San Francisco is Bringing Back the Bathhouse

San Francisco is ready to over turn a city wide ordinance that had banned bathhouses since the AIDS crisis.

HomoCulture News and Politics Koelen Andrews

This article was published on February 15th, 2020

San Francisco is ready to overturn a city-wide ordinance that has had banned bathhouses since the AIDS crisis.

San Francisco sunset

Bathhouses have played an intricate part in queer culture since, forever. When no other gathering place was safe, closeted gay and bisexual men could get together in private, under one roof. While they’ve gained the reputation of being nothing but sex establishments, bathhouses were virtual community centers where gays could meet up without persecution. Legendary diva Bette Midler used to perform for eager crowds at bathhouses. Hence the term Bathhouse Betty. And they became a staple of the gay community.

During the AIDS crisis, swift action was taken by cities across the United States, with San Francisco being one of the main ones to indirectly shut down all of the bathhouses in the Bay Area. Suddenly gay men had nowhere to go other than gay bars, leading to the cultural shift towards legal liquor establishments and away from bathhouses. Most shut their doors after strict ordinances were placed upon them and many haven’t re-opened in the nearly 40 years since the beginning of the AIDS crisis.

There are plenty of gay bars, lounges, and night clubs in San Francisco's gay neighbourhood, the Castro, including The Lookout.

Now, thanks to the actions of District 8 supervisor Rafaela Mandelman’s new legislation, gay bathhouses are ready to return to SF and open their doors to the community once again. At the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the new legislation provides that the San Francisco Department of Public Health remove current regulations requiring the monitoring of patrons’ sexual activities and prohibiting private rooms in bathhouses and commercial adult sex venues. 

“Our current regulations for adult sex venues were put in place as an emergency measure at the height of the AIDS crisis when San Francisco was desperate to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS” said Mandelman. “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.” 

The San Francisco Department of Public Health reported in 2018 that the number of new HIV diagnoses in San Francisco dropped to 197, marking a 58% decrease from the number of new HIV diagnoses in 2011.

The new legislation “will amend the Health Code to require the Department of Public Health to adopt new minimum health and safety standards for commercial adult sex venues, and will prohibit the department from adopting standards that require monitoring of patrons’ sexual activities, or ban booths, cubicles or private rooms with locking doors. It provides for these minimum standards to include requirements that venues make safer sex supplies and education materials available to patrons. 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.”

This means that bathhouses will be making a comeback in San Francisco. What do you think about this new step in LGBT equality and sexuality? Leave your comments below.

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