- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 10, 2002

Miss America 2003, Erika Harold, announced in Illinois yesterday that she has won her battle with pageant officials over the right to talk about teen sexual chastity.
Saying that The Washington Times "brought this controversy to the forefront" in an article yesterday, the 22-year-old former Miss Illinois told reporters in suburban Chicago that she is now permitted to talk about sexual-abstinence education as part of her youth-violence prevention platform.
Miss America Chief Executive George Bauer removed the restriction after intense discussions during a trip to Washington, she said.
"I don't think the pageant organizers really understood how much I am identified with the abstinence message," Miss Harold told reporters at a ceremony in Oak Brook Terrace to crown her successor as Miss Illinois.
"If I don't speak about it now as Miss America, I will be disappointing the thousands of young people throughout Illinois who need assurance that waiting until marriage for sex is the right thing to do," she said.
Mr. Bauer, who accompanied Miss Harold this week on her first visit to Washington since her crowning Sept. 21, has issued no formal statement. Miss Harold said he would issue a statement publicly affirming her freedom to espouse her views on chastity "in the next few days."
Mr. Bauer has not responded to several inquiries by The Times about reports first made by the IllinoisLeader.com, an online journal, that the new Miss America was being muzzled.
"It was silly," Dan Proft, president of the online journal, said yesterday about the controversy. Sexual chastity for unmarried girls "is a great message to send from Miss America."
"What is more fundamental than freedom of expression?" he asked.
Miss Harold could not be reached for comment after her midafternoon press conference in Illinois.
But she told reporters there she became upset during a National Press Club function in Washington on Tuesday because pageant officials told her not to talk about sexual abstinence.
Questioning by The Times on Tuesday about reasons for her silence on the issue, for which she has campaigned at schools and youth appearances for several years, prompted her to reveal that she was being muzzled.
"Quite frankly, and I'm not going to be specific, there are pressures from some sides to not promote [abstinence]," she said.
Sanford A. Newman, president of a group called Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, which sponsored Tuesday's National Press Club appearance, stepped in to stop questions, saying he thought a reporter was "bullying" Miss Harold to determine who was responsible for her silence on teen chastity.
Several close acquaintances of Miss Harold had said she wanted to discuss the issue and was "furious" that she was told not to do so.
"You won't be bullied, right?" The Times asked her.
"I will not be bullied. I've gone through enough adversity in my life to stand up for what I believe in," she said.
In Washington on Tuesday, Miss Harold told The Times she believes teen sexual permissiveness is intertwined with youth violence. She said this is the reason she feels compelled to talk about abstinence as one remedy for violence.
"I definitely think that when a young person engages in one destructive behavior it makes it much more likely that you engage in other destructive behaviors, so I think that if a young person is engaged in a promiscuous lifestyle it makes them more vulnerable to other risk factors. So I definitely see the tie-in there," she said.
Miss Harold said she was subjected to "pervasive racial and sexual harassment" by other students in high school because of her black and American Indian ancestry and her refusal to succumb to sexual advances.
Students threatened to kill her, and the principal told her, "If you'd only be more submissive like the other girls, this wouldn't happen to you," she said.
Conservative religious groups reacted yesterday with anger and outrage at Miss Harold's silencing.
Sandy Rios, the president of Concerned Women for America, called the pageant's initial actions "bullying" and "blatant censorship that betrays religious bigotry among pageant officials."
"They are attacking Erika Harold's values.
"In an age when beauty queens are regularly disqualified for inappropriate behavior, who would have thought that a virtuous one would be silenced for her virtue?" Mrs. Rios asked.
Genevieve Wood, vice president of communications for the Family Research Council, detected a double standard in contestant platforms.
"If Miss Harold's platform was about the hazards of smoking, most likely there wouldn't be any protest. It's a tragedy that the one message that will help save people's lives and protect their emotional and physical health is being censored," she said.
Pageant officials had let another former Miss America, 1998's Kate Shindle, talk about an AIDS prevention platform. In addition to abstinence, though, Miss Shindle advocated publicly funded condom distribution in public schools and government-funded needle exchanges for drug users.
Dr. John Whiffen, the medical director for the National Physicians Center for Family Resources, said Miss Harold "should be commended for promoting a message of health to adolescents, not silenced."


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