Trump Discharges HIV Positive Military Members

The Trump administration has quietly begun to discharge HIV+ soldiers from the U.S. military.

Despite the fact that they qualify for active duty according to fitness assessments and medical treatment, and strong support from their commanding officers, two airmen were informed shortly before Thanksgiving that they were found “unfit for continued military service.”

They are suing Defense Secretary Jim Mattis after receiving the news they were being discharged.

The lawsuit, filed by Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN in conjunction with the law firm Winston & Strawnon,  argues the Pentagon’s decision violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause and federal law.

From The Washington Post:

Both active-duty airmen tested positive for HIV last year during Air Force screenings. After they started antiretroviral treatments, their doctors deemed them asymptomatic and physically fit to deploy, and their commanders backed their continued service. They intended to pursue lengthy Air Force careers after serving for more than half a decade in logistics and maintenance roles.

Last month, however, the two airmen received word that they had been deemed unfit for military service and would be discharged. The stated reason: The U.S. military bans personnel with HIV from deploying to the Middle East, where the majority of Air Force members are expected to go.

Both airmen say they can deploy with no problem as long as they take a supply of medication with them.

According to the CDC, most people diagnosed as HIV+ who take antiretroviral medications on a regular basis find themselves with undetectable viral loads which means the virus cannot be transmitted to others.

One of the airmen told The Washington Post he'd already been deployed to the Middle East twice, and both times his duty didn't require him to leave his base where proper medical facilities were available.

Neither men were given the option of alternative jobs, which they say they would have accepted.

In February this year, the Trump administration announced its “Deploy or Get Out” policy which ordered the Pentagon to identify service members who cannot be deployed to military posts outside of the United States for more than 12 consecutive months and to separate them from military service. 

Because current U.S. military policy labels service members living with HIV as ‘non-deployable,’ they face immediate discharge under this Trump policy.

Since 1991, all HIV positive applicants have been banned from joining the U.S. military. Instinct recently wrote about Navy Cadet Kevin Deese who was discharged in 2014 one month before graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy after a routine blood test revealed he was positive.

Scott Schoettes, Counsel and HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal, issued a statement, which read in part, “It’s disgusting that the Trump Administration is sending some men and women in uniform home for the holidays without jobs simply because of their HIV status.”

“These decisions should be based on science, not stigma,” he added. “Lambda Legal is suing to stop these separations and will not stop fighting until President Trump understands that there’s not a job in the world a person living with HIV cannot safely perform, including the job of soldier.”

(h/t Washington Post, Lambda Legal)

Trump Administration Wants SCOTUS To Allow Trans Military Ban NOW

The Department of Justice has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to allow Donald Trump’s ban on transgender military service members to go into effect while waiting on SCOTUS to decide whether or not to even take the case up for review.

Apparently, the United States is in a state of emergency regarding the few thousand transgender people currently serving with honor in the U.S. military.

I know - it doesn’t make any sense.

Let’s go back a bit, shall we?

In July of 2017, President Trump surprised American military leaders and the world when he announced his plan to ban trans military service members after “consultation with my Generals and military experts” due to the “tremendous medical costs and disruption” of transgender service members. 

Remember, this is the guy who told Americans during the 2016 presidential campaign that he would ‘fight’ for the LGBTQ community. 


Conservatives loved the idea; Liberals and LGBTQ activists were outraged.

In the ensuing months, numerous injunctions were ordered by judges blocking the implementation of the policy, and for good reason.

Not only has The American Medical Association (AMA) issued a statement saying there is ‘no medically valid reason’ for banning transgender people from serving in the United States military, but all four service chiefs (Navy, Army, Marines, Air Force) have testified they’ve seen no negative effects from transgender military personnel serving the country they love.

According to a 2016 RAND Corporation study, there are an estimated 1,320 to 6,630 transgender individuals out of the 1.3 million service members on active duty.

That same study estimated the cost of health care coverage for transgender personnel could range from $2.4 million and $8.4 million a year, which is about one-fifth of what the Department of Defense spent on Viagra in 2014.

Then, earlier this month, Department of Justice Attorney Brinton Lucas told the D.C. Circuit Court that if the Trump policy were to be implemented, transgender troops would not be “discharged on the basis of their transgender status.” 

