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Passion Statement : A 14-Year-Old Junior High Student Defends Her Decision to Express Her Strong Opinions About Safe Sex. She Wore Her Heartfelt Beliefs on Her Sleeves in the Form of Condoms.

July 03, 1994|ASTRIANNA JOHNSON | Last September, 14-year-old Astrianna Johnson began wearing condoms to Mary McCleod Bethune Junior High School in South-Central to make a point. The eighth-grader pinned the condoms onto her shoes and clothing, protesting the school's sex education program as inadequate. After the school forbade her to wear the condoms, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Los Angeles Unified School District. In his May 16 decision in favor of the school district, U.S. District Judge Terry Hatter Jr. said principals "must be given great latitude to govern schools attended by children." The ACLU will not appeal the ruling. and Principal Edith Morris says the school complies with state law requiring that abstinence be taught as the only 100% effective way to prevent pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease and AIDS. The school teaches sex education in the seventh grade. Astrianna, who did not attend seventh grade at the school and did not receive sex education, says the instruction should be continuous. Astrianna was interviewed by Joy B. Davis.

I was thinking about HIV and sexually transmitted diseases because a couple of my friends told me: "I think I have herpes or the clap." I tried to stress to them that they should wear a condom, but it really seemed not to be getting through their minds. They're not educated on the condom. They feel they're responsible enough to go out and have sex.

I'd tell them to talk with their mothers. I would just be a friend, not try to be a counselor or anything. If they come to me, I'm going to try and be there for them and tell them what I believe in. I had a lot of friends come to me, telling me they think they're pregnant.

I felt very strongly that it was my right to wear the condoms. I didn't tell my mother I was going to pin them on my clothes, but when she saw them she said, "Oh, nice idea," like that.

The condoms usually were on my shoes. I pinned them on my knee, on my clothes. They were in packages, not opened, in colors.

Some students didn't say anything when I wore them to school. Some said, "Hey, she's got condoms on, that's a good idea." They'd congratulate me. They asked me where did I get them, where did I buy them, how much did they cost.

At first the vice principal told me just to take them off; she said the school's policy was to teach students abstinence. She stopped me and pulled me into her office and asked, "What are they? Why are you wearing them? What's the purpose?" I explained it to her.

I was surprised, I thought the administrators and teachers were a little more up-to-date. It was like I had to teach them. I thought, by their expression and look, they didn't know what a condom was. They just asked me where did I get them, where did I buy them.

I feel the judge's ruling is saying students are just in school to get an education and to do whatever school officials say. Children have no rights at all.

I see myself being a lawyer. More and more since this incident, I see other things that have happened to other kids, other people, things I don't agree with. Like the Rodney King beating, I felt the cops should have been in jail for a long time. I feel everyone has rights.

I didn't think my wearing condoms would blow up this big. I strongly wanted to appeal the case. Going to court wasn't frightening at all. My friends were very supportive; people I didn't know were supportive.

People were saying, "Sorry you lost," and "I hope you still wear the condoms." Teachers are being a little more open with it. Now they say, "I really did agree with you." Back then they wouldn't comment because they thought their job was on the line.

It's good that they're trying to show the kids about safe sex and all, but they shouldn't just make it one year. It should be a constant thing. What about the eighth-graders, what about the ninth-graders? What are we getting? We're still not getting anything. It's never too late to get educated.

This summer I'm going to have a good time: get a job, go swimming, maybe take up karate again.

Next year I'm going to Crenshaw High School. As far as wearing condoms to high school, I was thinking about it; I haven't made a decision.

I don't know if I'd do it again. It kind of tears you down a little bit after you try to stand up and you know your rights. You know, it puts you in a daze, like, wow.

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