SAN FRANCISCO -- The city Tuesday ordered closed 14 bathhouses and sex clubs catering to homosexuals, citing the gathering places as a principal cause in the spread of the incurable AIDS disease.
The decision came 18 months after Mayor Dianne Feinstein first urged that the notorious clubs be shut down.
The city has 30 gay bathhouses, but 16 passed city inspections. It was determined those facilities did not actively encourage widespread sexual activity among patrons, authorities said.
Director of Public Health Dr. Mervyn F. Silverman said he reached the decision to close the baths and clubs because of new evidence that AIDS -- Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome -- is transmitted among gays through sexual intercourse.
'Make no mistake about it,' Silverman said at a news conference. 'These 14 establishments are not fostering gay liberation. They are fostering disease and death.'
Some militant homosexual leaders have said closure talk was a form of discrimination against gays, or an attack on gay rights.
Authorities earlier this year yielded to pressure from the gay community, one of the largest in the United States, not to close the clubs.
Silverman's investigators recently returned to the 14 public facilities and confirmed that unsafe sexual activity was continuing. He said the facilities had been found to encourage indiscriminate sexual contacts which help spread the disease.
Some have areas so dark 'you can't see your hand,' Silverman said, and others 'have physical attributes that sometimes make it impossible to know who your partner is.'
The establishments closed Tuesday had names such as Academy, Animals, Boot Camp, Jack's Turkish Bath, Savage Theatre, The Slot and Tea Room Theatre.
The city has recorded more than 700 cases of AIDS and 306 deaths, but closure of the bathhouses has been resisted by elements of the politically powerful gay community.
Up to 20 percent of San Francisco's population of 700,000 is said to be homosexual.
Owners of the clubs, Silverman said, should show more care for the gay community 'that has made them quite rich' than to encourage spread of a fatal disease.
Silverman said his long-awaited and long-debated decision was reached because 'we now have solid evidence that AIDS is a sexually transmitted disease -- often spread by people who are unaware that they are carrying the virus.'
The virus, he said, has been found in 40 to 50 percent of the gay male population in San Francisco.
'We know that the more sexual activity involving the exchange of body fluids, the greater the risk of contracting AIDS.'
Since the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic, San Francisco has conducted an extensive education program among homosexuals. Silverman said the success produced 'an incredible change' in opinion in the gay community.