And the Band Played On

by Randy Shilts

Start Free Trial

What primary prevention measure did the San Francisco Department of Public Health take, which generated controversy with gay rights activists?

In the docudrama And The Band Played On, we learn that the primary prevention measure that the San Fransisco Public Health Department undertook was to shut down the city's bathhouses to help slow the spread of AIDS. As many gay rights advocates viewed bathhouses as communal spaces and symbols of liberation, they were not pleased with the order. Instead of thinking of it as a way to protect them, they saw it as another form of persecution.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Watching the docudrama And The Band Played On is great way to learn about America's response to the AIDS crisis that took the lives of so many gay men during the 80s and 90s. Since big cities like New York and San Francisco had large populations of gay men, these were some of the places that suffered the highest death rates.

Speaking of San Francisco specifically, one of the measures their Public Health Department undertook was to shut down the bathhouses. The move generated controversy among gay rights activists and gay people in general because bathhouses represented something like a safe space. They were a place where people who either identified as gay or wanted to have gay sex could meet without much fear of shame or persecution.

As a Los Angeles Times article published in 1987 says, "The bathhouses were places to socialize, to exercise, and to engage in anonymous sex." Gay rights advocate Laurie McBride adds, "They were a symbol of gay liberation. Many of them were really, really gorgeous, not sleazy back rooms." For San Francisco's gay community, the order was interpreted as the government trying to control what they did with their bodies and who they could and couldn't have consensual sex with.

Though studies show that unprotected anal sex is significantly riskier than unprotected vaginal sex in regards to the transmission of HIV and other STIs, a substantial number of gay people thought that the Health Department was punishing them instead of protecting them.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team