Supervisor Rafael Mandelman is proposing to revise restrictions on gay bath houses imposed in the 1980s during the AIDS epidemic. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Supes to vote on proposal to ease restrictions on gay bathhouses

Mandelman hopes to ‘make the operation of adult sex venues more feasible.’

San Francisco is expected to relax decades-old restrictions on gay bathhouses.

The proposal, introduced by Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, was approved Thursday by a Board of Supervisors committee and the full board will vote whether to adopt it on July 21.

“I hope this ordinance will make the operation of adult sex venues more feasible and will encourage the opening of new businesses that will aid in our economic recovery,” Mandelman said during the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee meeting.

The Department of Public Health imposes standards for the operation of gay bathhouses. Mandelman’s ordinance will require the department “to update their minimum health and safety standards for commercial adult sex venues and remove current regulations that require the monitoring of patrons’ sexual activities and prohibit private booths and locked doors,” Mandelman said.

Mandelman had postponed a vote on the proposal back in March when the COVID-19 pandemic began to impact The City. He brought it back and amended it to require the department to update the standards by January 1, 2021. The inital proposal had required new standards by July 1.

Mandelman noted that the ordinance does not override any regulations around reopening timelines for San Francico’s businesses during the pandemic.

“To be clear, this ordinance does not and will not require or allow the reopening of adult sex venues in San Francisco before it is safe to do so as part of our COVID-19 reopening,” Mandelman said.

Mandelman said that the current regulations “have no scientific justification today” and were a throwback to the 1980s AIDS epidemic when “San Francisco instituted policies targeting bathhouses and sex venues frequented by gay men.”

In 1984, then City Attorney George Agnost and Director of Public Health Mervyn Silverman filed a lawsuit against 14 bathhouses, sex clubs, bookstores, and adult movie theaters to have them shuttered by claiming them to be a public nuisance. A court injunction allowed them to remain open under the condition they employ “monitors” to prevent unsafe sex.

“Although the bathhouses could have legally remained open under the rules established by the court, most of them closed,” the legislation says.

The department has updated its regulations over the years, but still requires monitors. The City’s health officer Tomas Aragon defended the monitoring in a 2013 statement.

The legislation says that “these businesses — adult sex venues — can be an important place for preventing the transmission of communicable diseases by educating patrons about ways to prevent the transmission of disease, and by establishing community norms that promote safe sex.”



jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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