Countywide : Coalition Begins Drive to Defeat AIDS Initiative

Calling it an attempt to mislead the public and cause panic, a coalition of medical experts and gay political activists in Orange County launched a campaign Friday to defeat the statewide ballot initiative on AIDS

The initiative, which qualified for the November ballot Tuesday and is backed by followers of political extremist Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr., would put pressure on public health officials to test and quarantine thousands of AIDS patients and others suspected of carrying the virus.

“This initiative would mean taking control of the disease away from doctors and public health officials,” charged Pearl Jemison-Smith, a public health nurse specializing in AIDS care at UCI Medical Center.

“If you hold your hand funny, you might be suspected--that’s how ridiculous this initiative is,” Jemison-Smith said at a news conference in Santa Ana.


The measure, which has been denounced by the California Medical Assn., would redefine acquired immunity deficiency syndrome as an infectious disease and permit health officers to use their wide array of powers, including quarantines, to control the activities of patients and potential carriers.

Opponents of the measure say health officials already have the power but do not use it because AIDS is not a casually transmitted disease. Jemison-Smith emphasized that AIDS is transmitted through intimate sexual contact and through transmission of blood, through transfusion or shared needles.

The measure, according to some analyses, also would bar anyone who tested positive for the HTLV-III virus that causes AIDS from working in schools, restaurants and the health field.

But Dr. Donald Hagan, co-chairman of a nonpartisan Orange County gay political action group, said the sweeping effects of the measure could have the reverse effect, driving possible carriers of the disease “underground” for fear of discrimination by employers, insurance companies and others.


And if quarantines are instituted, the cost to feed, clothe and care for the AIDS patients and suspected carriers “is not going to be millions of dollars, it’s going to be billions,” said Hagan, who also is a member of the GOP state central committee and the Log Cabin Club, a gay Republican group.

Hagan said the coalition would try to get endorsements from every prominent community leader and elected official in Orange County on a statement opposing the initiative for use as a campaign mailer.

He said the group would try to raise an estimated $300,000 to $400,000 toward a $2.7-million statewide media campaign.