Stamping my feet and watching the moon set outside Lincoln Park High School last week, I wondered why all the great moral battles of our era have to be fought at the crack of dawn. The newly formed Coalition for Positive Sexuality is the brainchild of members of the Emergency Clinic Defense Coalition, who spend every Saturday morning battling Operation Rescue outside abortion clinics. No wonder they think 7 AM is the perfect time to teach teenagers about safe sex.
Members of the coalition, which also includes some high school students and members of ACT UP, Queer Nation, and the Women's Action Coalition, unload bags of Health Department condoms and boxes of safe-sex booklets from the trunks of their cars. Some stand near the main gate, while others grab some supplies and head down Armitage to the southwest comer of the school's fence. CPS has picked Lincoln Park High partly because it abuts a major thoroughfare; they've had trouble at other schools over just what constitutes school property. But they've spoken with the ACLU, and they know that no one can order them off a public street.
Not that no one's going to try. Even before the first kids appear, a bearded man drives up in an unmarked brown Chevy and tells the activists he's from the police. He says he got a call from a neighbor who said that something suspicious was going on. They give him one of the books and he takes it to the car to read. After five minutes or so he leaves again.
A few minutes later two squad cars pull up in front of the main gate, jostling for space with cars unloading passengers. As the kids climb out they're met with mittened hands proffering acid green booklets and shiny foilwrapped condoms. The CPS members are busy now and they snub the cops, telling them that they can't spare any more copies of the book for police perusal. The cops huddle a few yards away and confer with the bearded man, who has reappeared. Soon two more squad cars and a paddy wagon pull up, but the police watch from a distance. Eventually one confides that they're just killing time.
The school officials are more decisive. A security guard approaches a breach in the fence and reminds the activists not to trespass on school grounds, but one coalition member manages to sneak in with a photographer to pose, brandishing a booklet, right in front of the Greek columns at the school's entrance. As the first kids clutching booklets amble up the steps, a teacher emerges. He comes out to the street and tells CPS member Carol Hayse that he thinks they should leave. "You're just going to upset the kids for the rest of the day," he says, his tone wavering between belligerence and pleading. He and Hayse step away from the action and argue for a few moments in muffled tones. Finally he retreats, though it's unclear whether he's driven inside by the cold or the power of her reasoning.
Only one of the school's emissaries, a biology teacher named Linda Abram, seems unthreatened by CPS. She politely asks for a copy of the book so she can discuss it with her classes.
"That's just what we want to happen!" says one of the activists triumphantly. The members of CPS insist that they aren't trying to supplant school sex-education programs. Their goal, they say, is to prod schools to offer comprehensive "sex positive" safe-sex information.
But it may take a while. It turns out Abram has a test scheduled, so she's not planning to discuss the book today. (At the end of the day she admits she still hasn't had a chance to read it.) Judging from the stories CPS members tell about other schools, Abram's limited openness is about as positive a response as they get. CPS member Patrick Larvie says that he heard reports of students being body-searched at John Marshall High School after the coalition distributed booklets there.
"Can you believe it? They had a shooting there last month, and they're body-searching students to confiscate our book!" Larvie says incredulously. "So you can take a gun into the school, but not safe-sex information."
A quick perusal of CPS's booklet is enough to understand why school administrators would see it as a loaded gun. Titled Just Say Yes, the booklet contrasts dramatically with the abstinence line schools typically hand their students. Just Say Yes frankly acknowledges that high school students have sex and emphasizes mutual respect and safety.
"Sex is a natural and good part of every person," it reads. "Women have sex with women, men have sex with men, and women have sex with men....These types of sexuality are all natural and acceptable. None of them is better or worse than the others."
Just Say Yes includes an extensive discussion of how you can and can't get HIV and other STDs, as well as information on birth control and abortion. It explains how to use condoms, plastic wrap, and rubber gloves to prevent transmission of disease, and it presents a smorgasbord of sexual practices, from masturbation to the use of S and M techniques and sex toys.
"We wanted to offer options beyond the missionary position," Larvie says. "We didn't want the book to come off as though we were talking only to heterosexual teenagers who want to get married and have little families."
Larvie mocks parents who believe their kids aren't having sex for having "irrational fantasies of control" over their kids' lives. But Just Say Yes doesn't advocate indiscriminate sex. A section titled "If Sex Is So Great, Why Aren't I Having Fun?" counsels that "though sex should be fun and pleasurable, you should be the only one to decide when to have sex and who to do it with." This section warns kids about the various "lines" others may use to try to coerce them into having sex and suggests how to respond to them. "I've made my choice--deal with it!" a cartoon woman snaps at a cartoon man, who gapes at her and helplessly flings up his hands. In case real life isn't so simple, the book includes the phone numbers of rape crisis hot lines along with incest, abuse, and anti-gay-violence support centers.
A few of the kids refuse the booklet, bearing out Larvie's prediction that some will decide that its ideas aren't for them. But plenty are interested. The school yard flickers with acid green, and a crowd of boys shove each other out of the way to get to the free condoms.
One girl reads her book aloud to her friends: "If you're going to be sucking your partner's dick, put a condom on him first." This slangy directness is typical of the book's style-words like "fuck" and "cum" are supposed to make the message more accessible. Apparently it's worked on these girls, who giggle nervously as they contemplate a mouthful of latex. They may be information-starved martyrs of the sexual revolution, or they may just be oversexed punks who watch too much MTV. CPS doesn't care. They're on a crusade that will continue until there aren't any more kids like one who hangs around them awhile, evidently postponing going into school.
"It's too bad you weren't here a year ago," she tells them. 'I've got a nine-month-old baby now."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Jason Smith.