- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 23, 2002

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Sen. Jesse Helms' 180-degree turn on AIDS funding from staunch opponent to a man who acknowledges shame for his earlier stance elicited praise from women who founded an anti-Helms group after their sons died of AIDS.
"Of course, I'm thrilled," said Patsy Clarke, co-founder of Mothers Against Jesse in Congress. "I really never thought I would live to see the day. … I'm particularly grateful that he would say he's ashamed."
Mr. Helms has clashed with homosexual activists over AIDS funding and statements he made blaming the spread of the disease on homosexuals.
On Wednesday, the North Carolina Republican told hundreds of Christian AIDS activists at a conference in Washington he is "so ashamed that I've done so little" about the worldwide AIDS epidemic.
"I have been too lax too long in doing something really significant about AIDS," Mr. Helms told the conference. "I'm not going to lay it aside on my agenda for the remaining months I have" in office.
Mrs. Clarke and Eloise Vaughn founded their anti-Helms group in 1996. Mrs. Clarke's son, Mark, died of AIDS in 1994, and Mrs. Vaughn's son, also named Mark, died of the virus in 1990.
Mrs. Clarke, 73, had been a lifelong Republican and a Helms supporter when she wrote to him after her son died, convinced Mr. Helms had been misquoted about his stance on AIDS victims. She asked him to support AIDS research and not pass judgment on other people.
"I know that Mark's death was devastating to you," Mr. Helms wrote back. "I wish he had not played Russian roulette with his sexual activity. I have sympathy for him and for you. But there is no escaping the reality of what happened."
When Mrs. Clarke read about Mr. Helms' new stance, "I was knocked off my seat," she said Thursday. "The man has really stepped forward. He said, 'I'm ashamed.'"
Mrs. Vaughn, 69, said she also was surprised and grateful. "Helms is a bigger man than I thought, to admit shame," she said.
Sim DeLapp, a past chairman of the North Carolina Christian Coalition and a longtime Helms' supporter, said he trusted Mr. Helms to do the right thing, even if it involved changing his position 180 degrees.
"If he sees fit in his good judgment to change his position, you know it's been thought out and it's something he feels like is the right thing to do," Mr. DeLapp said.
Mr. Helms did not mention homosexuality in his speech Wednesday, urging "strong and healthy marriages."
He suggested that Bono, the lead singer of the rock band U2 and longtime humanitarian activist, influenced him. Bono visited Mr. Helms in 2000 to talk about debt relief for poor nations and the two struck up a friendship.

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