Los Angeles Public Health Chief Recommends Requiring Licenses for Bathhouses
Los Angeles Public Health Chief Jonathan Fielding in a report last week recommended requiring licenses for gay bathhouses operating in Los Angeles County, Calif., the Los Angeles Times reports (Bernstein, Los Angeles Times, 6/25). 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 have been 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 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/2). Fielding in his report this week recommended that the county Board of Supervisors adopt rules that allow the health department to close bathhouses if they allow patrons to have unprotected sex or fail to obtain a license, according to the Times. The recommended rules also would allow health inspectors to visit bathhouses unannounced at peak evening and weekend hours; require bathhouse patrons to sign a consent form acknowledging the rules; mandate that clubs ban for six months all patrons who violate the rules or use drugs; require bathhouses to post signs detailing the rules and offer HIV testing and counseling during peak periods; and mandate that clubs are "well-li[t]" so that inspectors can see what patrons are doing, according to the Times.
The new rules face "tough political hurdles," including a requirement that any change in the region's health code be adopted by both the county Board of Supervisors and the Los Angeles City Council, according to the Times. Some elected officials "remain squeamish" about regulating bathhouses, and no council members or supervisors would comment on the issue, according to the Times. Steve Afriat, who represents the owners of nine bathhouses, has begun lobbying against the proposed rules, according to the Times. Afriat said, "Private clubs will be subject to searches and will have to keep a database of individuals, with their names and addresses, who have unsafe sex," adding, "When you stop to think about it, it's really quite horrendous." However, Fielding said, "Diseases are being transmitted in these establishments and we're interested in reducing that" (Los Angeles Times, 6/25).