Lawsuit Filed Against MBTA

AIDS Action Committee Protests Ban on Condom Ads

The AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts said last week it will file suit against the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) over the authority's refusal to run a series of ads on MBTA train billboards encouraging the use of condoms.

The AIDS Action Committee submitted six ads with headlines such as "Even if you don't have one, carry one," and, "Tell him you don't know how it will ever fit. Nothing will give him a swelled head faster than flattery."

Jim Ball, a spokesperson for the MBTA said Monday that the T had received "a great number" of complaints about a similar ad campaign last year.

"We're not against AIDS education at all. We're just responding to complaints," he said.

The Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts has agreed to file the suit on behalf of the AIDS Action Committee, according to a statement released by the committee last week.


"Because the MBTA is a public entity and its advertising space has been made available to a wide variety of organizations on a wide variety of subjects...its space is considered a public forum for expression," Sarah Wunsch, staff attorney for the civil liberties union, said in the statement.

"Protecting riders from speech that is controversial or `offensive' is not a compelling interest in a public forum of speech," she wrote.

Peter Erbland, communications coordinator at the AIDS Action Committee, criticized the transit authority yesterday.

"They're using a double standard," Erbland said, nothing the Fatal Instinct movie posters featured on the T. "Fatal instinct posters are at least as sexually provocative as ours."

Erbland said most people will not object to the posters.

"The vast majority [of people] will find [the posters] amusing and be educated by them. The goal is to get people thinking and talking."

But most local residents interviewed yesterday at the Harvard MBTA station said they generally agreed with the MBTA's decision to refuse the ads because of their content.

But one subway rider supported the goals of the posters.

"In this day and age it's important that proper preventive measures be used," David Allen said.

When filed, the lawsuit will be the second prominent suit launched by the civil liberties union against the MBTA this year. Over the summer, the union filed a suit charging that a new television channel to be broadcast in T stations would infringe upon the rights of street performers.