After months of political debate, a court challenge and charges that it was "promoting" homosexual activity, a split Board of Supervisors on Tuesday awarded a $20,000 contract to a South-Central Los Angeles firm to provide AIDS education to the county's black and Latino communities.
Minority AIDS Project won the grant after withstanding opposition by two supervisors and numerous community activists. Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Pete Schabarum opposed the contract because the group joined a lawsuit charging that the county had not pushed AIDS education strongly enough in the minority communities.
In an emotional broadside, numerous community activists Tuesday objected to the endorsement that they said was given by Minority AIDS Project to educational materials advising how homosexuals can engage in "safe sex." The head of the group, the Rev. Carl Bean, who also is chairman of the National Minority AIDS Coalition, sharply denied the charge.
Screening Measure OKd
Despite the opposition, conservative Supervisor Deane Dana joined with liberals Kenneth Hahn and Ed Edelman for the votes needed to award the federal funds to the private firm to conduct forums and distribute literature.
But in a clear attempt to head off criticism, Dana pushed through, on a 4-1 vote, a separate proposal requiring county Health Director Robert Gates to screen any educational tools used by Minority AIDS Project to prevent the use of "offensive" materials. Schabarum opposed the move.
"I want to make it very, very clear," Dana said, "I won't support the agreement without restrictions on the use of obscene or pornographic materials."
The $20,000 AIDS education contract--considering its relatively small size and the fact that it is being funded by federal, not county, money--generated more debate than anything of comparable dollar amount in recent board history. The supervisors spent more than two hours on the issue during the last two board meetings.
The contract first came before the board last April 28 as a routine proposal by Health Director Gates, who said that the chosen firm was the only qualified organization--more so even than his own department--to effectively educate the black and Latino communities about the dangers of AIDS. But Schabarum and Antonovich successfully blocked the contract after noting that the organization was a co-plaintiff in a suit alleging that the county had not done enough to educate minorities.
In April, Dana and Edelman supported the contract award but needed colleague Hahn to form a majority and break the 2-2 deadlock. At the time, Hahn was at home recovering from a stroke.
On May 26, Superior Court Judge Ricardo A. Torres ordered a new Board of Supervisors vote after ruling that Schabarum and Antonovich had abused their discretion by retaliating against Minority AIDS Project for its participation in the lawsuit.
Contract supporters, though armed with the court order, waited until Hahn returned to try again. Hahn, whose district is 42% black and 26% Latino, had been expected to finally cast the deciding vote last week. But he asked for a week's delay after a number of activists strongly attacked Minority AIDS Project for advocating "obscene" and "pornographic" education materials.
Particularly vocal was Ezola Foster of a group called Black Americans for Family Values. Addressing the board Tuesday, Foster said, "We're here to say we're not against an AIDS education program for the minority community, but how dare the (Minority AIDS Project) . . . come here and promote homosexual safe sex in the black community.
"With AIDS running rampant in the homosexual community, this is not the time to promote a homosexual program throughout the black community," Foster said. "Some of our children don't even know what homosexuals do."
Foster and other opponents at the board meeting Tuesday expressed concern that Minority AIDS Project had not denounced graphic AIDS prevention materials that advised, for example, the use of condoms by homosexuals. They expressed the concern that Minority AIDS Project would distribute similar materials.
But Bean, backed by endorsements from several key black political leaders, countered that attack by contending that "there's nothing pornographic" about Minority AIDS Project's educational pamphlets. Bean said that the materials his group will distribute are intended and are suitable for children as well as homosexuals and drug users.