The condoms distributed to teenagers by the AIDS-activist group ACT-UP were a good idea, students agreed. But the pamphlets accompanying the latex?
Disgusting. Offensive. Degrading. Insulting.
That's what many students at Seattle's Franklin High School said after examining safer-sex packets and leaflets distributed by members of ACT-UP's Youth Caucus yesterday on the sidewalk in front of the school.
"You open (the pamphlet) up and you see a real person having oral sex," said Angela Brooks, 17. "It was 7:45 a.m., I was eating breakfast, and I was disgusted. I put it down."
Rachel Bianchi, 17, said the pamphlets insulted high-school students.
"It's saying the only way to reach us is through shock value. We don't need a four-letter word to get the point across," she said.
The pamphlet, with a title that uses a common vulgar word for sexual intercourse, includes explicit photos depicting oral and other forms of sex. Diagrams show how to turn a condom into a dental dam, how to use a dental dam, how to use a condom and how to disinfect a needle with bleach. AIDS is transmitted through sexual intercourse, through shared hypodermic needles, from mother to child before or during birth and, very rarely, through blood transfusions.
The leaflet also gives information about needle-exchange programs, AIDS groups, counseling hot lines, shelters, and parenting and drug-abuse and alcohol-abuse prevention groups.
Three hundred safer-sex packets containing rubber gloves, condoms and sexual lubricants were distributed.
Luke Montgomery, 17, one of the Youth Caucus members who handed out the packets, said ACT-UP did not mean to offend or insult students.
"We wanted it to be fun," he said. "We wanted it to be talked about. Part of the problem is that nobody is talking about it and that silence means death for teenagers."
ACT-UP will distribute the same pamphlet and safer-sex packets at a Seattle middle school sometime soon, Montgomery said. The group has not yet picked a school or a date.
Franklin students Charmiesha Hanes and Shalisa Hayes studied the ACT-UP pamphlet on Franklin High's front steps after lunch.
"It's good that people are becoming open with it (AIDS)," Hanes said. "The brochures grabbed people's attention, and it makes you think twice about it."
More than three dozen Franklin students, interviewed at random, all favored making condoms available in schools, an issue the Seattle School Board is expected to decide at its Dec. 11 meeting. A public hearing is scheduled for Dec. 9.
Many Franklin students, however, feared ACT-UP's tactics would create a backlash among parents and community members, jeopardizing the chances of making condoms available in school.
Five angry callers phoned the Seattle School District yesterday after hearing of the condom caper. Two ministers and one parent called Franklin Principal Sharon Green to complain about ACT-UP.
Students also worried that the sexually explicit photographs in the pamphlets would turn off peers, thus hampering efforts to teach about safe sex.
"They should have cartoons or something 'cuz this is not fresh," said Jahmar Ticeson, 16.
While munching french fries in Franklin's cafeteria, Ticeson and his friends pored over the pamphlet, locked in spirited discussion.
Ticeson objected to the pamphlet's title. "It should be `How to make love safely,' " he said.
Some students questioned what constitutes "safely."
"There really isn't a 100 percent safe way where I won't get my woman pregnant or I won't get a disease. The only way you could do it safe is not to do it at all," said Ahmed Jenkins, 18.
"You mean you're not going to do it at all?" a friend asked incredulously.
"Don't worry about me," Jenkins replied.
At another cafeteria table, a circle of girls said the pamphlet made a joke of sex and students.
"It's important for people to know about sex and love and all that," said Adrienne Griffin, 16, "but you have to do it in a way where they're not going to laugh at it."
Keaomee Horne, a junior, said she thought the ACT-UP members should have dressed more professionally if they wanted to be taken seriously. Some of the Youth Caucus members who distributed the safer-sex materials had holes in their clothing and green hair.
"We students could have thought they were playing with us," said Darlene Jeffries, 16.
"We weren't dressed appropriately to be handing out safer-sex information?" asked Montgomery of ACT-UP. "What's the dress code?"