Bodyline, one of Sydney’s longest-running gay saunas, announced its closure due to COVID-19 last Thursday.

The announcement was posted through the sauna’s Facebook page, stating, “Bodyline would like to thank our patrons and the community support for the last 30 years.”

The post cited closure “Due to COVID, ongoing restrictions and uncertainty around the potential for the virus to spread so easily within the community. For the safety of our staff and patrons, we have made the difficult, but what we think is the responsible decision, to close until further notice.”

Established in 1991, Bodyline was Sydney’s longest-running gay bathhouse. It was also the first gay sauna in the city to operate lawfully, after battling development and legal restrictions.

 Prior to 1991, New South Wales’ Disorderly Houses Act was frequently cited in court as a precedent to forbid brothels and other “sex on premises” establishments.

The establishment was also initially denied development approval by the local council.

However, in 1991, after a court-ruling in the venue’s favour, it became NSW’s first lawfully-established “sex on premises” establishment, setting a precedent for many venues that followed.

Bodyline is not the only venue of its kind to struggle amidst the pandemic. Gay saunas in Canada, the US and around the world have reported closures since COVID first reached their shores.

Many of these establishments survived the HIV crisis of the 80s and 90s, only to now face closure.

In California alone, San José’s Watergarden is now permanently closed after operating since 1977. San Francisco’s largest bathhouse, Blow Buddies, also closed last July after 32 years.

These closures have left an enormous hole in the Bay Area’s once-thriving gay bathhouse industry and cast doubt over whether other venues in the area can withstand increased safety regulations and economic pressure.

One such venue, San Francisco’s Eros, is committed to remaining open.

“We expect to roll with this pandemic as we did with HIV,” said a spokesperson for Eros. 

In Canada, Toronto’s Spa Excess closed for repairs and was set to relaunch until COVID-19 restrictions forced the indefinite closure of the 22-year-old venue.

When restrictions began to lift, saunas and bathhouses were left among those ordered to remain closed. This included the six gay saunas in Toronto and the province of Ontario.

Toronto City Councillor, Kristyn Wong-Tam, said prolonged closures of certain venue types is linked to discrimination against patrons of certain demographics.

“I am also seeing injustice,” said Councillor Wong-Tam, “Six businesses singled out and excluded from the recovery plan, largely because of the clientele that they serve.”

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