Pubdate: Fri, 10 Oct 1997 Source: Associated Press WASHINGTON (AP) In endorsing AIDS prevention tools such as condom distribution in schools and providing clean needles to drug addicts, Kate Shindle waded into a controversy no other Miss America has broached. She follows in the footsteps of other recent Miss Americas who have used their positions to focus on substantive issues. For example, Miss America 1996 Shawntel Smith spoke out in favor of early career training for schoolchildren, and Heather Whitestone, the deaf ballerina from Alabama, became in 1995 the first Miss America with a disability. But Shindle's choice of issues to promote during a yearlong whirl of speeches and appearances goes beyond her predecessors. At a news conference Thursday outside the Capitol, the 20yearold Northwestern University senior and former Miss Illinois pleaded with politicians and others to ``please accept the facts of this epidemic.'' ``We need to take a probing, honest and maybe painful look at the real behavior and risk factors of our nation's youth,'' she said. ``The reality is that my generation is more sexually active than any before us.'' She said she developed a heightened awareness of the disease when she joined the theater community in college. ``I suddenly saw it all around me, shattering dreams and stealing lives,'' she said. ``And when a family friend was diagnosed, the epidemic sort of took on a human face for me and the war on AIDS became somewhat of a personal crusade.'' After she was crowned last month, Shindle said she favored giving condoms to high school students as a way to slow the spread of the disease, but opposed needle exchange programs. On Thursday, however, Shindle said she had a change of heart after learning more about the issue. Though that puts her in the middle of one of the thornier issues now facing Congress, Shindle said she will not be deterred by the criticism she already has begun to receive. ``I'm not afraid to take a risk and take a stand on these issues,'' Shindle said, flanked by White House AIDS policy adviser Sandra Thurman and Illinois' two senators, Carol MoseleyBraun and Dick Durbin. Congress in 1988 barred federal funding of needle exchanges pending further evidence they do not encourage drug use. The Clinton administration has refused to spend any money on needle exchanges, saying that question still has not been conclusively answered. Thurman said because there is ``good evidence, mounting evidence'' that providing needles to addicts does not increase drug use, the administration opposes a House bill that would strip from Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala the ability to decide the issue. The Senate version retains the 1988 language, and negotiators are working on a compromise. ``Let's try to keep politics out of the equation and focus simply on saving as many lives as possible,'' Shindle said.