Acting Out

Whether or not the state helps out AIDS sufferers, last week's botched protest says much about the HIV community's problem

Some ACT UP meetings ended in shouting matches, often between the two men. Fewer than two months after the group formed, DeBruin left an ACT UP meeting in a huff and resigned. "I just couldn't take being part of it anymore," DeBruin sighs. "AIDS activism in Fort Lauderdale is consumed by egos."

Scott, a former member of the San Francisco, New York, and Washington, D.C., ACT UP chapters, decided to straddle leadership of the two organizations, though he never officially assumed an ACT UP title. "ACT UP and PWAC are two separate groups," he says. "Right now, we're in between leaders, and someone had to take over."

Scott had spent the previous year turning around PWAC. The coalition had suffered from years of leadership turnover and had long operated in the red. Less than a year into Scott's tenure, membership tripled and its yearly operating budget grew to $20,000. Although the Tallahassee march was DeBruin's brainchild, Scott finalized the details.

Scott persuaded Steven Steiner, president of the board of the AIDS agency Community Healthcare CenterOne, to donate $1200 for a bus, assuring Steiner that he'd fill the 58-seater. With PWAC funds, Scott rented an SUV for a week to drive to Tally for meetings with lawmakers and to develop other HIV-awareness activities. The PWAC kitty paid for ACT UP T-shirts and six $45-per-night hotel rooms. Scott handed out about $25 to each of the six PWAC and ACT UP protesters for food expenses. Money was also spent on materials to make signs as well as to buy coffee, Dunkin' Donuts, and a cooler full of Danilo bottled water for the protest.

But five people rode the bus. Scott was the only protester wearing an ACT UP T-shirt.

Although the protest crowd was small, Scott assumed that the participation of Florida AIDS Action, the only statewide nonprofit HIV/AIDS agency, would command attention. But he was discouraged by FAA's gentle approach and looked at the ground most of the time while FAA presented Sen. Ron Silver, D-North Miami, and Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, with awards for sponsoring HIV-related legislation.

"ACT UP is more in-your-face and direct," he says. "We're loud, and we don't back down. Florida AIDS Action is polite and nice. I agreed that we would let them have their way with this one, that we would not disrupt anything."

The protest was even further muted when Scott scrambled to instruct his demonstrators to remove the "Bushwhack" signs they'd propped on the capitol steps. He thought that Gov. Bush had proposed restoring some of the cuts. According to the governor's spokesperson, Elizabeth Hirst, Bush never made any such proposal.

After the protest was over, like a coach who's lost a few too many games, Scott shrugged and said he'd done all he could to make this trip a success. He'd tried to post fliers in gay bars around Broward, but owners wouldn't let him. "AIDS is bad for business," the ACT UP leader says. All PWAC board members knew about the trip, but none of them came. He called nearly everyone he knows in the AIDS community. ACT UP members say he "pleaded" with them to go. Scott even gave the day's only powerful speech, telling of his 11-year struggle with the disease and a greater battle to correct the public's assumption that the virus is now manageable.

Later, quiet for the first time in days, Scott just sat on the capitol lawn, his head in his hands. The men he'd brought with him did the same.

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