(Wait for it…)

But, they would have to identify as the biological sex assigned to them at birth meaning they would have to stop any transition-related medical treatment - treatment that every major medical association has deemed necessary and life-saving for trans people.

Then, over Thanksgiving weekend, the Trump administration bypassed the appeals court process and requested the Supreme Court review the case before the circuit level courts even issue their opinions.

This isn’t a very popular approach as SCOTUS doesn’t like to review a case before it has made its way through the lower courts. 

The high court likes to have cases work their way through traditional channels so they have the benefit of the opinions of lower court judges by the time cases reaches SCOTUS.

This week, the Trump administration filed emergency briefs asking the high court to allow the transgender ban to go into effect until SCOTUS can review the case in 2019.

According to Think Progress, the emergency briefs claimed waiting any longer to boot transgender military service members poses “too great a risk to military effectiveness and lethality” and it would be “contrary to the Nation’s interests.”

But such arguments have gained little traction in the past. 

For example, U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal ruled in September that “loss of unit cohesion” was the same argument used to keep Black people, women, and gay people from joining the military. 

“The military has repeatedly proven its capacity to adapt and grow stronger specifically by the inclusion of these individuals,” wrote Bernal as he dismissed claims that including trans people would generate any different outcome.

It’s worth noting that the emergency briefs filed this week object to numerous motions for discovery filed in the cases. It seems the Trump administration wants to claim that all documentation related to how the ban was developed would fall under executive privilege.

What they really mean is that if those documents came to light, the American public might discover that Vice President Pence (a known homophobe) and his virulently anti-LGBTQ friends were instrumental in pushing the new ban through.

Should the Supreme Court allow the policy to be implemented before the case reaches SCOTUS, thousands of transgender soldiers could be discharged for being who they are.

This short video from the New York Times introduces just a few of the trans soldiers who are at risk of being discharged.



The opinions expressed here represent the author and not those of Instinct or its contributors.

(h/t ThinkProgress, Daily Beast)

(image via Flickr/photographer Ted Eytan)

Defense Department Refuses To Officially Acknowledge Pride Month

For the first time in six years, senior Pentagon officials have not formally acknowledged LGBTQ Pride Month.

Ever since the misguided ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy was repealed in 2012, the Pentagon has issued an official memo which served as an official endorsement of Pride Month and effectively encouraged local events.

A former senior Obama administration official, speaking off the record, told The Washington Post, “It makes it known that there’s an authorization, that there’s support.”

But this year, there was no memorandum issued for Pride. So the assumption must be that there is no support.

That said, there was an event held at the Pentagon on Monday by DoD Pride, the LGBTQ employee group at the Defense Department. However, unlike previous years no high-level department officials showed up to address the crowd.

According to The Washington Blade, the tension at the DoD event was “palpable” as folks were keenly aware of the elephant in the room - President Trump’s proposed ban on transgender service members. 

Even though the policy proposal is held up in four federal courts, LGBTQ military service members are wary.

Maj. Jamie Lee Henry, staff internist and a transgender active duty physician at Walter Reed Medical Center, spoke at the event calling Pride a time for “celebration of our humanity, our resilience and our bravery,” but referenced the worries the transgender military ban has stirred.

“I am not a stranger to the dark,” Henry said. “Recent events had me think a lot about experiences that I’ve gone through over the last five years.”

In another sign of lagging support, the Defense Department’s Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity’s web site lists event-specific posters designed for Black History Month, Women’s History Month, and Dr. Martin Luther King Day. But nothing for Pride Month.

So, DoD had to create its own poster.

When asked why there was no official declaration this year, Pentagon spokewoman Air Force Maj. Carla Gleason sidestepped the question.

“The Department of Defense supports diversity of all kinds across our military and we encourage everyone to celebrate the diversity of our total force team,” said Gleason. “We value all members of the DOD total force and recognize their immense contributions to the mission.”

This is also the second year that Donald Trump’s White House failed to acknowledge Pride Month.

There were presidential proclamations to recognize June as Great Outdoors Month, National Ocean Month, National Caribbean-American Heritage Month, African-American Music Appreciation Month, and National Homeownership Month, but no presidential proclamation for Pride Month.