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Panel Attacks Senator Helms

Group Denounces Politician for His Opposition to Gay Rights

By Beong-soo Kim

The Massachusetts gubernatorial race may seem a bit vicious, but AIDS-activists this weekend painted a picture of an even more controversial race--Harvey Gantt's attempt to unseat long-time North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms.

Several members of ACT-UP, a group which is working against Helms' re-election because of his staunch opposition to gay rights, met at Harvard yesterday as part of this weekend's lesbian and gay studies conference. (See related stories, page 9).

The panelists discussed the organization's efforts to deal with issues ranging from AIDS research to the cutthroat Senate race in North Carolina. ACT-UP's loose-knit organization claims operating centers in six major U.S. cities including Boston, and several foreign countries.

ACT-UP members are people who "do not want to join a discussion group or write a check," panelist Michaela Brennan said. "These people want to do something."

ACT-UP has been a leader in boycotting Phillip Morris's products--such as Marlboro cigarettes and Miller beer--because of the company's support of Helms' re-election campaign.

Panelist Frank J. Smithson said that ACT-UP has recently protested Philip Morris' "Bill of Rights" campaign by telling crowds, "Phillip Morris is in bed with the senator of death in North Carolina."

ACT-UP demands that Phillip Morris "denounce past support of Jesse Helms' campaign and stop supporting him now," Panelist Michael A. Petrelis said, adding that if Gantt does not win, "assassinating Helms could be a viable option that has not been considered."

Helms has recently criticized Gantt publicly for his acceptance of campaign money from homosexuals.

"If Harvey Gantt wins, we have to claim credit," said Petrelis. "Thanks to the gay press, Gant currently has more money than Helms."

Although it has only recently been in the spotlight for its boycott efforts, ACT-UP has been actively involved in many issues affecting the gay community since 1988.

The group has been particularly active in the Boston area, voicing its strong opposition to Cardinal John O'Connor, a prominent opponent of gay rights.

"We outraged Catholics all over the region when we threw condoms at priests," said panelist Will Murphy, a leader in Boston's ACT-UP organization. "Such attacks against religious figures are very powerful."

ACT-UP in Boston has also been stronglyinvolved in AIDS treatment and research, Murphysaid, because the area is such an "academicmecca."

Murphy said he was concerned by the "inertia indealing with the AIDS epidemic," which he haswitnessed at Harvard and other institutions. Headded that Harvard's impact on AIDS research isparticularly important because the University"controls a network of centers that have astranglehold on all the medical research in thearea."

To combat this "inertia," ACT-UP has sponsoreddemonstrations at research facilities, negotiatedwith drug companies and has been involved withHarvard's statistical data center, an organizationthat receives clinical trial results from all overthe country, Murphy said

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