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sexual activity among gay men. After the emergence of AIDS, a debate raged in major U.S. cities as to whether gay bathhouses should be closed as threats to the public health or kept open and used as effective sites for safer-sex education.
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Among U.S. cities, these issues were played out most publicly in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. In San Francisco, the mounting mortality rate from AIDS fueled an emotional debate between lesbian and gay advocates of closure and those who emphasized gay male identity issues and the sense of sexual freedom that the baths represented. Mervyn Silverman, director of the department of public health, and other local health officials felt caught in the middle, ultimately closing the baths after much debate in October 1984. In Los Angeles, attempts to close the bathhouses largely failed. The city’s department of health promulgated regulations that required on-site inspections for any sexual activity and the removal of doors from private cubicles on the premises. State courts eventually overturned these regulations, however, even though similar ones were upheld in San Francisco.