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San Francisco to close gay bathhouses

By
JAMES O. CLIFFORD

SAN FRANCISCO -- The city's health director, with the backing of Mayor Dianne Feinstein, Monday will announce the closing of bathhouses catering to homosexuals in a campaign to slow the spread of AIDS.

The announcement was to be made by Public Health Director Dr. Mervyn Silverman, who was expected to say the decision was based on health issues and not politics.

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Some members of San Francisco's large gay community oppose any bathhouse shutdown on grounds it would inhibit the homosexual lifestyle. But one gay activist leader says he thinks the bathhouses have become nothing more than 'orgy rooms.'

Feinstein has approved of a shutdown but left the matter officially up to Silverman.

'If this were a heterosexually related problem it would be resolved by now,' the mayor said last week.

AIDS is an acronym for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, an incurable disease that eventually proves fatal and is spread by homosexual contact among males.

A poll published Sunday by the San Francisco Examiner said 80 percent of the people responding want to ban gay sex in bathhouses or close them down altogether.

The poll of adult San Franciscans also said gays were evenly divided on the issue.

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Silverman had been expected to announce the closure of gay bathhouses 10 days ago but backed off without giving any reason. He then began talking with members of the gay community before making an official decision.

Estimates of the number of homosexuals in San Francisco range from 25,000 to 100,000.

Gay activist Larry Littlejohn has taken the first step in qualifying a proposition for the November ballot that would ban sex in the bathhouses. His measure would force operators to 'keep their areas well lit and not set up these orgy rooms like they have now,' Littlejohn said.

Silverman has maintained that restrictive measures would not remove the threat of spreading AIDS because promiscuous sexual behavior among male homosexuals could occur elsewhere.

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