Judge rules U.S. military cannot discriminate against HIV-positive service members

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Judge rules U.S. military cannot discriminate against HIV-positive service members

A Federal judge has ruled the U.S. military cannot discriminate against active duty service members who have become HIV-positive, in a landmark ruling covering two cases, one involving two airmen the Air Force attempted to discharge, and another that centered on a member of the National Guard denied a officer commission. File Photo by Senior Airman Taylor Slater/U.S. Air Force/UPI | License Photo

The U.S. military will no longer be able to limit active service members who test positive for HIV, a federal judge in Virginia has ruled.

The ruling, dated April 6, by U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema, also means HIV-positive service members cannot be discharged or barred from becoming an officer based on their HIV status.

The ruling strikes down Pentagon policy, which does not allow military service members to be deployed in active duty outside the continental United States if they have HIV.

Lamda Legal, which litigated the two separate cases, called it the «strongest judicial rulings in over two decades for people living with HIV.»

Under military policy, individuals with HIV were prohibited from enlisting or being deployed overseas. The policy has faced criticism from a variety of sources.

«This is one of the biggest rulings for people living with HIV and enshrining their protections under the Constitution in decades,» said Lamda Legal attorney Kara Ingelhart.

«Recognizing that appropriately managed HIV is a chronic condition with little to no effect on a person’s overall health or daily activities and that merely being HIV-positive is no impediment to safely deploying and performing as a member of the U.S. military, the court has issued one of the strongest judicial rulings in over two decades for people living with HIV,» said Lamda Legal attorney Scott Schoettes, Esq.

The two cases were combined for purposes of discovery and argument.

One involved two airmen, referred to using pseudonyms, while the other centered on Army National Guard Sgt. Nick Harrison, who was denied a commission as a military lawyer. The Air Force attempted to discharge the two airmen after it was revealed they’d become HIV-positive.

«The groundbreaking ruling represents a landmark moment in the fight to advance the rights of people living with HIV and reflects the reality that HIV is a chronic, treatable condition, not a reason to discriminate,» the legal group states on its website.

Lambda Legal is the oldest and largest national legal organization with a mission dedicated to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and everyone living with HIV.

Brinkema’s ruling means the Air Force may not discharge the two airmen, while the National Guard must rescind its decision denying Harrison’s application to commission into the Judge Advocate General Corps.

Going forward, the Pentagon will need to change its policy.

«I am thrilled to hear that the judge has ruled in our favor, as it would remove barriers for people living with HIV like me in the military,» said one of the airmen, who was referred to in court documents as Richard Roe.

«When aspiring to join the military, I would have never thought this would happen to me; now, I feel like my service matters even more. I no longer have to live in fear of discrimination based on the simple fact I am living with HIV, especially since it is a treatable condition that poses no real risk to others,» said Roe, whose parents both served in the military.

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