Protestors in House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's office Source: Screencap/Housing Works/X

HIV Program Advocates Removed and Arrested After Protest in Kevin McCarthy's Office

Kilian Melloy READ TIME: 2 MIN.

Seven people protesting in support of an endangered global HIV prevention program were placed under arrest and removed from the office of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Sept. 11, UK newspaper the Daily Mail reported.

"'McCarthy – pass PEPFAR now,' they shouted and chanted as they seated themselves on the floor," the Mail article said. Some of the protestors wore "t-shirts that read HIV-positive," the newspaper noted.

"U.S. Capitol Police removed them from McCarthy's office in the Rayburn House Office Building, which is across the street from his official speaker's office in the Capitol building," the Mail said.

The protestors were "from Health GAP (Global Access Project), which is a nonprofit that advocates for those with HIV, and Housing Works, a group dedicated to ending homelessness and AIDS," the article went on to detail.

The group took to social media to explain their concerns, posting, "This global AIDS program has saved 25 million lives. We need a CLEAN 5-YEAR REAUTHORIZATION from Congress."

The group posted video online of the protest.

The PEPFAR program, which was implemented in 2003 under then-President George W. Bush, "is set to have its authorization expire on September 30 if it is not renewed," Newsweek explained. "Some Republicans do not support continuing the program, arguing it can be used to give funding to provide or promote abortion services."

The Biden administration says that is not true.

Health Global Access sent out a press release in which the group's CEO, Charles King, stated, "PEPFAR has saved millions of lives. It is criminal for some members of Congress to treat it as a political football."

Added King: "PEPFAR has been essential to helping people in developing countries flatten the curve of HIV transmission. The United States has committed to the international goal of ending AIDS by 2030, and we cannot do that if PEPFAR is threatened."

In the release the group said that domestic, as well as international, funding to combat HIV is in jeopardy, with Republican members of the House "proposing $767 million in deadly cuts to HIV prevention and treatment programs."

The program has enjoyed bipartisan support for two decades. But today's partisan politics – and the efforts of an an-LGBTQ+ organization – now threaten the program despite its notable success.

"The trouble began in the spring, when the Heritage Foundation, an influential conservative Washington think tank, accused the Biden administration of using PEPFAR 'to promote its domestic radical social agenda overseas,'" the Associated Press reported.

Anti-gay sentiments were undisguised in the group's remarks; the Heritage Foundation "called HIV/AIDS a 'lifestyle disease' that should be suppressed by 'education, moral suasion and legal sanctions,'" the AP went on to add.

Asia Russell, Health Gap's executive director, was among those who were placed under arrest, the organization's release said.

"Extremists in the House have sunk to a new low," Russell said in the release. "Never in the twenty-year history of PEPFAR have lawmakers pulled such outrageous stunts.

"We demand a 5-year reauthorization of PEPFAR in its current form, and full funding for HIV treatment and prevention programs in the U.S."

by Kilian Melloy , EDGE Staff Reporter

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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