Restrictions Relaxed for Gay Bathhouses, Sex Venues

The new ordinance will not affect San Francisco’s COVID-19 reopening timeline.

Gay bathhouses could have an easier time returning to San Francisco, after the board of supervisors approved an ordinance that would ease restrictions for adult sex venues on July 21 with a unaminous vote.

This will amend the Heath Code, requiring the Director of Health to “adopt minimum health and safety standards” for commercial adult sex venues. It will also remove decades-old policies that required these businesses to monitor sexual activities and prohibited private rooms and locked doors.

These regulations were put in place in 1984, when the AIDS crisis was devastating gay communities in San Francisco. They specifically targeted sex clubs and gay bathhouses, and while sex clubs eventually reopened in the city after shuttering their doors, gay bathhouses never did, according to the Bay Area Reporter

That could change after the COVID-19 pandemic is over (this new ruling will not affect the city’s reopening timeline). The ordinance, led by Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, will help “decriminalize sexuality” according to a press release by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

“It’s time for regulations that were put in place at a time of fear and a lack of knowledge to catch up with the progress we’ve made in the fight to end AIDS,” Joe Hollendoner, CEO of San Francisco AIDS Foundation, said in the press release. “With PrEP, U=U and other advancements in sexual health, bathhouse restrictions are antiquated and stigmatizing.”

PrEP is a daily pill that people can take to prevent HIV infections before potential exposure. U=U means “undetectable = untransmittable.” If someone has HIV and is being treated and the virus is sufficiently suppressed, then it cannot be sexually transmitted.

“What this ordinance will do is allow for adult sex venues to be apart of our economic and cultural recovery when it is safe to do so,” Mandelman said in a July 9 meeting. “During the ’70s and early ’80s, bathhouses were a focal point of gay social life in San Francisco, and were important community meeting places for friends to gather to share stories, dance to the latest disco hits, or watch a live show.” 

Grace Z. Li covers arts, culture and food for SF Weekly. You can reach her at gli@sfweekly.com or follow her on Twitter @gracezhali.

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