In the latest crackdown against gay bathhouses, Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner filed civil lawsuits Thursday aimed at shutting down three clubs that he said encourage unsafe sex practices associated with the spread of AIDS.
Reiner said undercover investigators witnessed many instances at the clubs in which gay men engaged in multiple-partner, anonymous sex practices without using condoms and also participated in other activities cited by federal health officials as major contributors to the spread of the deadly AIDS virus.
“By taking legal action to close these three bathhouses, we will help stop a threat to public health that is killing people,” Reiner said in a statement.
Named as defendants in the Los Angeles Superior Court suits are Hollywood Spa at 1650 N. Ivar Ave. in Hollywood, the Corral Club at 3747 Cahuenga Blvd. in Studio City and The Compound at 5636 Vineland Ave. in North Hollywood.
Hollywood Spa manager John Ferry criticized Reiner’s actions, saying they mirrored unconstitutional attempts in 1986 and in 1988 to shut down gay bathhouses.
“We’re going to fight this thing. As far as we’re concerned, we’re the good guys,” Ferry said. “We consider the Hollywood Spa to be an important asset in terms of being a place for gay men to socialize, be educated about health issues and be free from homophobic attacks such as this lawsuit.”
Attempts to reach operators of the other two clubs were unsuccessful.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which in the past has opposed such crackdowns, said it would not comment until after reading the lawsuits.
Reiner said he sued the bathhouses for public health reasons.
Besides having Jacuzzis, saunas, gyms and other facilities associated with spas, each bathhouse offers dozens of private rooms and a communal room in which patrons can watch televised sex acts and engage in group sexual activity, according to the lawsuit.
The Corral Club, according to the documents, had a community “orgy room” with a small stage where live sex shows took place, and several private rooms containing chains with wrist and ankle straps hanging from the ceilings.
“These cases are not about morality or personal ethics,” said Thomas Papageorge, a deputy district attorney for special operations. “These cases are about public health nuisances; businesses which profit by encouraging patrons to engage in unsafe sex practices.”
Undercover investigators who visited the three bathhouses said there was little, if any, effort on the part of the bathhouse personnel to prevent unsafe sexual activity, according to the lawsuit.
County Health Services Director Robert Gates said he, too, is concerned because some bathhouses have a “business as usual” attitude regarding unsafe sexual contact.
Hollywood Spa was one of three bathhouses sued by Reiner in 1988. That action is pending. Mac’s in Silver Lake and Leisure Spa and Turkish Bath in Pomona were shut down, however.
The current lawsuits were filed under a state penal code that says any business encouraging unsafe sex practices that can promote the transmission of AIDS can be declared a public nuisance and shut down.
There are about 10 gay bathhouses in the Los Angeles area, and action against the others may be taken, Papageorge said.