Los Angeles County Health Officials Delay Vote on Ordinance To Ban High-Risk Sexual Behavior at Bathhouses, Sex Clubs
Los Angeles County health officials last week delayed a scheduled vote by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on a proposed ordinance that would ban high-risk sexual behavior at gay bathhouses and sex clubs, Reuters reports (Reuters, 5/3). A motion approved in February by the Board of Supervisors had required the county Department of Health Services and other workers within 90 days -- by May 15 -- to recommend improvements for prevention programs and guidelines for how the county and cities can coordinate licensing and permit distribution for the clubs. The motion cited a 2002 study that found 11% of men at two Los Angeles area bathhouses tested HIV-positive, compared with 5% of men who had been tested at a public clinic or community-based testing center. The county already has the power to inspect and shut down bathhouses. Health department officials are considering plans to impose rules on all types of sex clubs, including requiring them to offer condoms and information on condom usage, as well as on-site testing for sexually transmitted diseases. 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 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/24). County Health Director Jonathan Fielding said that last week he requested a 30-day extension of the May 15 deadline to consider "legal issues" and to have more time to work with businesses and officials in Los Angeles, where many of the clubs are located, the AP/San Jose Mercury News reports. Fielding said, "The issue is a difficult one. We've been working hard on it. The issue is: can we effectively regulate these bathhouses?" (AP/San Jose Mercury News, 5/3).
Representatives of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation at a press conference on Monday said that county officials are "dragging [their] feet" on the ordinance, according to the AP/Mercury News (AP/San Jose Mercury News, 5/3). "It has been almost two full years since the landmark study documenting a higher incidence of HIV infections among men who tested at bathhouses in Los Angeles," AHF President Michael Weinstein said, adding, "[W]hile we applaud the board's February action to regulate bathhouses, we felt and stated at the time that 90 days was simply too long for DHS and county counsel to draft this ordinance, considering the urgency of this public health issue." He said that bathhouse owners have "banded together and hired lobbyists to oppose this measure," adding that DHS seems to be "bowing to the pressure" from bathhouse owners. AHF in January stopped providing HIV testing in the county's sex clubs and bathhouses because "of the difficulty we had getting into many of these venues," Michael Garcia, regional manager for AHF's prevention and testing program, said, according to an AHF release. He added, "Now, we wonder what sort of prevention and testing, if any, has been going on in these clubs since then. Clearly individuals at higher risk frequent these establishments, and they often engage in high-risk activities" (AHF release, 5/2). Fielding said that officials hope to have a draft ordinance prepared within 30 days, according to Reuters (Reuters, 5/3).