Protesters upset about a few thousand condoms circulating at the Olympic Village haven't seen anything yet. Salt Lake City is about to become the first Olympic host city where a quarter-million "safer sex kits" are distributed to the public.

Starting this weekend, some 120 SafeGames 2002 volunteers will be in downtown Salt Lake City and Park City, handing out free condoms, health information cards, glow sticks, hand warmers and lip balm. The agencies organizing the SafeGames effort include Planned Parenthood of Utah and the American Red Cross.

"The Red Cross? Wow," said a surprised Brandi Swindell, director of the Boise-based Generation Life group protesting the Olympic Village distribution of condoms. "This is unbelievable."

Hold on, "this is not just about condoms," said Luciano Colonna, director of the Harm Reduction Project, another of the health-education providers behind SafeGames 2002. People will also be offered cards listing useful phone numbers, ranging from where to call to find an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting to where to call a taxicab. The list is also available at www.safegames2002.com.

During the Games, "we anticipate people will be celebrating a little bit more than they normally would," Colonna said.

He and the Red Cross' Kait Humphrey also anticipate at least some outcry from groups such as Generation Life.

But, "We saw the Olympics as a prime opportunity to bring our message to the forefront," Humphrey said. The message is that "HIV is an entirely preventable disease," and the Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization and U.S. surgeon general recommend condoms as a barrier to the virus that causes AIDS. At the same time, "we do know the atmosphere in Utah. We're going to be careful about age groups, in terms of the people we approach. We're not going to approach anyone under 18. We never push information on anyone," Humphrey said.

"The only people who want condoms are the people who are having sex. And I think we should encourage safer sex," said Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson. While Salt Lake City Corp. is not directly involved in the Games-time condom distribution, the mayor was pleased that his city would make Olympic history with distribution of the kits. On Wednesday the SafeGames 2002 coalition will use the Cannon Room, next door to the mayor's office in the City-County Building, to announce plans to distribute safer-sex kits.

During the Atlanta, Nagano and Sydney Games, athletes had access to free condoms at Olympic medical clinics. But Utah — contrary to its image — will be the first provider of safer-sex kits to the general public.

Humphrey said the condoms, with their accompanying HIV-prevention information, aren't just for visitors. "We want to make sure we take care of our community during and after the Olympics."

Kit bearers will be easy to find. They'll be wearing bright orange SafeGames 2002 caps as they roam from the Gallivan Center to Washington Square to downtown nightclubs.

"Why aren't they distributing information about chastity?" Swindell asked. "If you're going to do something in the name of public health and safety, I say go for something that's 100 percent effective."

Kit packaging will indicate that condoms aren't a perfect guarantee against disease, Colonna said. He emphasized that condoms' effectiveness depends on the user's diligence, and that they're not foolproof. "Neither are seat belts, helmets, vaccines, or people. But in the real world we drive to work, vaccinate our children, and hope to get through the day unharmed. No disease prevention strategy is ever perfect." SafeGames 2002 volunteers will take a low-key approach to offering kits, he said. "This is a matter of hygiene, not morality."

Colonna, the father of a teenager, said he understands other parents' concerns about their children seeing SafeGames 2002 volunteers downtown. This can be seen as an opportunity, he said, for parents and their kids to talk about making safe choices about sex. Colonna doesn't believe the availability of condoms is going to promote sexual activity. "You could be offered a cigarette," or see people smoking downtown, he said. "Hopefully that doesn't mean you'll start smoking."


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