San Francisco Examiner Profiles ACT UP/San Francisco and Gay Activist Michael Petrelis
The San Francisco Examiner on Wednesday profiled ACT UP/San Francisco, an AIDS denialist group under fire for allegedly harassing local public health officials and members of the media, and gay activist Michael Petrelis, who along with ACT UP/SF member David Pasquarelli is facing 19 felony counts for harassment. ACT UP/SF does not believe HIV causes AIDS, saying instead that "too many drugs" have deteriorated the health of gay men and that malnutrition has led to the deaths of millions of Africans. Petrelis does not deny that HIV causes AIDS, leading many to question his alliance with ACT UP/SF (Pampalone, San Francisco Examiner, 1/23). However, he does share ACT UP/SF's belief that federal AIDS funds are being "misspent on frightening, sexually graphic prevention efforts" and seeks to fight "false public health studies and biased news articles that have scared the gay community," most notably a recent report that syphilis was on the rise in the city's gay population (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/29/01).
'Source of Controversy'
Petrelis and ACT UP/SF have been a "source of controversy, frustration and downright rage within the AIDS community for years," with other ACT UP chapters, which do not deny HIV's link to AIDS, accusing the group of "hijack[ing] the name of a good organization," the Examiner reports. Their tactics -- which range from late-night phone calls to throwing kitty litter on health officials -- have alarmed people most. "They are not popular because of what they say, but it is their tactics that are the problem. I couldn't care less if they were to say that AIDS is caused by green cheese, but when they spit in people's faces while they say that AIDS is caused by green cheese, that's the problem here," journalist Tim Kingston, who has been an ACT UP/SF target, said. Although the group and Petrelis have used such tactics for years, it wasn't until November, after the San Francisco Chronicle complained to officials, that charges were brought against the two men. "A lot of city officials looked at it as gay-on-gay violence. There was an element of homophobia," Michael Lauro, co-founder of AIDS Activists Against Violence and Lies, a group formed in response to ACT UP/SF, explained. However, ACT UP/SF member Michael Bellefountaine said that the group's tactics are justified. "If I scream on the street, you have a couple of options, one is to laugh at me and the other is to be terrified of me. But your reaction shouldn't infringe on my right to sit on the street and scream," he said. Petrelis and Pasquarelli, who maintain they were just exercising their right to free speech and did not harass anyone, had a preliminary hearing this week and remain in jail on $1.1 million in bail (San Francisco Examiner, 1/23).