imageWhen it comes to oral sex and male prostitutes, some prudish Georgia lawmakers want to use their influence to stifle research. They are using the state’s budget crisis as an excuse.

But more reasoned people are trying to prevail. Today, it’s the editorial board at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which calls the campaign by Rep. Calvin Hill (R-Canton) and Rep. Charlice Byrd (R-Woodstock) (photo) “ill-informed and embarrassing.”

Cherokee County suffers from ballooning foreclosures. To make ends meet, the Cherokee County Commission sliced spending this year by $15.5 million, cutting jobs and deferring pay raises. A slump in the county’s sales tax collections has also forced school officials to scrap plans for a new elementary school.

Yet two Cherokee area legislators, Rep. Calvin Hill (R-Canton) and Rep. Charlice Byrd (R-Woodstock), are using their positions of leadership to launch a campaign to cleanse Georgia universities of experts on prostitution and oral sex, arguing that such smut has no place in taxpayer-funded institutions.

Their ill-informed and embarrassing campaign combines ignorance with political grandstanding. Hill apparently came upon a media guide to Georgia State University experts —- which he first mistakenly thought was a course catalog —- and took umbrage at entries for Kirk Elifson, listed as an expert on male prostitution, and Mindy Stombler, a senior lecturer credited with an academic expertise in oral sex. The media guide helps reporters find GSU experts on a range of topics. The reporters might contact Elifson or Stombler if they were, for example, putting together a piece about the rise of AIDS or about the casual attitude toward oral sex by some adolescents.

The paper goes on to point out the implications of the research.

If Byrd looked beyond her prurient response, she might learn that such research has vital implications for health issues that can kill people, including her constituents in Cherokee County. Male prostitution was a conduit for the spread of the deadly AIDS virus, which has killed an estimated 566,000 Americans and affects more than a million today. Elifson was the lead author of a 1989 New England Journal of Medicine article on HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, among male prostitutes. AIDS remains a health threat; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 56,000 Americans contract HIV every year.

Studying such problems —- and telling others what they have discovered —- is a legitimate academic function. Apparently, some in the General Assembly would prefer to pretend such problems don’t exist.