Senate Says Federal AIDS Education Material Can’t Promote Homosexuality
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Federally financed educational materials about AIDS would have to stress sexual abstinence and could not promote homosexuality or drug use under a measure overwhelmingly approved Wednesday by the Senate.
The 94-2 vote came after Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., raised the specter of sexually explicit comic books distributed by the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York. He said the group receives federal money and proposed restrictions on material paid for by taxpayers.
″If the American people saw these books, they would be on the verge of revolt,″ Helms said on the floor. He said the books show ″graphic detail of a sexual encounter between two homosexual men. The comic books do not encourage a change in that perverted behavior. In fact, the comic books promote sodomy.″
The $129 billion Labor, Health and Human Resources and Education appropriations bill for fiscal 1988, which passed 80-15 after debate on the Helms amendment and others, contains $310 million for AIDS education efforts overseen by the Centers for Disease Control.
Helms initially proposed that none of the CDC money be used for material or activities that promote, encourage or condone homosexuality, illegal drug use or any sexual activity outside marriage.
But opponents argued that the amendment would have a chilling effect on CDC’s ability to stop the spread of AIDS among drug addicts, homosexuals and sexually active heterosexuals, particularly young people.
Sen. Lowell Weicker, R-Conn., said suggesting the use of clean needles or condoms to protect people from a disease that means certain death could be interpreted under the amendment as condoning drug use or non-monogamous sexual activity.
″If you’re going to censor that education, you’ve got no solution″ to the AIDS crisis, Weicker said.
Helms eventually dropped the word ″condone″ and the prohibition on materials the promote or encourage sexual activity outside marriage. But Weicker and Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., voted against the amendment.
The Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill earmarks more than $946 million, including the CDC money, for AIDS research, prevention, information and education in a major expansion of activity to curb and cure the fatal illness.
Controversial points in the massive measure include a $585 million reduction in a low-income energy assistance program that helps poor people pay their heating and cooling bills; and language that cancels out new restrictive abortion regulations proposed by the Reagan administration in connection with the Title X family planning program.
Abortion opponents are expected to make their case for the Reagan regulations in a House-Senate conference committee.
Weicker tried to restore the low-income energy money to last year’s level of $1.8 billion, saying there would be ″much suffering in northern tier states when winter hits″ if the 32 percent reduction went through.
But the Senate voted 50-47 not to waive previously set budget limits on the bill, and by a 68-28 vote killed an attempt by Sen. Warren Rudman, R-N.H., to retore part of the energy money by cutting all discretionary programs at the three Cabinet agencies by nearly 1.9 percent.
Jeff Levi, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said the Helms amendment on AIDS education was ″a little confusing″ and its impact would depend on how CDC interpreted the language. But he said he doubted the provision would survive in a conference with House negotiators to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the appropriations bill.
Lori Behrman, spokeswoman for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis: ″Jesse Helms, first of all, is playing with the lives of thousands of Americans. This is censorhip of live-saving information. It sends a message that the gay community is expendable in this epidemic.″
″This kind of amendment only sets a precedent that will come to haunt everyone at a later date,″ she said.
There has long been conflict among lawmakers and the administration about what federal AIDS education materials should say and how graphic they should be. The friction spilled onto the floor as Helms squared off with Weicker.
Helms said he showed the Gay Men’s Health Crisis comic books to President Reagan at the White House 10 days ago, and told him the group had received $674,679 in federal funds. He said Reagan looked at a couple of pages, ″shook his head and hit the desk with his fist.″
Helms acknowledged on the floor that the comic books were not paid for with federal funds, but said taxpayer dollars did pay for a series of educational sessions he contended were equally offensive.
″The subject matter is so obscene, so revolting, that I’m embarrassed to discuss it in sufficient detail for other senators to know that we have a problem here,″ Helms said. He said the sessions included assignments to write a personal sexual advertisement for publication in a gay newspaper and list alternatives to high-risk sex, as well as instruction in the use of safe sex photos.
″I may throw up,″ Helms said. ″Some senators believe the AIDS epidemic is so bad that we should disseminate whatever materials anyone wants to produce regardless of content. But I still flinch when I hear the word condom on television... We’ve got to call a spade a spade and a perverted human being a perverted human being, not in anger but in realism... I just want the American taxpayer’s dollars to be spent in a moral way.″
Weicker called the comic books demeaning, but lectured Helms for moralizing and said his amendment ″means unnecessary lives lost.″
″We don’t have time to get into philosophical or academic or moralistic debates. We’d better do what the experts have told us to do - put our money into research and put our money into education.″
Weicker said the government spends money on liver research and lung cancer research although it does not condone drinking or smoking. ″If somebody’s ill,″ he said, ″then they deserve the help of their government. Period. Over and out.″