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San Francisco expected to open golden gates for bathhouses after three decades

Rafael Mandelman. Screenshot via SFGovTV

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors will soon vote on a measure that would allow gay bathhouses to reopen around the city.

Bathhouses once served as the gathering place for queer men before the AIDS epidemic forced them to close in the 1980s. Now, more than 30 years after the city ordered their closure, it looks like the once-popular venues could make a comeback…at least after the end of the COVID-19 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,” said gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman. He further clarified that the measure–which he sponsored–will “allow for adult sex venues to be part of our economic and cultural recovery when it is safe to do so.”

Related: With Dallas gay bars closed, this bathhouse reopens?

Mandelman’s measure passed through the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee in a unanimous 3-0 vote. The full Board of Supervisors will vote on the measure on July 21. Should it pass, the Department of Health will have to comply with the ordinance by January 1 of next year.

In the 1970s, bathhouses thrived in San Francisco as well as in many other major American cities. The onset of AIDS created an enormous stigma around the bathhouses, however, and in 1984 a court forced their closure as a means of curbing the spread of HIV. Now, in an age of PrEP and renewed LGBTQ rights, Rafael Mandelman says the time has come to make a change.

“During the 1970s and early 1980s, bathhouses were a focal point of gay social life in San Francisco and were important community meeting places where friends would gather to share stories, dance to the latest disco hits or watch a live show,” Mandelman notes. “COVID-19 has resulted in the closure of many small businesses, a deadening of our neighborhood commercial corridors and record unemployment in San Francisco and around the country. 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.”