This is the first of a new series I call Memorable Events In My Life. One of the more memorable experiences I had in HIV/AIDS activism was the time a small group of us (sadly two are no longer with us including Michael Quercio who livened things up a bit), decided to make a point about a high school’s refusal to have condoms available in school or offer comprehensive sexual health/HIV Prevention classes. This was the third year of annual event falling on Valentine’s Day, (or in this case the closest school day to February 14th), which, of course, falls during National Condom Week. We held these annual events, at high schools and youth hangouts every Valentine’s Day. We called these Operation Rubber Storm and what’s part of our overall outreach effort we called the Rubber Posse.
I created a safer sex/HIV prevention Valentine’s Day card and we stuffed it along with condoms and lube into a zip lock bag. On this particular day we targeted a school that two members of our team happened to attend. We all bundled into our vehicles and headed to the high school. This all happened while a bit of a blizzard was happening, perhaps it was on omen.
We arrived at the school and dutifully set up just off school property. When it became obvious that we weren’t reaching as many as we hoped because busses were loaded back washstand up the school driveway. Well Michael in a spontaneous whim, decided that wouldn’t do. So he walked up the drive to the first bus and began distributing our Valentine’s packets. Soon the principal came storming down the drive yelling call 911, call 911! We retreated back to school entrance. When the principal got there he tried to block us from reaching the students. So one or us, probably Michael, tossed condoms over the head of the principal to the students. A few missed the students an landed by the principal, treating them like they were poison, kicked them to the side of the road..
By then a reporter had arrived, (we sent out a press release). His report is below.
Our final tactic was to toss the packets through the open windows of the buses to the eager students inside. Michael even emulated basketball players and slam dunked some packets through the window.
By then the police had arrived. I think the officer was bemused by the goings on. Nevertheless he dutifully asked if we’d gone in the school. We of course said no, if the question was worded differently to include school grounds we might have gotten in trouble but thankfully he just shooed us away. Here’s how the local newspaper reported the event:
Worcester Telegram Gazette
February 13, 1993
CONDOM GROUP SENDS VALENTINES \ SOUTH HIGH PRINCIPAL DEFENDS TURF
Author: Clive McFarlane; Staff Reporter
WORCESTER – In the early hours of yesterday’s snowstorm, a high-spirited group of local activists called the Rubber Posse, stormed the gates of South High Community School, unloading condoms and preaching safe sex.
The group included Michael Quercio, one of President Clinton’s Faces of Hope, Jerry Cheney, the coordinator of the group, and “Bud,” a former South High student who is HIV positive.
In an effort to attain maximum impact, the posse moved onto the school property to intercept students boarding buses.
INTERDICTED BY PRINCIPAL
The trio, however, was quickly chased back through the gates by School Principal James Garvey, who told them the school has an adequate health education curriculum.
“Do not let your principal stop you from getting life-saving information,” shouted Cheney, as Garvey positioned himself between the posse and his students.
Suddenly, a shower of pink valentine cards sailed towards Garvey and the students. The cards, tossed by the posse member, held information about “waiting for sex, safer sex and how to use a condom.” They also held a pair of condoms.
The cards fell to the ground around Garvey and he nudged them with his boots to the side of the road.
Then out of the snow flurry came the flashing lights of a police car. The car pulled up to the posse and a middle-aged officer rolled his window down and asked if the group had been into the school building. Quercio said no, and asked the officer if he needed some condoms. The officer opened his door and spat on the ground.
Not everyone held the same disdain for the group which described itself as a multicultural/multi-agency HIV/AIDS prevention team and boast of distributing some 32,000 condoms and several thousands safer-sex fliers over the last year.
South High students Leo A. Goodwin and Naya A. Byfield, two of a number of students who accepted the group’s valentine packages yesterday, said they have no problems with promoting condoms in their schools.
“I am involved in an HIV program and I believe it’s a good thing that this group is doing,” said Goodwin. “They should do more of it.”
“Not so,” according to Edward Thompson, a parent liaison at the school. “Students should be taught abstinence.”
Educating kids on what they need to do to protect themselves is one of the purposes of their mission, according to Cheney. The other purpose, he said, is to state their displeasure to the School Committee’s continued opposition in allowing condoms to become an integral part of the school’s health curriculum.
“We are concerned that there is a number of gaps in their health curriculum, and we are saying that we and a number of other agencies can augment what they are currently doing,” Cheney said.
But according to Garvey, the School Department is offering a comprehensive K-12 health education curriculum. Freshmen at South High, as at all Worcester public high shools, are required to take a year and half health and safety program, for example, while sophmores are given a sexuality course of 20 class periods, subject to parental approval, he said. In addition, outside health educators are brought in periodically to augment the school’s program.
School Committee member Stephen E. Mills agreed with Garvey.
“I am not against introducing condoms to students and I not against those who take part in these distributions,” he said. “But I belive (condoms) are readily accessible to anyone who wants them. It is my feelings that over the past 30 years the school has taken on a number of social issues that they should not have shouldered. Our job is to educate the children, not to become a convenience store.”
Michael Quercio offered free condoms to people leaving South High Community School yesterday, including man, above, who shook his head “no’ when Quercio said: “Take some home to the kids.’ PHOTO