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Preventing the Spread of HIV

March 30, 2004

Re "Issue of Health, Not Rights," editorial, March 25: The L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center shares The Times' legitimate concern about the high prevalence of HIV infection in men who choose to be tested in the anonymous setting of a bathhouse. Yes, we also have civil rights concerns when the discussion turns to closing down the bathhouses. However, The Times is throwing out a red herring in arguing that opposition to closure comes only from people with civil rights concerns.

The real issue in the transmission of HIV and the testing for HIV is not location, but education. 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. Driving people from bathhouses may be counterproductive and lead to the further spread of HIV.

At a time of uneven access to healthcare in the county, bathhouses often provide important initial access to education, testing and treatment referrals for gay men as well as men who have sex with men but do not self-identify as gay. What about those bathhouses that do not comply with all public health and safety codes? They should be dealt with in the same manner as any other noncomplying establishment. But let's not toss out the baby with the bathwater.

Roger Coggan

Director of Legal Services

and Public Policy, L.A. Gay

& Lesbian Center

*

I must take issue with your editorial calling for the closure of L.A.'s sex clubs. Prohibition didn't work for alcohol and it won't work for safer sex. Closing the bathhouses in San Francisco did not have a significant impact on new infections and, likewise, there are many places where bathhouses operate and promote safer sex.

The Times properly named me as the primary supporter of more regulation of these clubs. In particular, access to HIV testing in the clubs is vital. Adults have to make responsible decisions for themselves. Businesses need to be regulated so that they protect their patrons. Public health and personal freedom can be balanced.

Michael Weinstein

President, AIDS

Healthcare Foundation

Los Angeles

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