LGBT military advocacy groups have filed suit against the Defense Department for alleged discriminatory policies in regards to the ability of those living with HIV to serve.
Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN filed the lawsuit on Wednesday with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, on behalf of Sgt. Nick Harrison.
Harrison is a sergeant in the D.C. Army National Guard who trained as an airborne paratrooper and served three years on active duty, deploying to both Afghanistan and Kuwait. He contracted HIV after he returned from his second deployment.
Our work is not done for the LGBT and those living with HIV military, veteran and family community and this lawsuit is evident of that. We are proud to again partner with @LambdaLegal on this case. #HIV #HIVMilitary pic.twitter.com/wNXKQfvxb0
— OutServe-SLDN (@OutServeSLDN) May 30, 2018
In 2013, he was offered a position with the D.C. Guard’s Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps. Just two years later, he was denied the position however, due to Pentagon policies dating back to the 1990s that classify anyone with HIV as non-deployable.
That prevents them from enlisting or being appointed as officers, and as of this year, the stakes are even higher.
The Trump administration unveiled a new “deploy or get out” policy in February, instructing the Pentagon to identify and separate from services those members who can’t be deployed to military posts abroad for more than 12 consecutive months.
Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN are also representing an anonymous service member in the Air Force who is living with HIV. He too was refused a chance to move up and become an officer, despite recommendations from medical personnel.
“There really should be no impediment whatsoever,” Harrison told Military Times. “[The Pentagon policies] are kind of a relic of the 80s or early 90s when they were put in place. At the time, they were probably an enlightened policy, but with all the medical research and advancements in pharmaceuticals, they’re no longer relevant to the medical condition anymore.”
“People look at my medical records and they see, ‘oh, he’s perfectly physically and medically fit.’ But, I’ve got this ‘you can’t be deployed, you can’t go anywhere’ that blocks me from advancing, blocks me from commissioning and so forth.”
Last year, the Centers for Disease Control noted for the first time that with proper treatment, a person living with HIV could suppress their viral load to undetectable levels, meaning there is effectively no risk of transmitting it to others. This is often phrased as “Undetectable = Untransmittable.”
“The Pentagon needs to catch up with the 21st Century. Recruitment, retention, deployment and commissioning should be based on a candidate’s qualifications to serve, not unfounded fears about HIV,” said Scott Schoettes, Counsel and HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal, in a statement.
“The U.S. Department of Defense is one of the largest employers in the world, and like other employers, is not allowed to discriminate against people living with HIV for no good reason.”