Sleepy Supervisors

There’s a letter on this page today from Pete Schabarum, one of the Los Angeles County supervisors, who complains that he and his colleagues at the Hall of Administration are being unfairly attacked for not doing enough about AIDS. But the supervisors’ record on this subject belies Schabarum’s assertion that the county is doing all that it should to slow or prevent the spread of this terrible disease.

Twice in recent weeks a majority of the supervisors have shown themselves to be particularly unaware of what’s going on with respect to AIDS and the need for strong action against it. They have focused on two pamphlets aimed at high-risk communities, and have spent more time and energy worrying about the propriety of what’s in the pamphlets than about the disease itself. Only Ed Edelman among the supervisors has distinguished himself from the pack, urging more money for AIDS education and showing a willingness to think about the problem.

The first pamphlet that upset them was aimed at intravenous drug users, and sought to tell them how to reduce the risk of contracting AIDS. The supervisors found this to be instruction in how to shoot up.

The second pamphlet--the one that Schabarum refers to in his letter--used street language and graphic descriptions to make homosexual men aware of the varieties of sexual activity that they could engage in without spreading the disease.

Schabarum is right on one point: We wouldn’t care to print that material in a general-circulation newspaper, but there’s no harm in making it available to gay men in places where they assemble, which is what the pamphlet was intended for in the first place. It is just because this kind of information is not available elsewhere that it is useful to make it available here. There are some people who will not get the message unless it is given to them in the most graphic terms. Words are harmless; AIDS is not. If this is the way to get the message out and fight AIDS, so be it.


Besides, the $4,500 that it cost to produce this pamphlet came from private donations, not public money, according to Bill Misenheimer, director of the AIDS Project/Los Angeles, which produced it.

Misenheimer also said that the AIDS Project, the largest of private local service agencies dealing with the disease, has not received a penny from the supervisors for AIDS education. The $156,000 that it got from the county in the last fiscal year for support services for AIDS patients was all “pass-through” money that came from state and federal governments to be distributed by the supervisors.

“For Schabarum to say that the county has spent a large amount of money on AIDS education is highly inaccurate,” said Dr. Neil Schram, chairman of the Los Angeles City and County AIDS Task Force.

What the supervisors have done from the outset is to turn their backs on the problem, erroneously viewing it as a plague that affects someone else. They have let their public-health responsibilities be thwarted by their views of homosexuality. Maybe they are finally waking up. But if their actions with regard to the two pamphlets are any guide, perhaps they should go back to sleep.