An HIV prevention program in San Francisco is once again on the defensive because federal health officials are charging that some of its workshops are too sexy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday told the nonprofit Stop AIDS Project that its federal funding will be cut unless it stops offering classes that "encourage or promote sexual activity," which is in violation of federal guidelines. The CDC specifically criticized a Stop AIDS workshop that offers guidelines on "safe and friendly relations" with male prostitutes; another that discusses oral sex; and a third, titled "Bootylicious," which provides tips for successful anal intercourse. Friday's move, announced in a letter, came four months after the agency cleared Stop AIDS and its workshops following a review prompted by complaints from Rep. Mark E. Souder (R-Ind.). Souder's objection to the sexually explicit nature of the program prompted a national review of all federally funded AIDS programs.
Stop AIDS officials said they believe the CDC's latest challenge comes in response to political pressure from some congressional Republicans and the Bush administration. "It seems that it's about politics, not about public health," said Shana Krochmal, a spokeswoman for the 15-year-old group. She called the ongoing attention "harassment." Krochmal said all Stop AIDS programs are designed with input from local residents and approved by a panel appointed by the health department, which in the past has defended the disputed workshops as necessary for communicating with San Francisco's large and diverse gay population.
In a separate letter, the CDC asked the San Francisco Department of Public Health to do a better job of monitoring HIV-prevention programs and rejecting ones with titles and descriptions that appear to "directly promote or encourage sexual activity." About one third of the $1.8-million annual budget for Stop AIDS comes from the federal government.
The director of the San Francisco health department says that if the CDC ends up cutting the program's funds, city dollars would be used to ensure it continues. "We in San Francisco believe that to reach the men who have sex with men who are at highest risk of HIV transmission, we need to speak the same language they do, and we need to have workshops that draw them in," health department director Mitchell Katz said. In February federal health reviewers concluded that workshops with names such as "A Walk on the Wildside" and "Guy Watch" were based on "current behavioral science theories in the area of health promotion" and consistent with locally determined standards of decency.