One way to combat the AIDS epidemic, some of Pasadena's social and cultural leaders reason, is to break through communication barriers that they say have been constructed in the name of good taste.
To that end, 35 women have organized the Pasadena AIDS Task Force to spread the word about the deadly epidemic. To be effective, they know they have to go public with facts considered offensive to some finer sensibilities.
They made their debut with a booth at the Pasadena Arts Festival last weekend.
For dramatic effect, they had planned to display a salad bowl filled with condoms, which health authorities advocate using to deter the spread of AIDS.
"I said no. I said definitely no," said Mary Lou Jordan, president of the Pasadena Arts Council, one of the festival's sponsors, who unsuccessfully attempted to prohibit the booth. "This is a highly inappropriate place for that sort of thing."
This attitude proved their point, said some of the members of the task force as controversy swirled around their booth in the heart of the festival in Pasadena Central Park.
Women at the booth included Mildred Goldberger, wife of Caltech President Marvin Goldberger, who initiated the task force; Sharon Thralls, past president of the Pasadena Junior League, and Adelaide Hixon, Betty Keatinge and Cornelia Hopfield, all active in community affairs. Also on the task force are Linda Jenkins, president of the Pasadena League of Women Voters; Ann Pursel, a Pasadena school board member, and Jessie Magdaleno Lopez and Joyce Streator, representing Latino and black women's organizations.
Forsaking the condoms, they loaded their booth with AIDS-related literature and stood their ground.
All around them were art and craft displays, exotic foods, band music, belly dancers, children taking art lessons, picnickers and hundreds of strolling visitors. The annual spring event was sponsored by the Pasadena Recreation and Community Centers Division; Del Mano Productions, a firm that provides food and entertainment concessions, and the Arts Council, an umbrella organization for several hundred artists and art groups.
The AIDS booth was not a big attraction. Passers-by who stopped to look were greeted with eager smiles and handfuls of pamphlets. Some congratulated the women for their good work, and some sniffed their disapproval.
"This is an arts festival, and this kind of thing has no place here," Jordan said angrily from a nearby booth sponsored by the Arts Council.
"See where they are?" she said, pointing to the task force members, who were clearly enjoying being in the thick of things. "They have been disrespectful and arrogant. They very haughtily sat there and did their thing. . . ."
Goldberger insisted that she and other task force members went through proper channels to establish their booth, getting approval from the city and Del Mano Productions. Only Jordan opposed them, Goldberger said.
In place of the condoms, the women substituted a bowl of chocolate kisses that melted in the sun and a sign that advised: "Dry kisses, not wet."
"We felt it was critical for us to have condoms, if only as a news peg," said the disappointed Goldberger.
"We had even considered one member's suggestion to walk around with Easter baskets filled with condoms, handing them out to make our point."
Although the task force's mission took on amusing aspects, Goldberger said it is rooted in real concern for the health of future generations. After studying the issue, the women agreed that they could not counsel or give medical advice, but they could perform an important function as communicators.
They have considered, among other things, public showings of highly rated videos on AIDS, Goldberger said.
In response to Jordan's accusations, Goldberger said: "Oh, I am arrogant. I'm arrogant about knowing how to make judgments, about what is important. With AIDS, we're handling a hot potato that few people are willing to step off of their pedestals for and get involved in."
Others besides Jordan in charge of the festival spoke in defense of the booth.
"I think its totally appropriate," said Angelo Figueroa, community service representative for the city. "Pasadena has 35 reported cases of AIDS, and 15 have died."
Ray Leier, head of Del Mano Productions, said: "I think this festival should be a forum for the arts and community service. Health is community service."
Pat Reynolds Christianson, community services supervisor for the city, said: "I just hope something positive can come from this."
Even Jordan had a word of approval.
"Of course AIDS is important, and word needs to get out," she said. "But not here."