Seven HIV/AIDS Activists Arrested Inside Kevin McCarthy’s Office

Protesters demanded House Republicans approve PEPFAR funding

Michael K. Lavers | Washington Blade

Courtesy of the National LGBT Media Association

U.S. Capitol Police on Monday arrested seven HIV/AIDS activists who refused to leave House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)’s office in the Rayburn House Office Building.

Housing Works CEO Charles King, Housing Works President Matthew Bernardo and Health GAP Executive Director Asia Russell are among the seven people who entered McCarthy’s office shortly after 11 a.m., sat down in the lobby and demanded the California Republican to “pass PEPFAR (the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) now.”

Washington Blade video by Michael K. Lavers

Capitol Police officers removed the activists from McCarthy’s office less than 15 minutes after their protest began. They handcuffed them in the hallway and brought them to Capitol Police headquarters.

Officers also arrested Housing Works Community Health Center Medical Director Archie Jao, Housing Works Case Manager Rosalind Casillas, Housing Works client Darnell Smith and Housing Works Human Resources Vice President Jewel Allred. A Capitol Police officer after the protest told reporters the activists would be charged with incommoding or obstructing.

VWashington Blade video by Michael K. Lavers

California Congresswoman Maxine Waters is among those who have also criticized McCarthy and House Republicans over their proposed cuts to HIV/AIDS prevention programs.

Waters, a Democrat who represents California’s 43rd Congressional District, in a Sept. 6 speech at the U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS in D.C. noted the House Appropriations Committee’s Fiscal Year 2024 Labor, Health, Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill would cut $767 million from domestic HIV/AIDS programs.

Waters said the measure would cut funds to fight HIV/AIDS among underrepresented groups by 53 percent and “completely eliminates” funding for “Minority AIDS Initiative activities within the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.” She also noted the appropriations measure “eliminates funding” for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Ending the HIV Epidemic Initiative, the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program and community health centers.

Waters further criticized House Republicans for “refusing to authorize” PEPFAR, noting ending the program “would endanger the lives of millions of people around the world who are living with HIV and endanger the lives of millions more who are at risk.” 

“Speaker McCarthy is a strategic target because he’s the leader of the Republican Party in the House,” Aly Bancroft, associate director of U.S. policy and advocacy for Health GAP, told reporters after the activists were arrested. “When it comes to both the domestic cuts and the failure thus far to reauthorize PEPFAR in its current form, we’re seeing the issues come from the Republican caucus, so we really need leadership when it comes to both the domestic and the global front because it’s still a really big, significant issue and he needs to get its caucus in order.”

The Blade has reached out to McCarthy’s office for comment on the protest.

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