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This fall, the San Francisco health department announced an alarming increase in syphilis among gay men, citing an almost tenfold rise in the number of cases from 1998 to this year. The increase led the department to believe that gay men were more readily engaging in risky sexual behavior than in earlier years, confident that advances in medications would ultimately protect them.
While some used the statistics to preach safe sex, Mr. Petrelis and Mr. Pasquarelli, and other Act Up members, took the figures to task, saying they had been concocted to keep federal money flowing into the city.
critics started calling his home, spewing obscenities at his wife, any pretense of a debate quickly gave way to criminal charges.
''When the threats get physical, when they get violent, when they're not attacking my data or my position but my family,'' he said, ''that's when it becomes unacceptable.''
In a case that tests the line between political expression and personal threats, two advocates for people with AIDS have been charged with more than 30 counts of harassing, stalking and threatening nearly a dozen city health officials, researchers, newspaper reporters and their families over the phone.