Time magazine and television talk shows have had a field day with a Florida Congressman's attack on a nude summer camp in Lutz, just north of Tampa.
Two weeks ago, conservative Republican Mark Foley -- who is gearing up for a tough U.S. Senate race next year, and who has admitted he wants to shift attention from undisputed recent news reports that he's gay -- attacked the camp as immoral, a possible haven for pedophiles, sex-crazed teenagers and perverts.
No matter that the summer camps, as well as other family nudist activities, have been operating for years; or that other conservative politicians, less skittish about their own sexual secrets, have seen nothing wrong with them. The camp organizers and their national organization are now in a media spotlight, and on the defensive.
As it happens, only three news organizations actually attended last month's youth camp at Lake Como Family Nudist Resort: the New York Times, Time, and us.
Here's our eyewitness report.
Lake Como Family Nudist Resort is a slice of old Florida. Wood-frame rental cabins, recycled from World War II-era barracks, overlook a small lake lined with cypress trees. Across a gravel road, rows of mobile homes look as if they haven't left their moorings in decades. In winter and early spring, the RV section is nearly always full. There are volleyball courts, of course, and a small sandy beach with a few sailboats, a swimming pool, an unimposing clubhouse, a screened-in "Butt Hut" down by the lake with a bar and a newer athletic complex with well-groomed Har-Tru tennis courts.This rustic setting, on 200 acres just north of the Hillsborough County line, may remind baby boomers of the homespun vacation spots they visited as children, before the advent of theme parks and time-shares.
A first-time visitor to Lake Como during the week will find that everything you've heard is true about nudist resorts. It isn't that visually stimulating. Sagging bellies, mottled buttocks and varicose veins far outnumber the fit and the nubile. Which is fine. For the whole point of nudism is to be comfortable in your own bare skin, without shame or self-consciousness.
Generations of families have come to Lake Como, which claims to be the oldest nudist resort in Florida, formally organized in 1947. It is run today as a co-op, with 100 equal shareholders.
Grandparents and children share the space still. On a mandatory tour of the premises that all visitors must take (so that park leaders can size up the attitude of potential guests), one encountered a trio of girls, ages roughly 8 to 14, walking toward the clubhouse for ice cream. Only an outsider would find this remarkable: Except for tennis shoes and towels draped over their shoulders, the three girls were as naked as the day they were born.
The wide open space of Lake Como is one reason why the American Association for Nude Recreation youth camps have settled here, rather than at one of the posher resorts like nearby Paradise Lakes, which has condominiums and a disco.
In mid-June, more than two dozen campers pitched their tents in an open field apart from the rest of the resort, where they were monitored 24/7 by chaperones. As with any other youth camp, they had campfires and games, discussion groups and talent shows.
Most of these kids have always been nudists. Their families are nudists, so they find nothing strange about running around with their friends in the buff. In fact, it would be stranger if these kids were made to wear clothes in this rural setting. For them, nudity is completely natural, evoking no thoughts of indecency. And the camp teaches unprejudiced values that would make most Christian preachers proud.
Take George and Debbie Jeffries from Alabama, who drove eight hours just to bring their 13-year-old daughter Jane to Lake Como. On the last night of camp, they were waiting in line to enter the clubhouse, where there would be dinner and a talent show put on by the campers, as well as an award ceremony honoring some of the campers for their special achievements. They each had a towel draped over their shoulders, a requirement since nudist etiquette dictates that you sit on a towel, wherever you sit.
"Jane's been coming to nudist resorts all her life," said Debbie, a retired doctor who practiced family medicine for many years. "She's been to Girl Scout camp, but she likes this much better. It's a big thing for her, and she really gets excited. We have three daughters and they've all been raised as nudists."
"I really like it because I'm able to see people my own age," said Jane. "At the camp we usually go to on weekends there are no kids my age, but here I have friends, and I make new ones."
