AIDS Audit Advocates Turn Their Backs on Pelosi

30 July 1999

S.F. activist ambushed and arrested by cops at HIV surveillance fiasco.

WASHINGTON, DC Yesterday's conference sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health entitled "Early Detection of HIV: Emerging Issues in Prevention and Care" got off to a rocky start when activists from San Francisco confronted Representative Nancy Pelosi over the lack of fiscal accountability in federally funded AIDS research and care programs. By day's end the conference had disintegrated into a total fiasco with frequent disruptions, the bloody seizure of a conference-goer and one member of ACT UP San Francisco ambushed and arrested after a frantic call placed to D.C. police by UCSF AIDS researcher Thomas Coates.

The morning began when David Pasquarelli and Ronnie Burk of ACT UP and Michael Petrelis of the AIDS Accountability Project stood with their backs to S.F. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi as she gave a 15-minute opening speech urging support for increased federal spending on expanded HIV testing, reporting and surveillance. The three activists -- with the words "WE NEED AID$ AUDITS NOW!" emblazoned on signs taped to their backs and held up to the audience -- booed, hissed and loudly demanded support for the pending General Accounting Office (GAO) audits from a nervous Pelosi who quickly exited the auditorium.

After her departure, ACT UP members questioned conference panelists about the notorious unreliability of HIV antibody testing and denounced the use of taxpayer dollars for any form of HIV reporting. They also condemned the sudden shift by the Centers for Disease Control away from tracking AIDS cases and deaths to surveillance efforts that exclusively monitor only those who test HIV antibody positive.

That afternoon, Michael Petrelis of the AIDS Accountability Project grilled Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) representative Joe O'Neil, M.D. about the diversion of 2.5 million dollars of Ryan White CARE Act funding from AIDS programs in San Juan, Puerto Rico. O'Neil refused to comment.

"People with AIDS in San Juan died because you allowed federal money earmarked for drugs, food and housing subsidies to be instead spent on political campaigns for Al Gore's cronies, and all you can say is 'No Comment?' Have you no shame for your role in this scandal?" Petrelis shouted into the microphone.

Presenters and audience members, on edge because of Petrelis' onslaught and tense after a fellow attendee's sudden and inexplicable collapse from a violent and bloody seizure, reconvened for the day's final panel that featured UCSF Thomas Coates promoting the idea of exporting AIDS drugs to Africa. Unbeknownst to conference organizers, hotel security or audience members, Coates had called in a squad of D.C. police officers to silence any outbursts by the controversial Bay Area activists during his presentation. Shocked audience members watched as ACT UP member David Pasquarelli was ambushed and beaten on the way into the auditorium by a half-dozen police officers who arrested him for disorderly conduct. The ACT UP activist was taken into custody, forced to pay a fifty dollar fine then released.

"This conference was a perfect symbol of the madness called today's AIDS research," commented Pasquarelli. "Out-of-control government spending on dangerous biotech products that injure and kill. Of course, if you dare speak out against this lunacy the AIDS industry shuts you up by tossing you in jail."

Press photos (digital and paper) are available of the D.C. AIDS Audit Ambush.

David Pasquarelli: (202) 338-4600 ext. 333
Michael Petrelis: (202) 546-2778

ACT UP San Francisco * 1884 Market Street * San Francisco, CA 94102 Phone: (415) 864-6686 * Fax: (415) 864-6687 * Web: * Email: