San Francisco removes ban on gay bathhouses

The ban was introduced almost four decades ago, at the height of the AIDS crisis


Words: Jamie Tabberer; picture: Pixabay (posed by model)

San Francisco’s public health department is removing a decades-long ban on bathhouses, it has emerged.

Restrictions have been in place since the mid-1980s, the height of the AIDS crisis.

The regulations included a ban on private rooms with locked doors, and the requirement to monitor the sex of patrons - resulting in a de facto ban.

“Symbolically significant”

On the lifting of the rules, District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman told The Bay Area Reporter: "It is symbolically significant right now. Whether it is significant on the ground depends on if entrepreneurs with the vision and financial capacities and the savvy to open can and operate one of these.”

Mandelman, who has campaigned against the rules and whose office was first informed of their removal, added: “If somebody comes forward, we will have to see what is the interrelationship between public health and land use. As we all know, it is hard to get anything approved in San Francisco."

According to the outlet, a three-page document titled ‘Minimum Standards for Operation of Sex Clubs, Commercial Sex Venues and Parties’ states that easily visible signs in venues, displayed in multiple languages, must alert patrons to activities posing a high risk for HIV and STI transmission.

Among other rules are a ban on sex in exchange for money and on clearly intoxicated patrons, and the requirement to provide wash-up facilities such as cold running water and hand sanitiser.

One gay bathhouse in San Fran has survived the old rules: Easy Bay’s Steam works, although it is currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Similarly, the city has only one surviving gay sex club without private, locked rooms: Eros in the Castro.

Read the Attitude March issue, out now to download and to order globally.

Subscribe in print and get your first three issues for just £1 each, or digitally for just over £1.50 per issue.