"We like it for the people," said George. "Right now we're staying at Paradise Lake, which is right next door, so Jane can do her thing with the kids. We're just here tonight for the talent show and award ceremony."
About 200 people had joined them -- parents and grandparents, residents of Lake Como and Paradise Lakes. The kids bustled to and fro with the traditional camp dinner-paper plates of (what else?) spaghetti, Italian bread and salad. The boys wore aprons while they served, and the young ladies wore sarongs, or pareos as most of the crowd calls them. These colorful cloth wraps worn in the Pacific islands are popular with the women. At dinner, some people were fully dressed; others wore T-shirts or beach jackets, and some were completely nude. It was a free world here, as long as you had your towel.
Some of the campers scampered around "backstage," making sure everything was ready for the big show. The makeshift curtain was decorated with colorful stenciled pictures of blue dolphins, pink hands and dancing people. Multi-colored Christmas lights ringed the area and the tables were decorated with paper flower centerpieces. The atmosphere was typical for a summer camp. The kids were excited. During dinner, one small child in a pink and white pareo -- obviously too young to attend the camp (you must be eleven) -- danced alone, turned cartwheels and plainly wished she could be part of the official entertainment.
Backstage, Jenny, who at age eleven was attending her first camp, took time to talk. She was dressed in the evening's tropical theme, wrapped in a colorful pareo and sporting a flower behind her ear. She also wore a pink armband to signify she would talk to the press, but only in the presence of Susan Weaver, the public relations chairperson for the American Association for Nude Recreation (AANR). Weaver said the group is very protective of the youngsters. They didn't want anyone bothering them or asking them inappropriate questions.
"I've been a nudist for about four years," Jenny said. "I've been coming here with my parents, but this is the first time I've come to camp because now I'm 11. I like it because I get to hang out with other kids my age."
But, she added, she tells only her "very best friend" about coming to Lake Como. At her age, many children would misunderstand, and though Jenny enjoys being a nudist, the teasing at home would most likely be cruel.
Eighteen-year-old Amanda, however, was an old hand at the summer camp. She looks forward to it every year, she said. This year she's going on to White Tail Park in Virginia, where her grandfather, long-time nudist Bill Williamson, will be director of the first Junior AANR camp held there.
"I love to come," Amanda said. "My grandfather, my parents and me -- we're all nudists. My brother and sister are too. My brother would be here, in fact he intended to come this year, but he had an accident and burned himself."
Amanda's older sister used to come, but she's a young mother now and busy with her new baby so she doesn't have time. But Amanda herself said she was looking forward to becoming a camp counselor. Next year she can attend "Nude U," for those 18 to 25. Those campers help the adult counselors with the younger groups, the Junior Florida Association of Nude Recreation (JFANR) Exploration Camp, for ages 11-15, and the JFANR Leadership Academy for ages 16-18.
Amanda gave a straightforward explanation of what she's learned at the camp over the years.
"People here don't judge me by my clothes," she said. "When we're in school, everybody looks at your clothes. They want to see what brands you're wearing. Here at camp they just see me, and they get to know me. If you don't wear the right clothes, some people don't want to know you."
'I don't mind if anyone knows I'm a nudist. I don't hide it from anyone. Back home in Alabama I do volunteer work, and I work part-time at a funeral home, and they all know," she said. "It's so hot down here, I'm really glad I don't have to wear clothes. I don't see how anyone can wear clothes in Florida. Yesterday we went on a field trip in the van, and it was so hot we all wanted to take our clothes off."But that's a big no-no. The youngsters at the camp are strictly supervised. Anytime they leave the grounds of Lake Como, counselors go with them, and everyone must wear clothing that is not provocative. A list of camp rules includes stringent instructions to both campers and counselors. And they are just as strict -- perhaps more strict -- than ordinary summer camps. Counselors and staff members are not to be left alone with kids. Two adults are required, preferably one male and one female, to stay with kids who are ill. There is no touching by campers to counselors or staff and no cruelty or battery is tolerated towards counselors/staff. Counselors must follow the same rules as campers. The list goes on, noting all the regulations set out by FANR.
