The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics yesterday received two proposed election initiatives aimed at preventing the transmission of the deadly AIDS virus by prohibiting sexual activities in bathhouses and by requiring certain businesses to post health warning signs.
Both proposals were submitted by Leonard P. Matlovich, a former Air Force sergeant who was discharged from the service a decade ago after publicly announcing that he is homosexual. In a landmark gay rights case, Matlovich challenged the military's ban on homosexual servicemen.
"People are dying and in the bathhouses in Washington, it is business as usual," said Matlovich, who moved to the District from California five months ago. "I don't want to close them down. I just want to prohibit sex in public places. There is no AIDS problem in America until it leaves the gay community and goes into mainstream America. Then it will be too late."
One of Matlovich's initiatives, to be enforced by the D.C. Health Department, would prohibit sexual activities in bathhouses. The initiative also would prohibit the police department from becoming involved in enforcing the prohibition. The second initiative would require all businesses that cater to persons believed to be in the high-risk groups to post health warning signs.
If the elections board, which will meet in April, decides that Matlovich's proposals are the proper subject matter for initiatives, Matlovich would be required to get a total of 28,000 signatures to get both initiatives placed on an election ballot.
Matlovich said he has a group of 73 supporters but acknowledged that he lacks support among Washington's established gay organizations.
Some gay activists appeared stunned when they learned of Matlovich's proposals yesterday and objected immediately, saying that gays fear that government intervention on one level could lead to a reduction of gay rights in other areas.
Some District gay community leaders, who estimate that the District is home to at least 60,000 homosexuals, have been meeting with representatives from the gay-oriented Whitman-Walker Clinic, 2335 18th St. NW, in recent weeks to develop an AIDS education campaign targeted at businesses frequented by gays.
"This is not a sin city and there is a touch of sensationalism in what he Matlovich is proposing," said Jim Graham, the administrator for the Whitman-Walker Clinic. "I think we need to try the voluntary approach and see if it works before we try something as draconian as what is being proposed."
Graham said that the planned AIDS education program will seek voluntary coooperation from a number of gay-oriented businesses. Graham said in Washington's gay community those establishments include two bathhouses, two movie theaters, a sex club and a number of book stores.
Medical authorities believe AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is transmitted through the exchange of blood products or body fluids. Sexual activity is considered a predominant mode of transmission of the disease.
Paul Williams, manager for Olympic Baths, 1405 H St. NW, one of two local bathhouses, said his business has already posted signs advocating safe sex practices. Club Baths, the other establishment, is located at 20 O St. SE.
"His proposals would constitute closing bathhouses," Williams said of the Matlovich proposals. "I would hope gays would be definitely against the resolutions because they would be taking away a personal freedom that has taken us a lot of years to get."
Frank Zampatori, a cochairman of the Langston Hughes-Eleanor Roosevelt Democratic Club, a gay activist group, said that the proposed initiatives may become "a political football." "This whole thing could lead to hysteria among the non-gay and lesbian community," Zampatori said. "We understand better how it is transmitted. But the majority of the population does not understand and I'm concerned about a backlash from the non-gay community . . . This is a conservative city and the whole thing could be portrayed as 'curtail the gay plague.' "