Amid the Easter weekend surge in candy sales, AIDS activists Friday stepped up their calls for a boycott of Hershey candy to protest the refusal of a boarding school with ties to the company to admit a teenager because he is HIV-positive.
Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation staged protests in San Francisco, New York City and Hershey, where company headquarters and the school are based.
"We are asking the public to send a clear message to Hershey that there are `No Kisses for Hershey' as Hershey continues its path of discrimination and ignorance," Michael Weinstein, the foundation president, said in a news release.
The company did not immediately return a call for comment. But Milton Hershey School defended its decision, saying it was difficult but appropriate under the circumstances.
"We hope that fair-minded people also understand that we did not make this decision in ignorance, but that we looked at all the complicated issues surrounding our unique environment and made the decision we thought was best for our students," Connie McNamara, the school's vice president for communications, said in an email Friday.
The AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania sued the school in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia last year, contending that the school violated the Americans with Disabilities Act in denying admission to the boy, whose name has not been made public.
Lawyers for the group say the boy is an honor roll student who controls the HIV with medication and poses no health threat to the other students. A person can have the virus that causes AIDS but not have the disease.
Ronda Goldfein, attorney for the AIDS Law Project, said she is not involved with the boycott effort but the protests have been a morale booster for the boy and his mother.
"For a 14-year-old to hear that he's danger, he's a threat, that has really been hard for him," Goldfein said.
The boarding school is separate from The Hershey Co. but is financed by the Milton Hershey School Trust, which holds the controlling interest in the company. Founded in 1909 by chocolate maker Milton Hershey, the school provides a free education to low-income and socially disadvantaged students. About 1,850 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade are currently enrolled.
In a statement on its website, the school recognized that HIV is not transmitted through casual contact, but said the risk of sexual contact is a significant concern.
"We systematically encourage abstinence, and we educate our children on sexual health issues," the statement says. But "our teenagers are the same as teens all across the country. Despite our best efforts, some of our students will engage in sexual activity with one another. Given our residential setting, when they do, they will be doing so on our watch."