New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo (D) announced today that he will propose regulations to crack down on homosexual bathhouses and other establishments that "promote sexual activities that are plainly connected with AIDS."
The new regulations, to be presented to the state Public Health Council today, do not order immediate closure of the dozen bathhouses in New York City, Rochester and Buffalo but would prohibit them from allowing certain sexual practices. "People should avoid anonymous, promiscuous sexual contact because, if they do that [make contact], they risk AIDS," Cuomo said.
The regulations would also affect bookstores or clubs that allow sexual activities and would apply to heterosexual and homosexual establishments.
New York state, in which 5,185 cases of acquired immune deficiency syndrome have been reported, is the second jurisdiction to try regulating activity in bathhouses where, patrons say, homosexual men may have as many as a dozen anonymous sexual encounters in an evening. San Francisco tried to close bathhouses last year after Public Health director Mervyn Silverman said they were fostering "death and disease." But bathhouse owners took the city to court.
A Superior Court judge then ordered the bathhouses to comply with regulations that included removing doors from private booths and checking rooms every 10 minutes to ensure that "unsafe sex," such as anal intercourse, was not occurring.
Enforcement has been lax, according to news accounts.
While Cuomo refused to specify what behavior would be prohibited in New York, Frances Charlton, a state health department spokeswoman, said, "The governor alluded to anal intercourse," which researchers have linked to AIDS.
"We have to prohibit the activity," Cuomo said. "Issuing condoms is not enough."
Of New York's reported AIDS cases, about one-third are believed associated with drug abuse as addicts who share needles pass AIDS to other addicts.
Nationwide, 14,288 AIDS cases have been reported, and 7,255 persons have died. Researchers have said they fear that the disease, which has predominantly affected male homosexuals and drug addicts, is spreading to the general population.
Cuomo also said the state would step up its educational efforts with a 19-page booklet of questions and answers. He said the state will spend more money on community-based programs to provide more health and social services for AIDS victims and establish several primary-care centers in New York City.
Cuomo asked broadcasters to provide free air time to discuss AIDS and said he would appear on a statewide television call-in program next week to answer questions on the subject.
Lorrie Berman, a spokeswoman for the Gay Men's Health Crisis, said the group favors expanded education but has not seen the proposed regulations. A spokesman for Mayor Edward I. Koch said Koch favors bathhouse inspections.