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Jewish World Review March 15, 2001/ 20 Adar, 5761

Larry Elder

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Consumer Reports

'NO' on government 'protection' -- INTELLIGENT life exists in West Hollywood, but Washington, D.C., remains on the critical list.

In West Hollywood, voters last week considered an initiative called Measure A. Measure A requires, that's right, "requires" local bars, hotels and restaurants to display free condoms.

Any West Hollywood establishment, deriving more than 50 percent of its sales from liquor, must not only display a bowl of condoms, but also literature on safe sex. A few years ago, the West Hollywood City Council began a voluntary program under which the city supplied over 300,000 condoms to various establishments.

But the AIDS Healthcare Foundation wanted to make the program mandatory. The measure requires the city to provide "free" (at taxpayers' expense) condoms to over 100 West Hollywood businesses, which must, in turn, display the condoms for their customers. Any business that refuses to participate risks losing its liquor license. Under the voluntary plan, businesses generally put condoms in large fishbowls, but AIDS activists say that business owners often leave the fishbowls empty. Without the risk of losing a license, AIDS activists say, owners have little incentive to keep their fishbowls full and to keep safe sex literature available. Isn't this insulting to gay men? After all, don't activists lecture the heterosexual population for accusing gays and lesbians of an obsession with non-committed sex? Isn't AIDS Healthcare Foundation saying that, but for requiring a third party to provide condoms, gay men lack the ability to control and monitor their sexual behavior?

Not too surprisingly, the business community resists. One owner of a popular westside gay bar says, "Everybody likes the idea of condoms being available. But to make it mandatory, along with safe-sex literature, is wrong. This literature, with naked males having anal sex, is totally inappropriate for, say, a restaurant on Sunset Boulevard."

Opponents also point out that not all bars and clubs in West Hollywood cater to a gay clientele, with many having far more heterosexual patrons than gay. Under Measure A, these businesses, too, must display condoms and safe-sex literature.

Measure A angered many in the AIDS awareness community. AIDS Project Los Angeles opposes this measure. Its executive director, Craig E. Thompson, says, "In a sound bite analysis we don't look very good. It sounds like we're against condoms, and that's not true." He supports making condoms readily available, but objects to Measure A's mandatory feature.

Aren't condoms already available in West Hollywood? Under the "voluntary" program, restaurants and bars display condoms with many businesses offering condom dispensers in bathrooms. The government spends millions each year educating people on how one contracts sexually transmitted diseases. Is anyone old enough to walk into a bar unaware of how one contracts a sexually transmitted disease? Will Measure A provide condom mentors to ensure that once someone grabs a condom, he uses it? Is it a violation if the bowl is only half full? Three-quarters full? Will there be a safe-sex literature monitor to answer any questions?

Thankfully, intelligent life does exist in West Hollywood. Voters defeated Measure A by 59 percent to 41 percent. Now it looks like many gay men just might have to assume responsibility for their own behavior. Imagine that.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., politicians bravely refused to kill a program merely because it doesn't work.

A few years ago, Congress began the "Officer Next Door/Teacher Next Door" program. If a teacher, policeman or firefighter agrees to live for three years in certain communities, often in "distressed" areas, the buyer gets the home for half price. But, according to a HUD audit, nearly one in four participants either rents, sells or vacates a property well before the three-year limit. The HUD inspector general said, "Our interim results indicate that a high proportion of home buyers abused and defrauded the OND/TND program."

So, what to do? Why, expand the program, of course. Senator Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Rep. John LaFalce, D-N.Y., and Rep. James Leach, R-Iowa, now propose the Homeownership Opportunities for Uniformed Services and Educators Act. Under this program, the buyer need come up with only a 1 percent down payment, with the Federal Housing Administration guaranteeing losses for the lender who finances the rest.

Never mind that a HUD officer said the Officer Next Door/Teacher Next Door program "appears to be at high risk for noncompliance and abuse by home buyers." And where does it say that certain professions over others deserve taxpayer-supported housing? And will a cop really move into a distressed area and announce his presence? Can you say "fear of retaliation"?

But the Officer Next Door/Teacher Next Door program feels good -- forget about that 25 percent rate of fraud. Besides, we can now kill two birds with one stone. A teacher takes advantage of the program, and promptly places on the coffee table a big fishbowl of free condoms. Everybody wins.

JWR contributor Larry Elder is the author of the newly released, The Ten Things You Can't Say in America. (Proceeds from sales help fund JWR) Let him know what you think of his column by clicking here.

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© 2001, Creators Syndicate