FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 12, 2000
Charges Dropped Against ACT UP Activists For Protesting Vulgar Antigay Ad
Judge grants diversion on charge of using profanity in public as accusations of violence vanish
SAN FRANCISCO -- Six weeks after angry members of ACT UP, the controversial AIDS dissident group, swarmed into the client services headquarters of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation (SFAF) to protest an offensive ad campaign aimed at gay men, charges were dropped against two ACT UP members arrested and accused of vandalism and violence.
On Monday, December 11, veteran ACT UP activists Ronnie Burk, 45, and Betty Best, 40, were each granted diversion by Judge Gene Mahoney for using profanity in public while other serious charges of assault, battery, vandalism, resisting arrest and trespassing were dismissed. Each activist was ordered to complete 25 hours of community service at local nonprofit arts and animal rights groups as sentencing for their part in the nonviolent demonstration.
"It's clear the judge understood that we have the fundamental right to protest a vulgar, antigay campaign that demonizes our community as diseased and deadly," commented Ronnie Burk after the court decision. "These ads lead to homophobic violence against us and SFAF is not above hearing our criticism."
Activists hailed the decision as a victory especially considering the unsubstantiated accusations of ACT UP violence trumped up in local newspapers by an anti-protest AIDS industry financed hate group called AIDS Activists Against Violence and Lies. Members of the phony industry coalition have waged a campaign in the San Francisco press claiming that ACT UP members assaulted and injured a security guard at the October 23 protest. ACT UP charges that, in fact, it was Best and fellow protester Todd Swindell who were physically assaulted by an AIDS Foundation employee who "went berserk" when noisy activists chanted "Antigay ads make us burning mad!" and demanded a meeting with Executive Director Pat Christen.
"AIDS Activists Against Violence and Lies should change their name to AIDS Apologists That Lie About Violence," continued Burk. "They are paid industry imposters scrambling to silence dissent and criminalize political protest. They're not the gay community ... we are!"
This latest AIDS battle began back on October 19 when a series of pricey full-page, full-color ads entitled "HIV Infections Double: Who Gives a Fuck?" appeared in the Bay Area Reporter, the city's gay news weekly. ACT UP members allege the ads are fear-based propaganda intended to reinforce the notion that HIV has doubled among gay men while dropping in all other groups despite no verifiable statistical or scientific evidence. Activists say the campaign is little more than a ploy for increased AIDS funding at a time when new cases have dropped dramatically across the board. They say SFAF's new ads are unacceptable coming from straight management and funded by the heterosexual corporate sector especially at a time when SFAF is cutting services and raising executive salaries. In the end, ACT UP members charge that the derogatory ads replete with profanity (they feature the word "fuck" dozens of times) are demeaning and would not be considered appropriate for any other community.
"SFAF would better serve people by providing services like housing and healthcare on demand rather than paying a fortune for antigay propaganda," stated ACT UP defendant Betty Best. "It's undeniable, AIDS is over and SFAF's millions of dollars should be taken back and used to help, not stigmatize, people in need."
In addition to criminal charges filed against the two ACT UP members, SFAF is seeking a strict civil injunction against others affiliated with the direct action group to stop the growing controversy over the cause, treatment and funding of AIDS. ACT UP activists are scheduled to appear before Judge James McBride on January 9, 2001 in San Francisco civil court at 400 McAllister, Room 501 to oppose the granting of the injunction.
Bay Area Reporter
October 19, 2000
The New Epidemic: First in a Series
San Francisco AIDS Foundation
HIV INFECTIONS DOUBLE
WHO GIVES A FUCK
Last year, the number of gay men in San Francisco who got HIV almost doubled. For the first time in almost fifteen years, the numbers are up.
Maybe it's no big surprise. Maybe you stopped worrying a long time ago. Or maybe you're thinking it doesn't matter any more. Either way, you've got to admit, it's a big shift.
And gay men are the only ones in San Francisco with the HIV rate on the rise. For everybody else, the numbers are still going down.
There's been a lot of talk in the press about the exact number of new infections. But that's almost beside the point. Because a number of surveys all say the same thing: a lot of guys are fucking a lot more often in situations where HIV transmission can take place.
If you're out there at all, this is probably no big surprise: we assume a lot about the guys we fuck with. And they think they've figured us out, too. We know what we're doing. And what the statistics say is that many of us make wrong assumptions.
So what does all this mean to you? How does it feel to see HIV rates going in the wrong direction? Do you think things should change? Or is this just the way things are going to be? Is this just the "new epidemic?"
Of course, some things can't change. Like the fact that HIV causes AIDS. Unprotected fucking between a poz guy and a neg guy is the way HIV can get transmitted. And we all have the right to fuck. Our sex lives are our own. All that basic stuff hasn't changed.
But with HIV on the rise again, maybe we need to talk about other things. Probably. Yes. Like more than just barebacking. Maybe we need to talk about the assumptions we make about the people we bareback with. Sometimes we assume a lot because we want something more. Maybe we need to talk about loneliness, depression, intimacy. Not easy stuff to talk about. But maybe these are some of the things we can change.
Twenty years into the epidemic, any increase in HIV is unacceptable to many of us. To others, it just doesn't matter any more. But with the infection rate on the rise, there's just one question: Do you give a fuck about the new epidemic?
Over the next few weeks, we'll use this space to talk about this and other trends that indicate something is changing in our sex lives and our sexual health.
Look for us here. We'll look at more numbers. Let's keep talking about what's really going on.
ACT UP San Francisco
1884 Market Street * San Francisco, CA 94102
Phone: (415) 864-6686 * Fax: (415) 864-6687 * www.actupsf.com