DATE:   17 MAY 1988


By Sandra G. Boodman
Washington Post Staff Writer

About 60 demonstrators wearing rubber clown masks yesterday disrupted a
hearing on AIDS sponsored by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, charging
that the meeting was an attempt by Reagan administration conservatives to
advance controversial views about the disease that have been rejected
repeatedly by public health experts.

The commission, which yesterday opened three days of hearings on AIDS, has
voted to spend $194,000 to produce a study that critics, including Sen. Edward
M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), say duplicates the work of the presidential AIDS
commission. Several months ago, Kennedy and three other senators sent a letter
to Chairman Clarence Pendleton expressing concern about the scope of the study
and suggesting that the commission narrow its focus to AIDS discrimination.

Gay rights activists are upset that the commmission, which has no medical
expertise, will consider numerous public health questions, including whether
AIDS can be transmitted casually, a possibility that has been rejected by
public health experts. They also say that a lengthy footnote in the study
proposal from a staff attorney who will write the final report contains
inappropriate biblical references that condemn homosexuality and sodomy.

Pendleton rejected such criticism at the outset, saying he was "having trouble
understanding what all the moaning is about" from gay groups. "We can study
what we want to study," he said later. "We're not duplicating anyone's work .
. . . We're trying to understand the disease itself before we understand the
civil rights aspects."

The demonstrators, members of a New York group called ACT UP, staged a
lunchtime protest at the entrance to the federal Health and Human Services
building where the hearing was held. There were no arrests.

"The administration has certain things that it wants to hear about AIDS, and
it isn't hearing it from its own AIDS commission, so it decided to try the
civil rights commission," said Andrew Miller, who held a sign saying "Impeach
The Civil Wrongs Commission."

Several months ago, the AIDS commission, castigated by public health officials
and gay-rights activists who said its members were unqualified and unlikely to
accomplish much, stunned its critics by releasing an interim report that
called for sweeping new measures to fight the disease. The final report of the
AIDS commission is due June 24.

After the lunchtime demonstration, protesters took seats in the center of the
cavernous auditorium as the afternoon session began.

Shortly after an official from the Centers for Disease Control began speaking,
group members donned rubber clown masks and plastic noses and shouted, "How
many people have to die?" Then they stood and turned their backs, as camera
crews zoomed in, ignoring the speakers.

At one point, Pendleton appealed for patience. "Were you patient 20 years
ago?" a demonstrator shouted.

After another 15 minutes in which protesters, in unison, loudly hummed
"America the Beautiful" and shouted comments, they stood up yelling "Shame!
Shame! Shame" and marched out of the auditorium, into the hall and out of the
building, as astonished federal workers scurried to the doors of their offices
to see what was happening.

Much of the morning session was devoted to testimony by David Pence, a
Minneapolis radiologist who recommended that drug addicts and "sexual addicts"
who do not refrain from high-risk behavior be quarantined.

"The road to Selma does not lead to the right to sodomy," said Pence, who
charged that "gay pressure groups" have subverted public health practices. He
referred to Selma, Ala., scene of civil rights demonstrations in the 1960s.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, AIDS coordinator for the National Institutes of Health,
called such allegations "totally preposterous" and said that public health
safeguards and civil rights protections are compatible, not mutually

 * Origin: UTOPIAN (516-842-7518) Spread the FACTS ... Not the Fear. (107/269)