New York Contemplates Closing All Sex Clubs

by Steve Weinstein
Monday Jan 14, 2008
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The rising infection rates of young gay men in New York City is causing controversy and even panic.

The New York Times weighed in on the numbers in a lead editorial published Monday, Jan. 14. The Times noted that, "When the disease was new and terrifying, the gay community helped change behavior by preaching loudly against taking sexual risks." And now, "Silence seems to be winning the day."

The City of New York, meanwhile, may be preparing for a radical program to move in on every public bathhouse and private sex party it can find. Gay City News got hold of a report to the city’s health czar, Dr. Thomas Frieden, in which the author apparently advocates a much more aggressive policy. "It is appropriate to re-evaluate New York’s current policies regarding commercial sex venues to see if policy changes could reduce the spread of these infections," wrote Dr. Thomas Farley.

Such a policy would mark a dramatic turnaround from the mayoral administration of Michael Bloomberg, who has been more hands-off on such issues than his predecessor, Rudolph Giuliani.

Everyone finds the news at least a matter of concern, if not downright alarming. After years of a steady decrease, New York City health officials are reporting new diagnoses of HIV infections in gay men under age 30 as rising 32 percent between 2001 and 2006. Specifically the figure was 34 percent among all black and Hispanic men. And those between ages 13 and 19 had doubled their infection rates.

The Times editorial maintains that drug and alcohol use may account for the rise--although, it should be noted, it cites no statistics that substance abuse is up substantially in any of the populations under consideration. Also, the Times attributed the rise to minority and younger gay men not asking the serostatus of their sex partners (again, without noting whether this is a change from previous behaviors).

But one thing few would argue about is that some now view HIV more benignly than in the 1980s and early ’90s, before the advent of the protease inhibitor cocktail regimen enabled men with AIDS to live far longer and more productive lives. The Times pointed out that infections among older men continues to decrease. The editorial attributes that to their memory of HIV as a virtual death sentence.

"Many young men appear to have persuaded themselves that the infection is no longer such a big deal," the Times wrote. "Public health officials need to continue to distribute condoms, encourage testing and treat those who are ill. Leaders in the hardest-hit communities need to start speaking out again."

The city, however, isn’t waiting for gay activists. Farley’s report has already caused one well-known underground sex club to be shuttered after a health inspector reportedly saw two men have unprotected anal sex.

At a community forum--as reported by Gay City News--an outgoing gay AIDS worker in the city’s health department announced, "They are very much looking at this from a medical model and the medical model says shut them down." Joseph Volle, who has since resigned as the city’s director of community HIV prevention planning and programs, added, "Their intent is to shut them down," in what he called "a witch hunt."

Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early ’80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).


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