John G. Culhane


Gay Bathhouses and Public Health Policy. Edited by William J. Woods & Diane Binson. New York: Harrington Park Press, 2003. Pp. 253.

Looking into the AIDS abyss in the mid-1980s, public health officials sometimes succumbed to the same impulses-notably, panic and scapegoating-that activated politicians, judges, and the public itself. Among the best-known results of these impulses were city-by-city efforts to shut down gay bathhouses. No one disputed that sexual activity went on in the bathhouses, but it was-and remains-unclear whether closing them would help stop the transmission of HIV, hinder that effort, or have no net effect. Gay Bathhouses and Public Policy, a collection of essays on this topic, comes two decades after the hardest-fought bathhouse closure battles. William J. Woods and Diane Binson, the book's editors (and contributors), have skillfully amassed a group of works that provides a mix of historical depth, reportorial analysis, statistical research, and legal background to the battle over the bathhouses. The authors' stated purpose is to fill a void in knowledge, information, and understanding of the bathhouse question. The bathhouse wars are thereby given historical and cultural context that is perhaps only possible twenty years after these battles were conducted.

In this mission, the book succeeds. The volume, simultaneously published as two issues of the Journal of Homosexuality, collects legal, public health, and reportorial papers about the controversy over gay bathhouses and their role in the prevention or spread of HIV.