A group of AIDS activists took over Sen. John Seymour's local office Wednesday, chanting slogans and chaining themselves to furniture to protest the senator's support of a measure requiring HIV-infected health-care workers to inform patients they have the AIDS-causing virus.
The 12 members of ACT UP, which stands for AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power, were placed under citizen's arrest for misdemeanor trespassing by one of Seymour's aides and taken into custody by Anaheim police after the 90-minute demonstration.
Some wore paper surgical gowns and masks and carried toy plastic doctor kits. They wrote slogans on Seymour's stationery and made telephone calls and fax transmissions to local media.
The only damage to the furniture or the office was to one wall calendar, on which was scrawled "ACT UP L.A. O.C."
Eleven of the protesters went into custody without a struggle, but the 12th had to be carried out when he refused to walk with the officers. They were all taken to the city jail, where they received citations and were released without bail.
"People with AIDS under attack! What do we do? Act up, fight back!" the members chanted as they were handcuffed and led away.
Last month Seymour voted in favor of a proposal by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C) that would impose a mandatory 10-year prison term and a $10,000 fine on HIV-infected physicians, dentists and other health-care workers who perform surgery and other invasive medical procedures without informing patients of the infection. The measure is now being considered by the House of Representatives.
Helms introduced the measure after five people in Florida were infected with the HIV virus by their dentist. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, those are the only known cases of patients being infected by a health-care worker. It has recommended that health-care workers have themselves tested for the virus and voluntarily refrain from performing invasive procedures if they are infected.
"I am here today to educate our elected official that his vote is contrary to what has been recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, the professionals, and instead he has chosen to support an hysterical piece of legislation," said Stan Long, a 37-year-old interior designer and contractor from Los Angeles who chained himself to a desk. Long says he is infected with the HIV virus. "This legislation does nothing but give people a false sense of security because it takes six months for somebody infected with HIV to test positive for the virus, but during that six months they can still transmit it."
Seymour is on vacation with his family and was not in the office.
H.D. Palmer, the senator's spokesman, said that the office staff had the demonstrators arrested because they were interfering with work. He said the senator supported Helms' measure because he "believes that patients have the right to know if their physician is HIV-positive."
The protest began about 10 a.m., when the demonstrators invaded Seymour's office on the 10th floor of The Seeley Co. building on East Katella Avenue.
Outside, another dozen ACT UP members carried signs and blew whistles in support of their colleagues inside Seymour's office. They were not arrested, and they left as the others were driven away in a police van and two police cars.
Police arrived shortly after the demonstration began, but they waited to remove the protesters in a strategy to avoid violence, Lt. Ted Labahn said. When the arrests were made, the demonstrators were told by the officers that if they surrendered peacefully, plastic handcuffs--which can tear the skin--and painful holds would not be used.
He said the officers wanted to avoid a violent confrontation with the demonstrators at almost all costs.