LGBTQ orgs ask court to halt Pentagon discrimination against people with HIV

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ALEXANDRIA, Va. — On Monday, Lambda Legal and the Modern Military Association of America (MMAA) asked a federal district court to bar the Trump Administration and the Pentagon from discriminating against people living with HIV.

The Trump administration started kicking out HIV-positive servicemembers in 2018. Lambda Legal and other organizations sued to stop the action. In January 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld a lower court ruling in Roe & Voe v. Esper that halted efforts by the Trump administration to discharge members of the Air Force because they are living with HIV.

The organizations asked the court for the decision in both Roe and Harrison v. Esper, Lambda Legal said in a press release. In a hearing before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, lawyers argued the Pentagon’s categorical bar to the enlistment, deployment or commissioning of people living with HIV is unconstitutional and asked the court to order the Department of Defense to allow servicemembers living with HIV to deploy and to serve as officers.

“Today, we asked the court to recognize what the government refuses to acknowledge, that people living with HIV are as capable, safe and healthy to serve in the military as any other person. It is discriminatory and unconstitutional to deprive these servicemembers from serving their country because of outdated science and continuing prejudice.” said Scott Schoettes, counsel and HIV Project Director with Lambda Legal, the nation’s largest organization committed to full recognition of the civil rights of LGBT people and people living with HIV. “It’s unacceptable that even in the face of tremendous medical advances, the Trump Administration is erecting new barriers to the military service of people living with HIV. These discriminatory actions deny important career opportunities and perpetuate stigma.”

“It feels very dehumanizing and hurtful to be discriminated against just because of our HIV status when we just want to serve and defend this country,” plaintiff Nick Harrison said. “The Pentagon’s policy is rooted in misconceptions, stigma and fear. I’ve been deployed into combat overseas and served honorably in the military for years, and I can guarantee you that there is no job that a person living with HIV cannot perform, including being a soldier.”

Read more about Roe & Voe v. Esper here: https://www.lambdalegal.org/news/va_20181219_trump-quietly-starts-firing-service-members-living-with-hiv

Read more about Harrison v. Esper here: https://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/cases/harrison-v-esper

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