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.