Bathhouses May Return To San Francisco

Megan Goldsby
February 18, 2020 - 6:16 pm
Alexxi Othenin-Girard holds a leather vest during a World AIDS Day commemoration event at the National AIDS Memorial Grove on December 1, 2015 in San Francisco.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images


Bathhouses were a San Francisco staple before the AIDS crisis. Now, a supervisor has proposed replacing the city law that effectively banned them. 

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman has introduced a bill to drop the old laws that led to the closure of the bathhouses. 

In 1984, laws were passed that prohibited private rooms with locks and required monitoring of any sexual activity in the bathhouses in an attempt to curb unprotected gay sex and the spread of HIV/AIDS.

“Thirty six years later in the era of PrEP with HIV transmission rates going down, if this ever made sense, it doesn’t today,” said Mandelman, whose district includes the Castro..

Dropping these regulations would have an important symbolic meaning too, said Joshua O'Neal, the director of sexual health services for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

“To recognize how far we’ve come and how we, especially folks who are younger, who have different experiences with HIV, are experiencing a sexual revolution of sorts,” said O’Neal.

Mandelman says the bathhouses can and should come back.

“People are engaged in unsafe behaviors today, and the hope is actually that you know if you bring them into an organized facility where there’s the opportunity to provide public health information, that actually, you know, behaviors can change,” said Mandelman.