Gay History: November 7, 1985: NYC Closes the "Notorious" MINESHAFT, READ The NY Times Article

Gay History – November 7, 1985: NYC Closes the “Notorious” MINESHAFT – READ The NY Times Article

New York City yesterday closed a bar frequented by homosexuals, contending that it permitted ”high-risk sexual activity” linked to the spread of AIDS.

It was the first such action taken by the city since New York State enacted new rules designed to curb the growing incidence of the deadly disease by empowering local governments to shut down bathhouses, bars and other places where dangerous sex takes place.

In court papers signed late Wednesday by Justice Jawn A. Sandifer of State Supreme Court in Manhattan, the city asserts that the bar – the Mine Shaft at 835 Washington Street, near Little West 12th Street, in Greenwich Village – is not only in violation of the new anti-AIDS regulations but also is a public nuisance and has been operating without a liquor license.

At a hearing set for Tuesday, the city will ask that the bar be closed for a year. Its owners, listed in court papers as the DAJ Real Estate Management Corporation, could not be reached yesterday, and its operators were not identified.

A ‘Notorious’ Place

The Mine Shaft is a ”notorious and well-known place,” in the words of Richard Dunne, executive director of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis.

In graphic depositions written by city inspectors, a portrait emerged of a dark place with black walls, back rooms, open cubicles without doors and the accouterments of sadomasochism. They reported seeing many patrons engaging in anal intercourse and fellatio – the ”high risk” sexual practices cited in the state rules – and hearing sounds of whipping and moaning.

At a news conference with city lawyers, Mayor Koch said in answer to questions yesterday that by closing the place, the city was not trying to impose any restrictions on sexuality, but to save lives.

”Maybe it brings to the consciousness of those who have a predilection to engage in this suicidal behavior how ridiculous it is, how self-defeating it is and how lethal it is,” he said. ”Maybe it will deter them as well. We don’t know. But we’re going to do the best we can.’

Opposition to Closing

Others, including homosexual activists, argued that closing the Mine Shaft and places like it would have no impact on sexual activity, and suggested that by closing the bar, the city had taken a step toward government regulation of private behavior.

”The Governor and the Mayor have taken us down a slippery slope that may lead to re-criminalization of private sexual conduct in general,” said Thomas B. Stoddard, legislative director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. ”Once the government starts on that road, it is very hard to make distinctions between kinds of establishments and kinds of conduct.”

City inspections will continue, said the Mayor, who also sent letters to 10 establishments believed to be in violation of the state rules, asking them to report to him by next Thursday what they have done to prevent high-risk sex on their premises.

A Call for Education

Mr. Dunne of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis said he did not believe that closing the bar would have a salutary effect on sexual behavior, or on the spread of acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

”You don’t get AIDS from buildings, you get AIDS from a virus that is transmitted sexually,” he said. ”The only thing that is going to stop it is education and the adoption of behavior changes. I don’t just mean people going to the Mine Shaft and to the bathhouses. I’m talking about the whole gay male population, and I’m talking about all intravenous drug users and their contacts.”

Mr. Koch, who until recently had taken the position that closing bathhouses, sex clubs and the like would not stop high-risk sex, said he thought closing the Mine Shaft might stop some of the sexual practices that had been taking place there.

”The Bible says, if you save one life, it’s as though you have saved the whole world,” he said, alluding to a similarly worded passage that is actually in the Talmud.

Frenetic Activity

The city was expected to act a day sooner than it did in closing the Mine Shaft. The Mayor announced early Wednesday that an establishment would be closed that morning, a pronouncement that set off frenetic activity at City Hall. According to the city’s Corporation Counsel, Frederick A. O. Schwarz Jr., the Mayor was ”confused” about the complexity of the process and the need to prepare detailed court papers.

A large portion of the court submission is made up of the depositions from three inspectors with the city’s Consumer Affairs Department, who visited the Mine Shaft between last Friday and last Sunday.

In sparse, almost clinical language, they describe what they saw.

”The bar was approximately 20 feet long,” one inspector wrote. ”Near the bar in the center of the floor was a pool table covered with a sheet of plywood. To the rear of the bar was a coat room where a man was checking all coats that were not leather. Located on the floor, there were two horses which I would describe as the type used in a gymnasium. The interior of the premises was painted black.’

Warning Signs

The inspectors wrote of seeing several men ”in various stages of undress” fondling each other, engaging in oral and anal intercourse and doing so in the open. They said that they observed men moving from one sexual partner to another and that although signs warned of AIDS and offered to provide condoms, condoms were not being used.

Two of the inspectors said they heard sounds of whipping and moaning, but did not investigate ”for reasons of personal safety,” one wrote.

Mr. Koch praised the inspectors, who had the option of refusing the assignment. ”It’s tough stuff to read,” the Mayor said. ”It must be horrific, horrendous in its actuality to witness.”

(Mary Koch. Oh Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeease.! – WK)

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