- The Washington Times - Monday, May 24, 2004

A San Francisco AIDS organization criticized for sponsoring “obscene” sex workshops has lost federal funding.

The Stop AIDS Project was left off the list last week when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced $49 million in HIV prevention grants to be awarded in July.

The grants for community-based organizations (CBOs) are part of the CDC’s $788 million budget to combat AIDS in the United States, agency officials said.

“We are proud to put HIV prevention dollars in the hands of the local organizations that know best how to address HIV/AIDS in their communities,” said Dr. Robert Janssen, director of CDC’s HIV prevention programs.

“After three years of questioning, Stop AIDS Project still has yet to provide any proof that their workshops — funded with hundreds of thousands of federal dollars from the CDC — have been effective in preventing HIV,” said Rep. Mark Souder, Indiana Republican and chairman of the House Government Reform subcommittee on criminal justice, drug policy and human resources.

“The taxpayers, Congress and the AIDS community certainly have every right to expect that the groups that are being funded by CDC will abide by the law and be able to demonstrate effectiveness,” Mr. Souder said.

Republicans in Congress have complained since 2001 about the Stop AIDS Project, which once received as much as $700,000 a year in federal funding — including an annual CBO grant of $225,000 from the CDC — and has offered workshops with titles like “Booty Call” and “Great Sex.”

By denying funds for these programs, the CDC has “in effect dismantled this nation’s primary HIV prevention infrastructure,” said Stop AIDS spokesman Jason Riggs.

“They’re moving already inadequate funds out of primary HIV prevention and into testing and services for HIV-positive people, which are both laudable activities or goals,” Mr. Riggs said of the CDC, “but you shouldn’t pit the needs of HIV-negative people and HIV-positive people against each other.”

A CDC spokeswoman said yesterday there were 537 eligible applicants for 142 grants. “Clearly, it’s a highly competitive process,” agency spokeswoman Kathryn Bina said. “CDC was not able to fund every applicant.”

She said that while Stop AIDS did not receive a direct CDC grant, the organization is still eligible to participate in other CDC-funded programs administered through state and local health departments.

A November 2001 investigation by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) concluded that some Stop AIDS workshops met the “legal definition of obscene material,” and violated federal guidelines by promoting sexual activity. HHS Inspector General Janet Rehnquist reported that the “Great Sex” workshop “appears to directly promote sexual activity, which is not consistent with CDC’s basic principles.”

Stop AIDS officials complained of “redundant and unnecessary congressional inquiries and federal investigations” and continued offering such activities as a sadomasochism workshop, an “erotic writing workshop,” and a workshop about male prostitutes that promised “practical tips … for safe and friendly relations with escorts.”

“Three years ago, I asked CDC to prove that Stop AIDS programs were effective, and I’m still waiting for an answer,” said Michael Petrelis, a San Francisco AIDS activist and critic of the Stop AIDS Project.

Mr. Riggs, the Stop AIDS spokesman, said CDC is “playing politics with people’s lives” by denying funding for the group.

“Why is the federal government squandering millions of dollars on abstinence programs even as they’re defunding effective prevention with high-risk HIV-negative populations?” Mr. Riggs said.

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