Several LGBT activists were arrested after they stormed the offices of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Monday, according to videos of the incident posted on social media.
Activists from Housing Works and Health GAP, two groups that advocate for AIDS relief, entered McCarthy’s Capitol Hill constituency office and began chanting slogans to call attention to a federal AIDS relief program. Shortly after the activists began protesting, they were arrested by the United States Capitol Police for causing a disruption, according to photo and video footage posted by reporter Alice M. Ollstein on Twitter, now known as X.
“Pass PEPFAR now McCarthy!” the activists shouted, their voices echoing through the hallways beyond the office. One protester wore a shirt that read “HIV Positive” in rainbow colors, which are widely recognized as a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, and carried a sign reading “Join The Fight To End AIDS Now!”
PEPFAR is an acronym for the “United States President’s Emergency Response For AIDS Relief,” a program established by President George W. Bush in 2003 that provides financial aid for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) treatment, prevention and research for a cure. The program has disbursed nearly $100 billion as of 2022, according to a report by the Department of State.
BREAKING: Activists are occupying @SpeakerMcCarthy’s office demanding a full 5 year reauthorization of PEPFAR, which some Rs are opposing.
— Alice Miranda Ollstein (@AliceOllstein) September 11, 2023
The protest occurred at McCarthy’s office in the Rayburn House Office Building, which handles his constituency service, and not the Speaker’s Suite in the U.S. Capitol Building.
“PEPFAR has been like the most amazing thing in the history of HIV,” said Dr. Sharon Lewin, the president of the International AIDS Society, according to NPR. “American taxpayers’ money is making a huge difference, a measurable difference in saving lives: 25 million people,” said Bush in 2022, adding that “if you care about human life, it matters. This is a life issue.”
PEPFAR has attracted criticism from some Republicans in Congress who argue that the program is being used to fund abortions abroad, which would purportedly violate the Helms Amendment, an appropriations law that bans the use of taxpayer funds to support abortion abroad.
Republican Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations, which has jurisdiction over PEPFAR, has accused the Biden administration of including abortion in the program, Politico reported. Smith is seeking to permit PEPFAR’s reauthorization only if it includes provisions specifically excluding abortion, which Democrats have opposed due to their support for the procedure.
“They’re taking what was an initiative of George Bush … and are now trying to make it a political issue about abortion,” said Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Politico reported.
Shortly after they began their protest, the activists were arrested by U.S. Capitol Police and removed from the premises, photographs showed. “Pass PEPFAR now,” they shouted as they were led out.
McCarthy and the Capitol Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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