West Hollywood Ballot Initiative Seeks to Expand Condom Distribution
Voters in West Hollywood, Calif., Tuesday will decide in a municipal election whether to expand the city's condom distribution program to as many as 152 bars, clubs and restaurants, the Los Angeles Times reports. The ballot initiative, known as Measure A and sponsored by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, would require businesses that derive "more than half of their revenue from the sale of alcohol for on-site consumption" to offer and display free condoms as well as "safer sex literature." If passed, the measure would call for "no fewer" than 500,000 condoms to be handed out annually. The city already sponsors a $400,000-a-year "voluntary" condom distribution program at gay bars, coffee houses and bookstores, but proponents believe that the program should be mandated and expanded "in light of escalating numbers of cases of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases in the Los Angeles area." Foundation President Michael Weinstein, who described West Hollywood as "the red light district of Los Angeles," began the drive in 1999 with a petition for expansion. That petition was soon dropped after what he called a "firestorm of opposition from the bars," but revived 16 months ago. The city council "briefly toyed with the idea" of a mandatory distribution plan, but decided instead to expand the voluntary one, distributing an estimated 320,000 condoms. Opponents of the measure object to placing condoms in places "patronized by families" and call the idea "unwholesome." Condoms will be "wasted" in places not patronized by those "most at risk of infection," opponents said. "Are we going to create another level of bureaucracy and create more costs when the city already has a good program?" Rodney Scott, a consultant working on the "No on A" campaign sponsored by several West Hollywood business owners, asked. Michael Niemeyer, owner of a "popular" Santa Monica Boulevard gay bar that voluntarily distributes condoms, objects to the proposal. "Everybody likes the idea of condoms being available. But to make it mandatory, along with safe-sex literature, is wrong. This literature, featuring naked males engaging in anal sex, is totally inappropriate" for restaurants and other business without a predominantly gay clientele, he said. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation is running a $150,000 "Yes on A -- It's a Lifesaver" campaign that has already sent six mailings to each of the city's 30,612 registered voters, with plans to send four more before the election. The "No on A -- It's a Trojan Horse" campaign plans to send one mailer before Tuesday and said that it has the backing of "major gay groups," as well as several city councilmembers. Mayor Jeffrey Prang, who is running for reelection, has remained "neutral" on the issue (Pool, Los Angeles Times, 3/1).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.