On September 13, the Vancouver Echo carried a column by Paul E. Nielsen, who noted how the little-known facts about AIDS are being passed over. “How many know,” he wrote, “That it was originally called ‘GRID?’ The correlation between the practice of homosexuality and the occurrence of this syndrome was so strong that it was initially called GRID – Gay Related Immune-deficiency Disease.” The lobbying efforts of homosexual medical activists, he said, succeeded in getting the name changed. But the facts remain the same: “AIDS is a homosexual disease in North America.” It is being spread by a lifestyle which is unnatural. “Never have we witnessed a smoker dying of lung cancer who extolled the virtues of smoking,” he writes, “and yet those dying of aids seem to support a lifestyle that perpetuates the disease that ends life in a very cruel way.”
The following week, Dr. Noni MacDonald of the University of Ottawa gave a report at the meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Houston on educational and media campaigns in Canada to increase condom use. She described them as dismal failures. About 75% of white middle-class Canadian college students are sexually active, she said, but only 19% use condoms. Incidentally, the study found that 30% of 14-year-olds had already had intercourse.
At the end of September, a report recommending condom dispensers in high school washrooms was presented to the Toronto Board of Education. Pressure for this action came from three people:
Dr. Perry Kendall, Medical Officer of Health said that there are 47 known cases of teenagers between 15 and 19 testing HIV positive and, consequently, condoms must be distributed in the schools.
Education director Ned McKeown backed Kendall who, he said, is the expert in health. “I believe I am an expert in education. When you put the two together, you get healthy education.” (Parent Judy Anderson was in sharp disagreement: “Would the board endorse a program of safe smoking or safe addiction? she asked)
Malika Mendez of Planned Parenthood declared that “We should have condom machines in schools because too many teenagers are too embarrassed to buy them.”
In the ensuing discussion, all the familiar clichés and arguments in favor of condoms were trotted out: the board would be taking a stand against ignorance; we are no longer living in the Victorian age; those opposing condoms are living in a dream world; opponents of condoms want to punish sexually active teens; and students are already sexually active and there is no proof that condom machines in washrooms will corrupt anyone.
Columnists jumped on the bandwagon. Frank Jones of the Toronto Star, for example, argued that the machines are indispensable and should be in every high school in the country. But they are only part of the answer, he thought, quoting Sharon Coleman, executive director of Planned Parenthood of Canada, as saying, “Sex sells. What is needed is a campaign to deal with responsible sexual behavior and attitudes, and end Victorian attitudes towards sex.”
On September 28, the board overrode the objections of all “narrow-minded, Victorian” parents and voted in favor of condom machines for its 26 high schools by a vote of 17-3.
In a lengthy editorial, “The commonsense condom dispenser,” the Globe and Mail dispensed its own brand of advice.
“We have traveled briskly from an age in which few schools mentioned sexual intercourse, much less assumed their students were engaged in it to one in which sexual education courses are a staple of the curriculum.
Condom dispensers are a further jolt. They are a blunt recognition that students engage in premarital ex, often promiscuously, and that all the warnings in the world about the risks and penalties of such activity do not deter them.”
The paper denied that condom machines betoken an acceptance of promiscuity.
The Toronto Star similarly praised the Toronto Board for its leadership on the issue: “This is good news, and reality too.” Referring to Dr. MacDonald’s discovery that students know about “safe sex” but do not practice it, the Star said that as the Toronto board goes ahead with its vending machines, it might also go back to the blackboard and figure out how to persuade teens to use condoms.
On December 3 the Scarborough Board of Education vetoed condom machines for its 24 secondary schools. No one could think of any reasons why the schools should have them, a decision ridiculed by the Star (Oct. 6) as “Out of touch.”
The condom plan was rapped next by a manufacturer of these devices, not because of any lofty moral principles but because of the unprofitability of it all. Murray Black, president of Julius Schmid Canada, which controls 45 per cent of the Canadian condom market, said that placing the machines in high schools n the U.S. has had little success. First they are regularly vandalized. Second, the sales are low. Who is going to pay for it all, he wanted to know. Are the schools?
Parents and letters to editors did not seem enthusiastic either. Sue Careless of “Parents for Responsible Education” slammed the “hoopla promotion of condoms.” She called publicity surrounding safe sex a “popularization of condoms through the eroticizing of safe sex.”
A high school history teacher for 25 years pointed out that Frank Jones’ error was assuming that schools are appropriate places to provide anti-social concessions to the weaknesses and undisciplined behavior of a minority. Another respondent pointed out that schools were designed for education, not to be springboards for the promotion of sexual activity.
If condoms are just a question of health, then it follows logically that if public schools promote them, Catholic schools should follow. Condom supporter Christine Blizzard, Toronto Sun writer on education, noted that this question had been daily brought up by Toronto public school trustee David Moll. “Is there any reason to believe there is less change of infection in one system?” Molls asked, pointing out that there are two publicly funded school systems, Toronto medical officer Kendall of course indicated he “would look into the matter.”
That Catholic schools should follow suit was the sole message of Toronto Star reporter Rosi DiManno’s story on Catholic Madonna High School October 2. Without great difficulty she found some female students to say: “Condoms are a necessity these days.” Said another, “Catholic students are no different than anyone else. They have sex. Any time, any place. In the car, in a truck, in the backyard, in their house, up on the school roof.”
The school roof? “Oh Lord,” concluded DiManno innocently, just as if she hadn’t invited or expected such a comment.
Those who oppose the condom syndrome of the last few years point out that the Kendall-McKeown combination does not combine to present healthy education. They fail in at least three respects:
- 1. They fail to acknowledge that AIDS is principally a homosexual disease in North America (the point Nielsen made), and that putting condom dispensers in girls’ washrooms will do nothing to curb it.
- 2. They fail to take account of various studies which document that the more sex education, the more emphasis on contraceptives, the more promiscuity, the more teenage pregnancies, the more abortions.
- 3. They fail to admit that sexual activity is essentially a moral matter, even if it also becomes a health matter.
That is why a new draft statement from the U.S. Catholic bishops on the AIDS crisis sharply condemns the case of condoms and needle exchange. “Sexual intercourse is appropriate and morally good only when, in the context of heterosexual marriage, it is a celebration of faithful love and is open to new life,” the new draft says. “Not only is the use of prophylactics in an attempt to halt the spread of AIDS technically unreliable; promoting this approach means, in effect, promoting behavior which is morally unacceptable.”