Activists decry D.C. policy during protest on World AIDS Day

Activists carried symbolic caskets in a mock funeral procession near the White House to mark World AIDS Day.
Activists carried symbolic caskets in a mock funeral procession near the White House to mark World AIDS Day. (Jahi Chikwendiu/the Washington Post)
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By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A coalition of groups led by D.C. activists staged a sit-in inside the John A. Wilson Building and a mock funeral procession outside the White House on World AIDS Day to call attention to the suffering of those afflicted with the disease.

Two representatives of the AIDS awareness group D.C. Fights Back were arrested Tuesday for squatting in front of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's "bullpen" office, where his staff meets, and refusing a police order to move from the doorway.

Larry Bryant, co-chairman of the group, and member Matthew Kavanagh vowed not to move until they could meet with the mayor to discuss their demand that he pare down a three-year waiting list for housing for people with HIV/AIDS.

Bryant, who is HIV-positive, and Kavanagh were part of a procession of about 200 people and five symbolic coffins that were carried from the White House to Freedom Plaza across from the Wilson Building.

There, speakers said Fenty (D) has failed to answer the "wake-up call" from an epidemiology report that said 15,000 adults in the District are HIV-positive, and that the city's HIV prevalence rate is 3 percent, the highest in the nation, according to the city Department of Health. They also cited a Washington Post investigation reporting that millions of federal dollars for AIDS had been squandered by the city. The speakers said some of the money could have gone to housing victims of AIDS.

"How many units in Washington, D.C., are for the low-income and people with AIDS?" asked Teresa Skipper. Skipper, 40, who learned she is HIV-positive 13 years ago, said she went to the D.C. Housing Authority to put her name on a waiting list and was told that her wait would be three to four years.

The city has an acute shortage of low-cost and subsidized housing. For people who do not have AIDS, the waiting list is 10 years.

"I've been HIV-positive for 24 years," Bryant said, and in that time, little has changed, as people wait for housing and medicine.

After Bryant and Kavanagh were led away, about 10 protesters took their places. The newcomers complied with a police order to not block the doorway. The mayor's scheduler, Sandy S. Castor, took their request to meet with the mayor.

Meanwhile, their voices lowered in response to a police command, the protesters kept repeating a chant that few people heard: "End AIDS now."


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