San Francisco AIDS Group Using CDC Prevention Funds for ‘Sexually Explicit’ Programs, HHS Inspector General Report Says
The San Francisco Stop AIDS Project, which received nearly $700,000 in federal funds last year, used some of that money to provide HIV prevention workshops that encouraged sexual activity -- in violation of federal law -- and met the "legal definition of obscene material," according to a report by HHS Inspector General Janet Rehnquist, the Washington Times reports. The report was undertaken at the request of HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, who had received complaints about the workshops from several members of Congress. "I'm very encouraged by Secretary Thompson's prompt action on this. It shows we have an administration that is accountable and responsible," Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.) said.
What is Obscene?
The report singles out two workshops run by the Stop AIDS Project: "Booty Call," which "discusses the taboos of anal eroticism," and "Great Sex," which the reports says "appears to directly promote sexual activity, which is not consistent with CDC's basic principles" (McCain, Washington Times, 11/16). CDC guidelines for HIV prevention programs state that the programs cannot promote sexual activity or intravenous drug use and must meet the obscenity standards set forth in the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court Case Miller v. California. That case determined that material is obscene when "an average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the material appeals to prurient interest" and that the material "lacks literary, artistic, political or scientific value." The report states, "Using this guidance, we believe that one might view the materials as encouraging directly sexual activity and as obscene" (Margasak, AP/Minneapolis Star Tribune, 11/16). Rehnquist said she will expand the audit to all CDC-funded projects that identify themselves as HIV prevention programs (AP/Baltimore Sun, 11/16). "As part of our fiscal year 2002 Work Plan, we will conduct a more comprehensive review of CDC's HIV/AIDS program. We plan to examine the need for stricter accounting procedures for federal funds, use of the funds, whether the program has been effective in meeting its goals, and whether program review panels carry out their duties in accordance with CDC guidance," the report states (HHS Inspector General report, 10/12). Thompson added that the CDC has already "taken preliminary remedial actions" in response to the report. He also said that Deputy HHS Secretary Claude Allen will "conduct a more comprehensive review" of all HIV prevention activities (Washington Times, 11/16). The Senate recently attached an amendement to the Labor-HHS FY 2002 appropriations bill requiring the HHS Inspector General to audit all federal money spent on HIV prevention programs and report to Congress any programs offering "sexually explicit workshops" with such funds (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/8).
Drawing Homosexual Men to HIV Workshops
Some HIV/AIDS activists in San Francisco have argued that provocative advertising and "sex-themed" workshops are necessary to attract gay men to HIV prevention activities. "Public health and obscenity standards are local issues. ... We're trying to prevent HIV in San Francisco so the messages need to be specific to people in San Francisco. We're not providing programs for lawyers and accountants in Washington," Steve Tierney, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health's HIV prevention programs, said, adding that people who test positive for HIV are "not going to just stop having sex" (San Jose Mercury News, 11/16). However, other gay activists said that notion is offensive to the gay community. "The materials are sexually explicit, meaning the only way to get the attention of a gay man in San Francisco is through sex ... instead of using intelligence to reach gay men," AIDS activist Michael Petrelis said, citing ads on the Stop AIDS Project's website that describe anal sex workshops. "Whether you like taking it or giving it, this workshop is for you ... how do our roles turn us on and keep us pumping?" the ad states. "This is what the American taxpayer is paying for with their money," Petrelis added (Washington Times, 11/16).