Wednesday, July 31, 2013

DPH Chief Barbara Garcia Preps SF Bathhouse Statement

(Credit: Rick Gerharter, Gay Area Reporter.)

The director of the San Francisco Department of Pubic Health is Barbara Garcia, pictured, an out lesbian who was the former director Dr. Mitch Katz's deputy for eleven years before being appointed to the top spot in 2010 by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom.

After the recent hearing of the permits division of the police department, where massage parlors were applying for bathhouse permits, I emailed her a few questions seeking much-needed clarification about those applications and the matter of the still-standing ban on bathhouses:

As you may know, the San Francisco Police Department is considering six applications for bathhouses via their permits division. Officer Troy Dangerfield has explained that the health department licenses massage parlors but bathhouses receive permits from the cops. 

However, the views of your department are taken into account when considering the granting of bathhouse permits. I'd like to know your view on a few related matters starting with the pending applications now before the police department, and if you back or oppose the applications. 

Regarding the still in effect Superior Court injunction from 1984 closing bathhouses, how do you interpret the current status of the injunction? 

My interpretation of the 14-page injunction and supporting exhibit is that the bathhouse ban could be rescinded if the epidemic were controlled. Considering that San Francisco meeting the medical definition of an epidemic, an expanding health menace, long ago passed when HIV transmission peaked more than a decade ago. 

The local AIDS epidemic entered an endemic phase, as well documented by DPH statistics and reports, when HIV transmissions became stable, before finally and thankfully going steadily on the decline. 

With San Francisco clearly no longer meeting the scientific definition of epidemic regarding AIDS, and has not for many years, now would be a good time to once and for all eradicate the bathhouse ban from the 1984 court injunction. 

We've seen the ban on gays in the military lifted and the overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act that banned federal recognition of gay marriages, and I believe we need to lift the prohibition on bathhouses for gays and straights in San Francisco. 

Do you agree that we are no longer experiencing an AIDS epidemic and that bathhouses can reopen? 

After a week of nudging Garcia for a substantive reply, she today said:

We are working on it. Our health officer wants to bring some staff to together so we will respond to you soon as possible. Just give us a bit more time, it's a important decision as you know. I'm giving the group to have a statement by August 10th.

While I'm pleased a statement is in the works, I have concerns that it's being developed out of public view. However, let's see what DPH says when their new position statement on all the issues I've raised is released to the public.


Anonymous said...

Did you get a response, today's August 10?

Michael Petrelis said...

Nope, not a peep and I emailed Barbara and Tomas Aragon,MD, the DPH staffer preparing the statement. Maybe it will be released on Monday.