About 300 AIDS activists, including members of ACT UP, protested Monday outside the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-sponsored national sexually transmitted disease conference in Philadelphia to criticize President Bush's push for abstinence-only education to prevent the spread of HIV and other STDs. "The national studies confirm what we are seeing in Philadelphia--STDs are a problem that can not be ignored," said Jacqueline Ambrosini, director of Youth Health Empowerment Project, in a press release. "We commend the conference for bringing together the people and programs [that find] solutions to this challenge. But we need to let people know that the solutions are increasingly underfunded and undercut by politicians who think that 'just say no' is all young people need to hear. We live in a country where 90% have sex before marriage, let's get real."
Activists also protested planned budget cuts at the federal, state, and local levels that will slash spending on HIV and STD prevention and treatment programs around the country, as well as statements by the Bush administration and some religious groups that condoms are ineffective in preventing STDs. "Bush and his friends in Congress are acting like they've finally found their weapons of mass destruction--condoms," said Jose de Marco of the Philadelphia chapter of ACT UP. "This attack on condoms is not only groundless, it's downright dangerous. People with HIV, like me, rely on condoms to ensure that we keep our partners safe. We need correct information, not moralistic and confusing rumors. I can't bear to see kids getting infected with HIV because they heard that condoms don't work."
The protest was organized by the Philadelphia and New York City chapters of ACT UP, the American Medical Student Association, Coalition of Labor Union Women, Philadelphia Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project, Health Initiatives for Youth, Housing Works, the National Network of Abortion Funds, New York City AIDS Housing Network, Project TEACH, and YouthBASE.