The San Francisco AIDS Foundation

The San Francisco AIDS Foundation

40.00

“A Town Hall Meeting for the Gay/Lesbian Community: After Closure”

San Francisco, 1984.

Photocopied flyer, 280 x 217 mm in very good condition with stamp to lower left, “OCT 1984.”

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ABOUT THIS FLYER

An advertisement for a town hall-style meeting on Monday, October 22, 1984 at the Metropolitan Community Church organized by the San Francisco AIDS foundation and a “Community-Based Partnership,” including the Alice B. Toklas Lesbian/Gay Democratic Club, Concerned Republications for Individual Rights, Golden Gate Business Association, People with AIDS San Francisco, and the Stonewall Gay Democratic Club. “It’s Time We Talked,” the flyer reads, and promises an “Open Microphone for Dialogue” and “Medical Analysis” offered by BAPHR, that is, the Bay Area Physicians for Human Rights—a group founded in 1977 for gay physicians, the first of its kind. 

While the AIDS Crisis resulted in the closure of many gay-supported establishments, like bars and clubs, the closures that most likely prompted this meeting related to legislation passed earlier that October related to the closure of bathhouses. On October 9th 1984, the Directory of Public Health for San Francisco, Mervyn Silverman, had ordered fourteen bathhouses to close, although many of them resisted and almost immediately reopened. Within the community of AIDS activists, this was a controversial move: for instance activist Larry Littlejohn believed bathhouses should be closed, while the AIDS Foundation of San Francisco—the host of this meeting—believed that bathhouses were important as hubs for education and AIDS prevention. The previous year, Littlejohn had threatened to align with the religious right to petition for the closure of bathhouses, and a measure was passed in April 1983 to ensure that “all sexual activity between individuals is to be eliminated in public bath facilities in San Francisco where the transmission of AIDS is likely to occur.” This included sex clubs and a few adult bookstores with private rooms. The mayor at the time, Dianne Feinstein, enforced the law with a throwback to earlier tactics of policing the gay community: sending plainclothes police officers to investigate bathhouses. Their findings were damning, prompting the October order, but in response and in collaboration with the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, many bathhouses began to take measures for AIDS education and prevention, and crucially, remained open. By November 9th 1984, six patrons of bathhouses sued the city for infringement of their rights of free association, beginning a legal struggle that raised both the profile of AIDS prevention groups, and combated the misinformation surrounding the crisis in its own right. 

This document attests to that broad collaboration across political groups and trade organizations, a complementary angle to the work of more radical, direct action groups such as ACT UP in the struggle against misinformation about the spread of AIDS. Ultimately, the litigants backed by the SF AIDS Foundation and others lost in court, but the case itself was significant in bringing government attention to a crisis that had gone ignored, and strengthened the resolve of the SF AIDS Foundation, whose work continues today. The questions posted in the document—“Where are we now? Where do we go from here? What can we do as a community?— also ring true to just about any urban queer, since LGBTQ+ establishments in cities across the U.S.A. and Europe face the threat of constant closure.

FURTHER READING

Colin Clews, “1984. HIV/AIDS: The Closure of San Francisco’s bathouses. Part One.” Gay in the 80s, https://www.gayinthe80s.com/2015/01/1984-hivaids-the-closure-of-san-franciscos-bathhouses-part-one/

Christopher Disman, “The San Francisco Bathhouse Battles of 1984: Civil Liberties, AIDS Risk, and Shifts in Health Policy in Gay Bathhouses and Public Health Policy,” Gay Bathhouses and Public Health Policy, ed. William J. Woods and Diane Binson (New York: Harrington Park Press, 2003), 71–130.

San Francisco AIDS Foundation, “Our History,” http://sfaf.org/about-us/our-history/