"We really protect our kids," said Susan Weaver. "This is one of three youth camps around the U.S. right now. This is the oldest one, started 11 years ago. There is one in Virginia at White Tail, and one in Arizona at Shangri-La. The youth themselves put the curriculum together, and it's all about empowerment."
The program has "really evolved," Weaver went on. "It used to be just crafts and games, but as the kids grew older, they wanted more. Now they learn a lot about leadership skills, like writing resumes and essays, and how to do interviews. Judy Grisham, who is a traveling nurse, helped a lot with the camp's evolution.
"In years past, mothers often didn't talk about the changes a teen's body goes through. Now we have classes in body changes and body maintenance. The older girls discuss these things with the younger girls, and the boys also have discussions. Then they come back together and tell each other what they learned. It helps settle the uncertainty teens have with their bodies at this age. For the younger ones entering puberty, it teaches them what to expect."
This candid approach prevails among nudists. As a family activity, these children are used to seeing all types of bodies, both young and old. They see the physical changes as people age, and they understand that it's a natural part of life. Their parents believe they're better for it, because they are not superficial or judgmental.
After directing the Lake Como youth camp, Judy Grisham went on to Virginia to work as a counselor at White Tail Park, a family nudist resort not far from Washington D.C. She talked by phone one early evening, surrounded by campers playing a rousing game of capture the flag. There were periodic interruptions, while she listened and tried to respond to the kids at the same time. ("I don't have the bug spray," she hollered. "Just sit down, honey, I'll be with you in a minute.")
Grisham said she's been a nudist for years and raised her family that way.
"I bring a mother and grandmother approach to the camp," she said. "I know what teens go through. This is a healthy environment that promotes a healthy interaction between peers. The youth camps have been going on in Florida for 11 years, and I've been involved since 1999. My husband was president of FANR (Florida Association for Nude Recreation) so I wanted to work with the kids. I'm a licensed registered nurse, and I've worked with muscular dystrophy camps, Girl Scout camps and church camps. I'm Lutheran, and my husband was a Lutheran minister.
"The first FANR youth camps were only for kids up to age 18, but some of those kids wanted to stay with the camp. So in 2000, I went to the board and we invented "Nude U," for ages 18 to 25. They provide leadership and act as counselors for the younger campers. This is the first time for this camp here at White Tail, sponsored by AANR East. We have 23 campers, and 19 are juniors."
And they really protect the kids. "We never leave the kids alone," Grisham said. "There's always a male and female counselor with them at all times. Only our staff is allowed in the camp area, and they're all banded. We also do background checks on all the counselors, even ones who have been with the camps before. And it's all volunteer. Most of us like to spend our vacations this way. My hat's off to all the counselors. At the end of July there's a youth camp at Shangri-La Ranch in Arizona sponsored by AANR West, and next year they plan on opening one in Texas."
At the talent show, it was obvious that the kids were not shy about their bodies. Called "The Sunny and Bare Show," it used just about every old wheeze you've ever seen at a camp show. One girl sat on the floor in front of the stage with cue cards for the performers. She also had signs reading "Applause," for the audience. Some of the kids knew their lines, while others needed to read the cards, although most became so giggly they were unable to read. The first act, called "Lords of the Ballet," involved four young men wrapped in sarongs from the waist down. They leapt from behind the curtain to do a ridiculous ballet, complete with pirouettes. Two wore silly wigs, which the other two tried to grab as they twirled around the stage. The whole dance broke down as sarongs went awry and other mishaps occurred. One lift ended with the dancer falling down, laughing, and the ballet concluded with all four leap-frogging off the stage. The audience was helpless with laughter.
