City Regulations Forced Gay Saunas To Close As The HIV Epidemic Worsened

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District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who represents the LGBTQ-centric Castro area in San Francisco, has introduced legislation that would lay the groundwork for allowing gay bathhouses to reopen.

Back in 1984, as the AIDS epidemic was reaching a fever-pitch, San Francisco put new rules in place ordering owners to tear down individual cubicles with locks on the doors as well as having employees ‘monitor’ the sexual activities of patrons to ensure there was no unsafe sex taking place.

But advancements in medical science in the decades since has changed the HIV landscape.

Modern HIV medications are now capable of bringing viral loads down to undetectable making transmission of the virus nearly impossible. Plus, the advent of PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) has led to a dramatic decline in new HIV infections, especially in San Francisco.

According to the Bay Area Reporter, new diagnoses of HIV dropped below 200 in 2018.

District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney, whose district includes the South of Market neighborhood where most gay bathhouses were located back in the day, has expressed his support of the new legislation.

Pointing to the advances in HIV drugs, as well as research which has shown monitoring sexual activity in bathhouses has “little to no effect,” Haney announced he will be co-sponsoring Mandelman’s legislation.

The change in policies would instruct the city health director to “revise the health department’s minimum standards governing the operation of adult sex venues so they no longer ban locked doors or require sex monitoring by staff,” writes the Bay Area Reporter.

The proposal could also include requiring bathhouses to provide free condoms and other safe sex supplies.

The ordinance requires that these new minimum standards be adopted by no later than July 1, 2020, and that there be a public notice and public comment process.

“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,” said Mandelman in a statement. “I hope that this ordinance will support our efforts to get to zero new HIV infections and will put a bookend on a painful chapter in the history of the queer community in San Francisco.” 

Although no bathhouses currently operate in San Francisco, there are gay sex clubs, like Eros, which is a condoms-only club and doesn’t offer individual, private rooms for sexual activity.

(Source: Bay Area Reporter)

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