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In a city renowned for a teaming gay sexual underworld, public sex and queer visibility are under attack. Gentrification has virtually ended cruising in South of Market alleys, and Polk Street gay bars are being replaced by hip, upscale straight bars. The latest battleground is Folsom Street, legendary for generations as a mythical site for backroom bacchanalia.


On Friday,November 14, at 11:30 p.m., undercover cops from the Department of Alcohol and Beverage Control (ABC) raided Folsom Street gay cruise bar My Place, and began handcuffing men who were engaged in nothing other than healthy, glamorous sexual behavior in the tea room. The agents questioned the men at length in the back hallway, and even forced several men up to the roof for interrogation. Six men were cited for lewd conduct and eventually released. This was the culmination of a six-month undercover investigation by the ABC, which included undercover officers observing and photographing men in the throes of sexual passion, on several occasions. ABC agents were allegedly responding to the hysteria of one complainant, regarding his fears that his friends were contracting syphilis at My Place, but the ABC has also visited the Hole in the Wall, the Powerhouse, and the Eagle.


It is frightening that, in San Francisco, in 2003, gay men are being handcuffed and interrogated by undercover cops for "lewd conduct" inside a gay bar. What is also chilling is the reaction of My Place's manager, Cip. He states in the BAR, "we really are getting rid of the people who just come in there to have sex" and "we hired someone to be the sex police in there and make sure no one had sex there." While sex is not legal in bars, My Place has been renowned for decades as a backroom dive. Clearly, the bar is walking a delicate line in order to stay open, but talking about "getting rid" of the clientele who have kept the bar open and hiring "sex police" to do the ABC's job is unacceptable, and furthers a reactionary, silencing agenda.


Are we headed back to the sex panic of the 1980s, when every bathhouse in San Francisco was shuttered due to fears about the spread of HIV and AIDS? Such aggressive sex-loathing homophobia did nothing to further HIV prevention, succeeding only in hastening the disappearance of an entire sexual and social culture. Handcuffing, detaining, and citing gay men for "lewd conduct" inside a gay bar-allegedly to halt the spread of syphilis, a treatable disease-does nothing but set us back to the pre-Stonewall 1960s, when gay bars were routinely raided by the cops for virtually any reason at all.


Queers have fought for generations to make San Francisco a safe place for sexual expression in all its forms. We will not accept a crackdown on public sex, which is always a cover-up for a crackdown on queer visibility.


Update: The manager Cip has re-opened 1225 Folsom as Cip Lounge, replacing the leather bar with an assimilationist gentrified 'dreamworld of inventive cocktails, eclectic wines by the bottle or glass, decadent champagnes and inspiring sights and sounds.' Erasing gay culture with style.



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