January 29, 2010 at 2:30 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
D.C. gay bathhouse pioneer David Harris dies

David Harris, founder and owner of one of Washington’s early gay bathhouses in the late 1960s and longtime administrative assistant to a local court reporting company, died Nov. 24, 2009, of natural causes at the Community Hospice of Washington. He was 69.

Harris, a native of West Virginia, moved to D.C. in 1956. In a 2002 oral history interview with D.C.’s Rainbow History Project, Harris told of how he founded the Regency Health Club in 1968 in a warehouse building at 413 L Street, N.W.

He noted that the club quickly became known as the Regency Baths and the only known gay bathhouse in the city at that time. He stated the Regency was raided several times by D.C. police and often faced police harassment.

Harris said he took the city to court to challenge the police crackdown, arguing that he operated a private membership club and its clients should have the right to engage in private, consensual sex. Local activists have credited Harris with clearing the way for other gay bathhouses in D.C. in the 1970s and 1980s before downtown redevelopment resulted in their closing.

A spokesperson for the Community Hospice of Washington said privacy restrictions prevented the hospice from disclosing any information about Harris other than the date of his death. Information about funeral arrangements and survivors could not be obtained.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

1 Comment
  • David Harris’s life had important connections with Dr. Franklin Kameny and with the establishment of social spaces for the city’s gay male community. During Dr. Kameny’s 1971 campaign for DC’s first congressional seat David Harris was a major contributor of funds for the campaign. Harris was one of the very small set of gay entrepreneurs, which included Donn Culver, Bill Oates, Bill Bricker, H Lynn Womack, Henry Hecht, Judy Winsett and Leslie Reeves, Allen Carroll and Chris Jansen, who created in the late 1960s and early 1970s social spaces for the community. Like H Linn Womack, who set new precedents in obscenity law, Harris became a focal point for a gay community working to rein in decades-long police harassment.

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