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Feds want revenge against AIDS activists
Punished for protesting

By Eric Ruder | August 30, 2002 | Page 2

TOMMY THOMPSON is seeking revenge against advocates for AIDS treatment. In July, Thompson, Bush's Health and Human Services Secretary, was heckled, booed and drowned out during his speech at the international AIDS conference in Barcelona.

The protesters--from several different AIDS organizations in the U.S. and abroad--targeted Thompson and the U.S. government for several reasons. At a time when the drugs exist that could completely contain the global AIDS epidemic, the U.S. has defended the right of pharmaceutical companies to charge astronomical prices--and make astronomical profits.

And the U.S.--which spends more than $400 billion a year on its military--contributes a measly $1 billion to the United Nations' Global AIDS and Health Fund. With $10 billion, this fund could dramatically reduce the number of AIDS deaths, currently running at more than 2 million annually.

After the protest, Thompson's staff was reportedly livid--and began using photographs of the demonstrators to identify who participated. Five days after the conference ended, 12 Republican members of Congress sent a letter to Thompson, condemning the absence of religious themes in Barcelona and demanding a list of individuals and organizations at the conference that had received federal funding.

The religious right rallied in support of the congressional letter. "These AIDS organizations, some of them are promoting and advocating a lifestyle that could very easily lead to death," said Rev. Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition.

Aside from promoting sickening homophobia, the offensive against AIDS groups has the larger goal of stifling activism and advocacy--by threatening the funds of these organizations. "This is part of an ongoing effort to silence us, to quash progressive thinking and thought, and is intended as a threat to us," said Ronald Johnson, associate executive director of Gay Men's Health Crisis.

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