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Bathhouse for Gays Closed Over AIDS Risk

August 31, 1988|CARLA RIVERA | Times Staff Writer

In the first successful enforcement of county regulations aimed at closing bathhouses that allow sexual activities linked to the spread of AIDS, a Los Angeles judge Tuesday ordered a gay bathhouse in Silver Lake to close, ruling that it posed an unacceptable risk to public health.

In issuing a preliminary injunction shutting down Mac's, Superior Court Judge Miriam Vogel ruled that its owners "knowingly facilitated and allowed" high-risk sexual activities that violate county health and safety regulations.

The judge also said that the "primary reason for the existence of Mac's is for unrestrained conduct" that promotes the transmission of AIDS, the acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

Action Defended

"I know they (homosexuals) see this action as a step backward," Vogel said. "I don't. I see it as a necessary step to save the gay population of Los Angeles."

Attorney Barrett Litt, who represents the owners of Mac's and several other gay bathhouses in the city, called the ruling an "unconstitutional intrusion" on privacy and argued that rather than curbing the disease, closing the bathhouse would cause AIDS to spread faster.

"The real-world effect of this ruling will be to force (bathhouse users) to seek out other locations where they will be less likely to have an environment of safe sex. . . . More people will die of AIDS," Litt said.

Those opposed to closing bathhouses have argued that they promote safe sex by distributing condoms and educating patrons about the spread of AIDS.

The result of Tuesday's ruling means that Mac's must remain closed pending a trial. Litt said he has not decided whether to appeal the decision.

Vogel suggested that the bathhouse might be allowed to reopen if the owners can convince the county that it can comply with health regulations. But Deputy Dist. Atty. Thomas A. Papageorge said an agreement is unlikely.

"In reality it's a commercial sex club," Papageorge said. "Establishing a system that would comply with (regulations) would require very drastic changes."

Regulations adopted by the Board of Supervisors in January prohibit anal and oral sex in bathhouses and require windows in private rooms so that sexual activities can be monitored.

The court action against Mac's stemmed from an undercover investigation of three bathhouses earlier this year by the county health department and the district attorney's office.

Sex Acts Observed

Investigators said they observed the prohibited sexual acts, unsanitary conditions, no attempts to distribute condoms to patrons and little effort to educate them about AIDS.

One of the bathhouses--the Leisure Spa and Turkish Bath in Pomona--has since closed. Court action against the third bathhouse--the Hollywood Spa in Hollywood--is pending, Papageorge said.

County officials failed in an attempt to close several bathhouses two years ago when a Superior Court judge ruled that there was insufficient proof to conclude that they posed a health threat. In the current case, prosecutors presented thousands of pages of medical evidence establishing the link between oral and anal sex and the spread of AIDS.

Papageorge said the 10 remaining bathhouses in Los Angeles County will be investigated.

He praised as "helping the cause" recently passed legislation that would enhance the power of local health agencies to close bathhouses. Under the legislation, which still must be signed by Gov. George Deukmejian, local officials can close a bathhouse if they find evidence of high-risk sexual activity.

Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner has acknowledged that the county's goal is to close all of the bathhouses. He said at a press conference after the ruling Tuesday that by "conservative" estimates, 20,000 to 30,000 sexual contacts occur each month in the bathhouses.

"With the whole world fighting AIDS it is crazy that the city or county would sanction this sort of behavior," he said.

According to Department of Health Services statistics, as of July there were 5,415 reported cases of AIDS in the county, with 63%, or 3,387 cases, resulting in death.

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