SAN FRANCISCO: AIDS Activists Target ‘Renegade’ Group
ACT UP/San Francisco is a "renegade group" that discourages HIV testing, disrupts informational meetings on HIV/AIDS and "commits communitywide medical malpractice" by disputing the need for HIV medications, the San Francisco-based group AIDS Activists Against Violence and Lies writes in a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed (Wohlfeiler/Lew/Wilson, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/21). The activist group is sponsoring full page ads, which listed five organizations and 194 individual signers, in the local gay press. The group also held a press conference on the steps of city hall yesterday, calling on the community to boycott ACT UP/SF. Rebecca Hensler, who helped found ACT UP/SF but left when the current leaders took over, said, "(Their message) is threatening the city's ability to provide support services and medical care for people with HIV. The community has had enough" (Heredia, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/22). Survive AIDS' Michael Lauro, who is coordinating the campaign, said, "I sense a commitment, finally, within our community to confront [ACT UP/San Francisco's] violence and their violent message" (Torassa, San Francisco Examiner, 9/21).
Activists Speak Out
AIDS Activists Against Violence and Lies contend in their op-ed that ACT UP/SF promotes the "myth" that HIV does not cause AIDS and uses the slogan "AIDS is over" on its Web site and bumper stickers. They claim that the group is using the name of another organization, ACT UP, which was founded in the 1980s and dedicated to increasing resources and treatments for HIV/AIDS, to "appropriate the original['s] ... credibility." While acknowledging the group's "right to believe what they want," the authors "will not accept that even one potential volunteer becomes afraid to get involved, or worse that one infection takes place, due to ACT UP/San Francisco's tactics." The activists call on the community to boycott ACT UP/SF's medical marijuana club, ask San Francisco's mayor, board of supervisors and District Attorney Terence Hallinan to "protect people with HIV and those involved in the fight against HIV from personal harassment and intimidation," and write "letter[s] to the editor" each time "you read of a new disruption or attack." The activists conclude, "It is time for all San Franciscans, and all of us fighting AIDS, to stand together and declare our commitment to respect, dialogue and a healthy future for all of us" (San Francisco Chronicle, 9/21).
ACT UP/SF replies
Members of ACT UP/SF contend there is "little to fear from the new effort." Michael Bellefountaine, who considers the new group part of the "AIDS industry," said, "These are the people who told us that protease inhibitors were the cure, and it's no wonder they are rallying around to suppress our message." Regarding the marijuana club, he said the group's 1,300 customers were aware of the group's ideology and methods when making their purchases. He added that the group is planning to respond with its own full page advertisement (San Francisco Examiner, 9/21). David Pasquarelli, an ACT UP/SF member who tested positive for HIV in 1995, said, "The issue is not our tactics; it's our message that HIV does not cause AIDS, and the drugs they are pushing are costing countless lives" (San Francisco Chronicle, 9/22).