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Condom Nation : Controversy Draws Safe-Sex Activists to High School

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

An AIDS activist group handed out 3,000 bright yellow condoms to arriving Hoover High School students Wednesday to protest school officials’ cancellation of a play about safe sex.

The protesters from the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power--ACT UP--handed out neon yellow and green stickers reading “Safe sex is hot sex” to students, many of whom asked for extras to stick on their lockers and give to friends. The demonstrators gave advice on condom use to teen-agers as they escorted them up school steps in the glare of television lights.

ACT UP member Maureen Perry told the students that her young daughter’s father, who died of acquired immune deficiency syndrome two years ago at the age of 30, would still be alive today had he learned safe-sex procedures in high school.

The group was protesting Glendale Unified School District Supt. Robert Sanchis’ cancellation of a production of “Secrets” last month.

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The play, produced by health care giant Kaiser Permanente with a traveling troupe of actors, has been shown to more than 700,000 high school students statewide over the past eight years. It is scheduled to be produced at Burbank High School on April 6.

School officials said the play--which urges the use of condoms as a safeguard against disease--clashed with district policy, which urges students to abstain from sex.

The demonstration was peaceful, with students clad in shorts and ties handing out neon anti-condom flyers next to ACT UP activists sporting combat boots, punk haircuts and nose rings.

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Senior Clay Whiteley, who said he plans to wait until he is married to have sex, tried to explain to his peers the dangers of condoms as he passed out a flyer “dispelling the myths” of safe sex.

The human immunodeficiency virus, which is believed to cause AIDS, is so small that it can penetrate condoms, he said, passing out literature making that argument.

Hoover High gym teacher Judy Thomsen, who coaches Whiteley’s volleyball team, joined students in handing out the anti-condom flyers. “We should give these kids a little more credit--they have the willpower to say no,” Thomsen said.

Students offered mixed reviews of the demonstration. Some appeared annoyed by the commotion, while others gossiped with activists about their parents’ sexual mores.

Many appeared uninterested in the play’s cancellation but several students called for the Board of Education to loosen its sex education policies.

“Forget abstinence. People in this school are getting pregnant,” said senior Kelly Simmons, who wore a temporary tattoo of a red ribbon, the international symbol of the battle against AIDS, on her shoulder.

According to a report by Jim Gibson, the district’s administrator of secondary education, the district has 33 pregnant students and 43 teen-age parents.

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The controversy over the play’s cancellation prompted the district to draft sex education guidelines that were accepted by the Board of Education this week, setting up a review panel but continuing to urge that teen-agers refrain from sex until marriage.

But board Vice President Sharon Beauchamp said the play would still not be approved under the new guidelines because it violates the district’s pro-abstinence policy.


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