The Final Months Before Closure

Hughes

Silverman's press conference occurred in the spring of 1984, and the baths were finally closed in October. What shifted Silverman to a position in which he felt he could close the baths?


Andrews

I think it was partly the political pressure. Gay politicians like Bill Kraus were saying, "You've got to close these bathhouses." Bill ultimately died of AIDS. He had been there. He knew what was going on. He knew the rampant unprotected sex that was happening at the baths. Certainly Mayor Feinstein was putting a lot of pressure on Silverman. The picture was just becoming clearer and clearer: This is a sexually transmitted disease, even if we don't have the virus identified. So there was ongoing political and health pressure to educate the gay community and get them to change voluntarily, which wasn't successful, until finally Silverman just said, "I've got to do it."



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Hughes

We talked about the evidence coming out of the CDC showing that bathhouse attendance and the disease don't necessarily go hand in hand. There was an article in the BAPHRON accusing Silverman of having repressed that information, which implies that he himself was moving towards closure, right? Otherwise, why would he suppress it?


Andrews

I don't know that he really suppressed it. My sense of Merv from the beginning was, he knew--I think every one of us in that room knew it was in the best interest of the health of the people of San Francisco to curtail these businesses where it was so easy to facilitate the spread of the disease. He wanted closure, but he was very conscious of trying not to divide the gay community. He did not want to make it be a "strong arm" confrontation with police and then riot squads--and that could have happened. Even when he closed the bathhouses it was this convoluted thing where Merv was trying to reach a compromise by saying, "We'll just say that there can't be any rooms where the doors are shut, and so we will prevent disease transmission."

Without saying it, he was saying off the record, "There can be as much masturbation as people want. I'm not going to say that in this ordinance; I'm just going to say that we can't have closed rooms." So it was this ambivalent sort of thing of not wanting to close the baths entirely, but to say that if they had closed rooms, we were going to close them.


Hughes

And there were agents that were sent in to observe.


Andrews

Right.


Hughes

Did people as a result stay away from the baths?


Andrews

I don't think so. I believe the agents were probably gay. They put their towels on and walked around, and they didn't have badges, and they went through and just observed.


Hughes

Oh, so that wouldn't be disruptive.


Andrews

Yes, there was no disruption, that's right. The music was still going strong, the porno movies were going, and I think a lot of people actually got into this thing of, "They can't do this to us; I'm gonna go to the bathhouses." Just sort of a normal human reaction to a restriction: "Okay, I'm going to push the limit. You can't prove this to me. I'm going to go to the baths even more." I think some people had that reaction.