IMAGE: STUDENTS PROMOTE 'DAY OF PURITY'
Phelan M. Ebenhack  /  AP
Jason Vickness, 17, left, and Josh Caracciola, both juniors at Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, Fla., hold up information and T-shirts promoting Friday as the "Day of Purity."
updated 2/13/2004 10:03:56 AM ET 2004-02-13T15:03:56

Melissa Millis feels bombarded by everyday messages of sexual promiscuity, whether it’s Janet Jackson’s bare breast during the Super Bowl or her classmates’ casual sex talk.

So Millis, a high school senior in Michigan, and thousands of other students across the nation plan to wear white T-shirts to school Friday, the day before Valentine’s Day, to publicly show their commitment to not having sex outside marriage. They’re calling their effort the “Day of Purity,” and they will distribute pro-abstinence pamphlets to their peers.

“The way sex is talked about, it’s so casual, like it’s an everyday thing, like going to McDonald’s,” said Millis, 17.

The grass-roots effort is supported by Christian groups nationwide and organized by Liberty Counsel, a conservative religious rights group based in Orlando. It comes as President Bush is pushing in his budget proposal to double federal funding for sexual abstinence programs.

Gay, lesbian advocates cast wary eye
But the Day of Purity is being watched with a wary eye by groups that promote sexual tolerance, such as the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network and the Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. The Day of Purity Web site accuses those groups of “a concerted effort in the schools and media to turn our youth away from traditional values.”

“The word ’purity’ in this context is morally self-righteous,” said Alice Leeds, a spokeswoman for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. “It’s redefining it in their context to conform to their frankly bigoted agenda.”

Eliza Byard, deputy executive director for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, said in an e-mail that her group applauded any effort to promote healthy sexual choices by young people.

“Unfortunately, this program seems to have a limited idea of what that means and doesn’t appear designed to provide the kind of information students really need,” she said.

Day of Purity touches on a controversial social issue — how to teach sex education in schools, said Bill Barker, a spokesman for Advocates for Youth, a Washington-based group that helps youth make responsible decisions about sex.

‘One of the fiercest debates out there’
“You’re walking into one of the fiercest debates out there,” Barker said.

Participants said having the Day of Purity right before Valentine’s Day is especially appropriate since teenagers often feel pressure to have sex with their girlfriends or boyfriends on the holiday.

“A lot of girls feel that in order to keep their relationship, they have to have sex,” said Kelly Cruse, 16, who plans to pass out sexual abstinence literature at her high school in Illinois. “I think this need for acceptance is very destructive to a girl.”

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