50 years in 50 weeks: 1984: Bathhouse battles

  • by BAR staff
  • Wednesday July 7, 2021
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Photos: Courtesy B.A.R. Archive
Photos: Courtesy B.A.R. Archive

In 1984, the AIDS epidemic was raging and some officials in San Francisco thought that if the city closed bathhouses, which were frequented by gay men, the spread of the disease could be slowed. Others felt that bathhouses provided venues for safer sex education, and the owners of the establishments, naturally, wanted to remain open for business. The issue came to a head in October of that year, when Dr. Mervyn Silverman, then the health director, ordered the baths closed; they would reopen hours later, as the Bay Area Reporter noted. In October 1984 a San Francisco Superior Court judge issued a temporary restraining order that shuttered nine gay bathhouses and sex clubs. In late November of that year another judge lifted the restraining order but imposed new rules on how the bathhouses and sex clubs could operate. No longer could they rent private rooms, unless they secured a hotel license, and employees had to monitor the sexual behavior of patrons. Fast-forward 37 years, and bathhouses are now allowed in San Francisco, as the health department in January rescinded the old rules. However, to date, no operator has so far decided to open such a venture. To view the old issues, click here and here.

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