The San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved legislation that could pave the way for the return of gay bathhouses in the city.

District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman introduced his legislation in February.

“In the midst of the current COVID-19 pandemic, we are reminded that our best public policy decisions will be driven by data, science and facts, not by panic or political pressure,” said Mandelman. “The closure of the bathhouses in San Francisco, and the decades-long perpetuation of policies requiring invasive patron monitoring and the ban on private rooms, have no scientific justification today.”

The legislation rolls back rules established at the height of the AIDS epidemic prohibiting private rooms in bathhouses and sex venues and requiring such establishments to monitor the sexual activities of patrons.

The city targeted bathhouse owners and labeled them a public health nuisance in a lawsuit filed in 1984. The legal action led to the adoption of minimum standards by the Department of Public Health that are still in effect today. While the bathhouses were allowed to remain open on the condition that they monitor for unsafe sex and remove the doors from rooms, all of them closed.

San Francisco, which reported the first case of AIDS in the country in 1980, has seen a dramatic decline in HIV infections (below 200 for the first time in 2018), leading LGBT activists to argue that the current regulations unfairly target gay men and that bathhouses can be used to promote safer sex education.

Two Bay Area gay adult businesses, Watergarden, a bathhouse in San Jose, and Blow Buddies, a sex venue in San Francisco, closed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mandelman, who is gay, said that he hopes bathhouses can aid in the city's economic recovery.

“During the 1970s and early 80s bathhouses were a focal point of gay social life in San Francisco and were important community meeting places where friends would gather to share stories, dance to the latest disco hits or watch a live show,” said Mandelman. “With many businesses closing due to COVID-19, I hope this legislation will make the operation of adult sex venues more feasible and will encourage the opening of new businesses that will aid in our economic recovery when it is safe to do so.”

Reporting by The Bay Area Reporter in February found no proposed openings for bathhouses in San Francisco.