The rest of the show was as light-hearted. There was karaoke, more dancing, lots of nudist jokes. A young man played "Orange Blossom Special" on his fiddle, and the whole group sang a parody of "This Land Is Your Land," with a new set of words:
There were no Polo's, there were no Nike's
No DKNY's, FUBU or Tommy's
No Armani's, only our birthday suits,
This land was made nude and free.
The only thing missing was the ever-popular Three Stooges-style skit where an operation happens behind a back-lit sheet and the audience sees the surgeon in silhouette, using saws and other strange instruments while the patient usually howls.
Always a favorite at Scout camps.
Europeans first took up nudism, or naturism as it was more properly called, at the turn of the 20th century. In 1903, a group of Germans founded Freilichtpark (Free Light Park) in Lubeck, Germany, to promote a healthy Spartan lifestyle of vegetarianism, daily outdoor exercise and sunbathing au naturel. Raw foods formed the major diet as these Europeans rebelled against the pollution brought about by the Industrial Revolution. By getting away from the cities and into a rural setting, they went "back to nature," frolicking naked and without sin, comparing their lives to Adam and Eve. Many called themselves Adamites, after a medieval religious sect that wanted to return to the state of bliss enjoyed in the Garden of Eden. These German health enthusiasts brought the lifestyle to more puritanical America a few years later, where there were a few arrests before a New York court ruled social nudity between men and women was permissible as long as it was not lewd. Soon health aficionados embraced the nudist movement and by the 1920s and '30s, resorts were springing up around the U.S. The AANR was founded in 1931. By the mid-1930s, nearly eighty nudist camps were spread across the country. Most followed the healthy regimen and philosophy devised by the earlier nudists. That has changed over time, but still the majority of camps are family nudist resorts that stress healthy values. Today there are 259 clubs that belong to AANR alone, and all welcome families. In Florida there are 9,000 AANR members, giving the state enough to have its own regional association, while in AANR East, which encompasses 20 states, there are 13,000 members.
In Pasco County there are seven resorts, making it the epicenter of nudism in the United States. According to Mary Jane Stanley of the Pasco County Economic Development Council, Paradise Lakes Resort, a clothing optional resort that abuts Lake Como, is the second largest generator of tourist tax in Pasco. She said it is very popular with the county government.
"It's a self-contained community," said Stanley. "They have their own water, they maintain their own roads, and they pay property and tourist taxes. They have a 70-room hotel and upscale restaurants, and they do a lot of civic work and they belong to the Central Pasco Chamber of Commerce."
At the Pasco County Board of Tourism, Diane Jones said the resorts are a positive contributor to Pasco's economy because of the tourists as well as the permanent residents.
"They're very discreet," said Jones. "I've been to Lake Como on business, and I found they are not flamboyant at all. I had a different idea, but they changed my mind."
Strict rules govern everyone who comes to Lake Como, said Elf Andersen, the resort's marketing director. There's no touching, no immoral conduct, no gawking or staring at anyone, no undue attention to another's children, no fondling of oneself or someone else and no physical violence. Folks are asked to leave for violating these rules.
Andersen also explained "nude resort" versus "clothing optional": "Some clothing is very sexual, so that's why we are a nudist resort. We don't allow anyone to go around in their underwear, and they must be nude in the pool and hot tub."
A visitor asked Andersen why she was wearing a long T-shirt.
"The office is air-conditioned, and it's cold!"
Probably the first question everyone asks about the JAANR Leadership camps is this: How can you trust nude teen-agers of both sexes together? Isn't that a recipe for disaster?Asked if he was curious about girls, one blasé 16-year-old male camper responded, "You seen one girl, you seen 'em all."
And that may be the best way to sum up the thoughts about nudism for most of the youthful campers. They've been raised among naked people for most of their lives, so it's nothing new. The values their elders instill are real.
"The camp helps them get a good body self image," said Deb Jeffries. "They're just a typical bunch of kids. They become more confident in themselves because the camp is totally natural. Clothes are more sexually stimulating than being naked."
