Mayor Ed Lee has been making the rounds of local publications, allowing himself to be interviewed by editorial boards in preparation for an election he's all but guaranteed to win (see the Chronicle's tepid endorsement yet?), and the latest was the gay-run, gay-focused Bay Area Reporter. Apparently at the top of the minds of the paper's editors has been the extremely old issue of the bathhouse ban, which dates back to the beginnings of the AIDS crisis in 1984 and then mayor Dianne Feinstein.

Asked whether Lee would support lifting that ban now that the crisis is ostensibly over, and HIV is considered an endemic disease and not a death sentence — also in the age of PrEP, which has just gotten new backing from a study at Kaiser San Francisco that showed no new HIV infections among patients taking the drug over three years — Lee responded cautiously.

"The issue about bathhouses and so forth that is an item that blends entertainment along with safe sex, and I have got to have experts telling me that is something they wouldn't have a problem with," said Lee. "I would be open to it but I have got to have that kind of process."

He added that he needed assurance that the decision would not affect the city's Getting to Zero initiative, which calls for reducing new HIV infections citywide by 90 percent over the next five years.

A Superior Court judge in 1984, with encouragement from Feinstein, ruled that all local bathhouses had to remove the doors on any private rooms until the health crisis was over, a ruling that angered many in the gay community largely because it meant stripping them of some long-fought-for sexual freedom. In response, most of the bathhouses closed, with the only remaining traditional bathhouse in the Bay Area over in Berkeley, Steamworks.

Eros, which is essentially a bathhouse without private rooms, remains on the edge of the Castro neighborhood after opening 21 years ago.

Two years ago this issue came up when Eros was found to need a permit for the business because their sauna qualified it as an illegal bathhouse. The city's public health director Barbara Garcia pledged at the time to look into the issue, and the BAR has been after her ever since to make a decision.

The public health department declined to comment after Lee's comments, and politically speaking, no one seems to think that anyone will touch this issue, despite the science of PrEP and HIV drugs, etc.

Previously: Gallery: San Francisco Gay Bathhouse History, In Fliers [NSFW]