San Francisco Gay Bathhouses, Shuttered During AIDS Crisis, to Reopen?

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday July 30, 2020

City authorities in San Francisco have cleared the way for gay bathhouses in the city to reopen, striking down burdensome restrictions that were imposed in 1984 and that led to the closure of such establishments, reports political news outlet The Hill.

The city took legal action against gay bathhouses in 1984, claiming that the businesses were "public health nuisances." A court order followed, establishing monitoring guidelines intended to keep an eye on the sexual activities of bathhouse patrons, including the removal of doors from private rooms. In theory, bathhouses following those monitoring requirements could have stayed in operation, media sources said; in practice, all the city's gay bathhouses closed.

The restrictions were codified as "minimum standards" by the city's Department of Public Health in 1997, the Examiner noted.

A proposal to rescind court-ordered monitoring of sexual activity among the patrons of bathhouses was proposed last February by Rafael Mandelman, who serves as City Supervisor for District 8, which includes the Castro, the San Francisco Examiner reported at the time.

Mandelman argued that those measures, if they were ever effective, are outmoded now:

"Decades later, with the emergence of PrEP and in light of San Francisco's reduction in HIV diagnoses to under 200 for the first time since the 1980's, these regulations — including a ban on private rooms and required monitoring of patrons' sexual activities — have no public health rationale and need to be changed."

Mandelman was quoted in a news release from the San Francisco AIDS Foundation as noting:

"When properly operated, by providing access to safer sex educational materials and supplies and HIV and STD testing, these venues assist rather than impede our efforts to control the transmission of HIV."

The restrictions were rescinded by unanimous vote on July 28, reports said.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.