Video: AIDS Activists Occupy Mississippi Statehouse Grounds, Protesting Conditions for People With HIV

Speaking to Fox 40.
Above: Versher flying through the air. Below: Speaking to Fox 40. Photos by Julie Turkewitz for Housing Works.

Jackson, Miss. -- Activists from AIDS Action in Mississippi (AAIM) staged a civil disobedience protest on the grounds of the Mississippi statehouse today. The action was intended to call attention to the dismal state of AIDS services in Mississippi, demand a statewide AIDS strategy, and confront AIDS stigma.

See video.
Download hi-resolution photos.

At 9 a.m., the activists erected an 18-foot tripod on the south side of the statehouse. One of them, Luke Versher, climbed the structure and ignored police requests to come down.

Versher, an AAIM field organizer, has been living with HIV for 23 years. "State government has no strategy to combat AIDS but lots of policies that reinforce AIDS stigma," he said. "I'm here to show people with HIV don't need to hide."

In 2010, the Obama administration released the nation's first HIV/AIDS strategy and asked states to create their own. AAIM demands that the Mississippi government develop an AIDS strategy that includes scientifically proven comprehensive sex education; health care for low-income Mississippians with HIV/AIDS; and funding for housing for low-income people living with the virus.

Three weeks ago, Human Rights Watch released a damning report about the conditions for people with HIV in the Mississippi. Among its many findings:

  • At least 50 percent of Mississippians who test positive for HIV don't receive treatment, a rate comparable to Botswana, Ethiopia, and Rwanda.
  • Despite evidence that housing is essential to the health of people with HIV, Mississippi's government provides no funds for AIDS housing.
  • State politicians have consistently failed to take advantage of available federal money for AIDS services.