20th Anniversary

Protest, Forums To Mark AIDS Day

Laura Dalrymple places flags on the Mall as part of an effort to honor members of the U.S. military who have been discharged for being gay.
Laura Dalrymple places flags on the Mall as part of an effort to honor members of the U.S. military who have been discharged for being gay. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
By Susan Levine
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 30, 2007

Vigils, curbside HIV screening, public forums with District teens and a demonstration across from the White House are planned for today and this weekend to mark World AIDS Day in the city with the worst rate of infection in the United States.

The events, which began earlier in the week with a town hall meeting at Howard University, follow a report on the extent of HIV and AIDS in the city. The accounting by the D.C. HIV/AIDS Administration showed "a modern epidemic" that touches thousands of residents in every part of the city. The statistics were the first ever amassed on HIV rates in the District.

The most vocal gathering is expected to lead to arrests as health advocates and HIV-positive activists protest in Lafayette Square this afternoon, the eve of the official day of commemoration. According to an organizer, demonstrators would be draped in red tape to symbolize the bureaucracy that is hindering an effective response to the disease on local, national and global levels.

The Whitman-Walker Clinic and La Clinica del Pueblo plan free tests at their locations in Northwest. The mobile van of the Women's Collective plans to stay open until midnight at the corner of North Capitol and K streets NE.

On Monday, for what is being billed as a "candid dialogue," elected officials and public school representatives are to meet with hundreds of students at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts and talk about the impact the virus has had on their lives. The D.C. Board of Education might be weeks away from adopting contemporary, comprehensive standards and curriculum on HIV/AIDS education.

The breadth of the events -- American University is holding a dance marathon to raise awareness and funds -- points to how established the disease has become here and how it has moved across ethnic, gender and geographic lines.

The recent report documented that trend. It counted more than 3,200 new cases of HIV and 4,678 new cases of AIDS from 2001 to 2006, including many among women.

"It truly points to missed opportunities," said Alex Lawson, co-founder of the activist group DC Fights Back.

Like World AIDS Day, the report has people looking ahead more than back. "The question is what we're going to do now that we have proof of what we suspected for a long time," Ron Simmons, chief executive of Us Helping Us, said yesterday.

The call over the next several days will be for more funding at the community level, greater federal support of research into a HIV vaccine and revamped U.S. policies in AIDS relief internationally.

This year marks the 20th annual commemoration of World AIDS Day.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company