STOP stopping Stop AIDS!

A lot of people out west and in Washington are very upset about at least one San Francisco AIDS prevention program, but tragically that particular controversy is inconceivable here in New York, where we don't really have a visible AIDS prevention program, with or without governmental involvement, thanks to the power of our religious cults.

[Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., recently urged new CDC Director Julie Gerberding to check into the Stop AIDS Project's campaigns.] The questions: Are federal funds being used to encourage sexual activity, and are the campaigns they fund broaching community obscenity standards?

Please. Campaigns targeting HIV-prevention to young gay men don't ipso facto encourage sexual activity. They may encourage certain precautions during sexual activity, but I've never seen one, or even heard one discussed during planning meetings, that says, "Go forth and, uh, do it."

As to community obscenity standards: Hi. Hello? This is San Francisco. This is the gay community in San Francisco. The only thing considered obscene there -- where sexual aids stand tall in shop windows -- is trying to build a shelter for homeless gay youth. Property values threatened? Now that's obscene!

... the issue is this: Conservative lawmakers are attacking gay community programs with an intensity rarely seen since the Reagan years.

It smacks of cultural backsliding. It smacks of cheap politicizing. And it reminds some of us of a dark era when gay sex was the subject of Supreme Court cases, and Christian fundamentalists created a gay scare to raise funds.

What happened then was that the gay community banded together and fought -- long and hard -- both for better HIV treatments and, by extension, for a different cultural view of homosexuality in America. It worked, though the historically averse among us may not know that.


So Souder and his ilk need to be put on notice: Prepare for a fight. The gay community and its allies can be really tough. The community's political muscle may have gone slightly flabby in the comfy '90s (even as its real muscles ridiculously hardened), but gays and lesbians can be rugged as mountains and just as solid.

When they need to be.