The Republican blogger that helped get the ball rolling on ending condom distribution to at risk groups in Arkansas is giddy.
Spokesman for the Department of Health Ed Barham confirms this morning that the program has been suspended as they review the issues raised by Legislative Audit. Barham tells me that their review is focused on ensuring that any activities of B&S are in line with what is spelled out in the grant.
In addition, Gov. Beebe along with the Department of Health are saying no to the continued distribution of condoms in bars.
“While health outreach to all groups of Arkansans is important, the governor feels that distributing condoms in bars is not a proper use of taxpayer dollars, and that the practice should not be a part of future outreach efforts,” said DeCample.
That's right. They went beyond the program in question and stopped all distribution of preventive health care. But in Arkansas, we're not taking this lying down. We're telling the Governor to do the right thing, and we're asking others to help by contacting his office. You can call here. Email here. And you can find out the facts by reading on.
As I wrote before, this all started with a group of Republican legislators we're calling the Pro-AIDS Three. It began when Arkansas Representative Donna Hutchinson found out that an organization called Brothah's and Sistah's Inc. had mismanaged some money from a state grant to promote prevention and testing for STD's among an at risk group-in this case, black gay men. But it wasn't the money that upset the Republicans so much. It was what Brothah's and Sistah's and other programs funded by the state were doing to fight the spread of diseases like HIV-distributing condoms in gay clubs. Hutchinson latched on to it, wondering allowed just how many black gay men there could be for the state to worry about. She was joined by state senator Bill Pritchard, who during last year's ERA debate famously made a sexist fool of himself and the new House Minority Leader, John Burris, so keen on making sure that he ingratiated himself to the worst elements in his party that he went so far as to suggest that people who put themselves at risk (whether he meant by being gay or by having sex really doesn't matter, it's just as revolting either way) should just deal with the consequences.
On top of all that, Republicans saw an issue to hit Democrats with and ran with it. A Republican blogger posted a gay baiting headline:
State Grant for Distributing Condoms at Gay Bar Stirs Controversy in Committee
A local teabagger group, Secure Arkansas, took the bait, firing off an email exploiting prejudice and homophobia the next morning:
State Grant for Distributing Condoms at Gay Bars Is this what Beebe wants? http://tolbertreport.com/ Excerpt: The Tolbert Report obtained a copy of the grant application late Friday which reveals startling details. A non-profit organization called “Brotha’s and Sistah’s Inc.” (B&S) applied for and received a $50,000 grant as part of an overall $340,419 in grant awarded by the AMHC for HIV/AIDS prevention. The targeted population listed in the application is “Arkansas’ Black LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) Community’s MSM (Men having Sex with Men).”
And all this after the nation has been shaken by the suicides of teens victimized by a culture of hate and homophobia that this kind of gay baiting creates. What's even worse is that the governor's office cowed to these bullies.
Condoms are preventive health care. Making sure that members of at risk groups have them and the information they need to protect themselves shouldn't be controversial. But because a small minority of people clutch the pearls over the idea of people having sex-safe or unsafe, gay or straight-it is. And in the process the state has caved to the most immoral people on the planet-the people who put their own likes and dislikes over other people's lives.
Under Mike Huckabee, HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs were slashed. Since then, conservative Democrats in the state legislature have let the programs whither while they funded pork barrel projects, like a million dollar tunnel so they could walk a short distance between buildings without getting wet in the rain. The right wing has long thrown its weight around with little opposition in this state. All of that stops now. We're taking a stand, and we're asking others to join us.