"People in the United States are preoccupied by nudism," Jeffries continued. "Last year we went to France, to the Riviera Naturist Resort on the Mediterranean. It's in a town called Cap D'Adge, and the whole town is nude. You can go anywhere in town nude. We loved it, but it was chilly. Never got above 70 in the middle of June the week we were there."
Bill Williamson, the Virginia youth camp director, is a retired vice president of the College of American Pathologists. "Teens today have so many problems," he said. "If they get into trouble at this age it can be a lifelong millstone around their necks. We're big on anti-drugs, and even though I still smoke, I don't do it in front of the kids.
"At these camps, we do a background check on all of the counselors and staff and look for anything that might lead to criminal behavior. We don't have the incidents of teen-age pregnancy that there are in the "textile" world (as nudists refer to clothes-wearing people), because our kids don't have to put themselves in compromising situations out of curiosity."
As far as religion goes, Williamson is a Baptist who "feels closer to God out on the creek bank looking up at the sky than in a regular church."
"One of my main goals is tolerance," he continued. "People must understand there's no stigma to being nude. Every type of person may be a nudist. We had a Catholic priest at the camp to address the kids, and in Virginia we have two ministers coming. People are surprised to know that most of our membership is middle to upper middle class, college educated, and fifty percent degreed, with incomes of 50 thousand and up."
So, if nudists represent such a mainstream demographic, why are people like U.S. Rep. Mark Foley so opposed to the teen-age youth camps AANR sponsors?
"Oh, this is not the first time someone's spoken out," said George Jeffries. "It's simply ignorance. They see child porn on the Internet and read about child abductions, and they jump to conclusions. A lot of this is the result of media publicity where there's been a bad outcome. They don't know what we do. We know there are really bad guys out there, so that's why we're extra protective of our kids."
Jeffries's daughter Jane said she'd seldom encountered anything that made her uneasy, though she's been taught to recognize such behavior.
"Just one or two times ever," she said. "I just tell mom and dad and stay in the trailer until it's taken care of."
"Foley said we are exploiting the children to make money," said Judith Grisham. "We don't make any money on these kids -- we pay for everything. We pay for the food, the pots and pans. We provide the tents they sleep in, and the tiki torches. Everything is provided from the tuition they pay (about $200 per child for the week) and we don't turn anyone away. We provide scholarships for those that want to come but can't afford to. We pay for the field trips, we rent the vans ... anything they need is paid for."
"You just can't judge something until you see it for yourself," she said.
On the last night of camp, after the talent show, the campers and their counselors returned to the field where their tents were, to enjoy one final campfire. An adult circled the fire cautioning everyone not to sit downwind of the smoke."Pass the mosquito repellent," somebody else yelled.
Some of the campers were teary-eyed. They had made friends they wouldn't see for another year.
After a moving rendition of (what else?) Kumbayah, accompanied by a counselor on the guitar and a loud chorus of frogs from nearby woods, a lantern was passed around in what is called the Circle of Friends. As on previous nights, each person, teen and adult, was asked to answer a group question. Tonight: "What have you accomplished this week? And what didn't you accomplish that you wanted to?"
Mister Mike, one of the young adult counselors, said: "I made some really great friends." A younger camper said: "I met many inspiring people -- I want to come back and bring a friend."
A young woman named Jill said she came to Lake Como not knowing anyone, but now she had lots of new friends. A sixteen-year-old boy said he learned a lot about his body, and "now I feel more comfortable with it."
Others said much the same: They learned a lot, made friends and felt they accomplished something. John, one of the older campers, offered: "I managed not to throw any kids in the lake to be eaten by the gators."
Amanda Williamson said, "I learned to play tennis, and I got to hang out with my Grandpa. He knows everything."
Though on previous nights the curfew had been 11 p.m., on this night the conversation, already nostalgic, went on way past midnight.