US military facing legal action over ban on recruits who are living with HIV
The US military rule which bans people who are living with HIV from serving is being challenged by Lambda Legal, the LGBTQ+ civil rights organization.
The action was filed Thursday (November 10) in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia and argues that the current policy is outdated and discriminatory, per a news release from the group.
The current policy requires that applicants for appointment & enlistment, as well as individuals being inducted into military Services, be screened for HIV, and are then denied entry if they test positive
Along with Lambada Legal, Winston & Strawn LLP, Perkowski Legal PC, and Scott A. Schoettes join the group Minority Veterans of America, in representing three individual plaintiffs, all of whom say they were denied enlistment because of their HIV status.
23-year-old Isaiah Wilkins, a Black, gay police officer in Georgia, says the decades-old policy dashed his dream of becoming an Army helicopter pilot.
Wilkins says that two decades of advancements have “radically changed the landscape of HIV treatment and prevention,” making a positive HIV status immaterial to a person’s ability to serve.
The son of a military veteran mother, Wilkins served in the National Guard, before enrolling in the Georgia Military College. He then earned a spot at the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School at West Point and was all set to go – until a medical exam revealed a positive result for HIV.
“I served honorably and ably as a member of the Georgia National Guard”, said Wilkins. “It’s frustrating that although I am healthy and fit for service, an outdated policy keeps me from continuing my family’s legacy of proud service to our country”
“The existing policy is out of step with science and unlawfully excludes people living with HIV from performing as members of the U.S. military. A positive HIV status alone has no effect on a person’s ability to safely serve,” said Kara Ingelhart of Lambda Legal.
“Because HIV disproportionately impacts LGBTQ+ people & people of color, this discriminatory policy is not only outdated, but is also a serious equity issue that has a significant impact on communities who already face countless systemic barriers to accessing full life in America.”
Inglehart added that, “Striking this policy would help expand opportunities for over 1.2 million people in the U.S. living with HIV — 42% of which are Black & 21.7% are Latinx.”
Bryce Cooper of Winston & Strawn said, “The military ban on Americans living with HIV is yet another holdover from a long era of needless discrimination. The time has long passed for this senseless policy to end.”
In September, Human Rights Campaign called on the Biden administration to “remove the ban and allow folks who are living with well-managed HIV to enlist in the military if they so choose.”
Adding, “Those who have a clinically undetectable status can’t transmit HIV. Policies need to be based on facts not fear.”
We’re calling on @POTUS and @SecDef Austin to remove the ban and allow folks who are living with well-managed HIV to enlist in the military if they so choose. Those who have a clinically undetectable status can’t transmit HIV. Policies need to be based on facts not fear.
— Human Rights Campaign (@HRC) September 12, 2022
The British Armed Forces lifted a similar ban earlier in 2022 (June 21), allowing serving personnel who are living with HIV, who are receiving effective treatment, to be recognised as fully fit to serve and be able to deploy overseas.
Service members are required to be receiving treatment that suppresses their viral load – the amount of HIV in their blood – to an undetectable level.
Read the full US filing by clicking here.