Private Places

Gay activists push for return of traditional bathhouses

But the protest efforts by Carrazza, ACT UP, and others don't seem likely to bring back traditional bathhouses to San Francisco any time soon.

Dana Van Gorder, who works for Katz as the city's coordinator of lesbian and gay health services and is also openly gay, admits frequenting San Francisco's sex clubs from time to time for his own recreation. "I value them and enjoy them," Van Gorder says. "You can have a lot of fun there, with a relative degree of confidence it will be a safe experience."

But Van Gorder says he believes private rooms would provide too much temptation for unsafe activity, and he draws the line there. "That doesn't seem like an unreasonable rule," he says. "How much are we really sacrificing? There are already plenty of sex clubs in this city that cater to a wide range of tastes and flavors."

Van Gorder argues that the recent bathhouse protests have been frivolous. "They [activists] can go on about the seminal role of bathhouses in gay culture," he says. "But there still is an ongoing AIDS epidemic, and I think there is a little denial going on."

Suarez, of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, tends to agree. "The bathhouse debate is a sideshow," he says. "There are a lot of real issues that require real attention other than being able to have sex behind a closed door versus a dark corner.

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