Officials Should Not Close Los Angeles County Bathhouses, Letters to Editor Say
Effectively "[d]riving people from bathhouses" in Los Angeles County could be "counterproductive and lead to the further spread of HIV," Roger Coggan, director of legal services and public policy for the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, writes in a Los Angeles Times letter to the editor (Coggan, Los Angeles Times, 3/30). The Times in a March 25 editorial called for the county's bathhouses to be closed. Following the release of a federally funded study showing a higher HIV prevalence among men at gay bathhouses compared with other locations in Los Angeles County, county Department of Health Services officials are considering plans to impose rules on all types of sex clubs, including requiring them to offer condoms, on-site testing for sexually transmitted diseases and information on condom usage. The officials also are considering requiring the clubs to obtain a license from the health department and comply with certain regulations or risk being closed. The health department must submit a proposal for updating bathhouse regulations by May 15 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/26). "Aggressive safer-sex education at bathhouses saves lives by reaching people who otherwise would not practice safe sex, either at bathhouses or in other locations," Coggan says. He adds that bathhouses can "provide important initial access to education, testing and treatment referrals for gay men" and men who have sex with men but who "do not self-identify as gay." Although he "shares [the] legitimate concern" about high HIV prevalence among men who opt to be tested "in the anonymous setting of a bathhouse," Coggan concludes that the "real issue in the transmission of HIV and the testing for HIV is not location but education" (Coggan, Los Angeles Times, 3/30).
In another letter to the editor of the Times, AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein writes that "[p]rohibition didn't work for alcohol and it won't work for safer sex." Although Weinstein says he is a "primary supporter" of more stringent regulation for bathhouses and sex clubs, "there are many places where bathhouses operate and promote safer sex." He adds that "access to HIV testing in the clubs is vital." Weinstein says, "Adults have to make responsible decisions" and "[b]usinesses need to be regulated so that they protect their patrons," concluding that "[p]ublic health and personal freedom can be balanced" (Weinstein, Los Angeles Times, 3/30).