Imagine that your life's dream was almost obtained, but then you were casted out for something you thought would never happen.
Cadet Kevin Deese was discharged from the United States Navy after a routine blood test found that he was HIV-positive. The 2014 blood test was one month before Deese was to take part in the U.S. Naval Academy's May graduation. Officials told Deese that he would be allowed to graduate but he would not be commissioned.
In an interview with TheBody.com, Deese shared:
So April Fool's Day 2014, I'm eating lunch in the dining hall with my best friend, and a lieutenant I didn't know comes over and ushers me to the commandant's office, which is like the dean of students. "It's not a good reason that you're here," the commandant says, and I start to panic. What did I do? Was I in trouble? I had no idea why. Then he tells me that I tested positive for HIV and my heart just dropped. It was not something I thought I had been at risk for. Then he says that I will not be commissioning as an officer along with my classmates. It was a double whammy — so much stigma and shame, everything I had worked for and that the Naval Academy had paid to educate me for. So I spoke with the chaplain and the brigade medical officer. "We're not going to abandon you," they said. But really no one had my back. It was presented as very cut-and-dry with no possibility to get a waiver, no process. One of the commandants had prepared talking points for me and had scrawled "not a death sentence" on a Post-It note
We could not imagine the pressure and stress of going through with the graduation and then needing to tell all why you were not continuing with your military career and on top of that, telling them that you were HIV+.
In a recent Facebook Post, Deese wrote:
I’m a little scared but determined to take additional action by putting out to the world that I am an HIV-positive gay man who’s here for people who don’t feel they can or should be out as being positive – and who’s not here for your HIV stigma, society.
NowThis worked with Deese to put together this video of his story.
AS stated in the video, Deese, who is gay, has joined an ongoing legal battle to remove this outdated policy.
- 1985 – 1st Screening of Military Applicants for HIV screening applicants for HIV in 1985.
- 1991 – Under George H.W.Bush, the Military Banned HIV-Positive Applicants
- 2018 – "Deploy, Or Get Out" – Trump's New Policy requires Military to discharge any service member who cannot be deployed for at least 12 months. People living with HIV are automatically disqualified from deployment.
Best of luck Kevin in your suit against the Government. Your courage is noted, appreciated, and envied. It takes a strong individual to rise above not one but two life changing occurrences all at the same time.
We know it has been hard and will be hard. Deese recently shared the following on his Facebook page.
Content warning: Quotes from people with a lot of ignorance and not a lot of compassion. Could be hard for people living with or affected by HIV to read.
"I wouldn't want to be near you at the mall let alone on the field while bleeding to death"
"They dont want your hiv blood on everything your putting others at risk"
"What I don't like about this guy is he's willing to put other people's lives and health at risk. Very selfish!"
"Your a liability"
"Why does he feel so entitled?"
"Get over it."
Thank you to NowThis for sharing my story. I wasn't sure what to expect when I agreed to do this. Maybe reading the comments was a mistake, but it at least confirmed what we've always known: we have a long way to go in educating people on HIV in general (treatment as prevention, transmission risks, etc.) – and obviously specifically in the military context (i.e. people living with HIV currently serve in the military, there are many jobs in the Navy that don't involve getting shot at, etc.).
I'd be lying if I said the personal attacks aren't hard to read, but it makes a world of difference knowing the support I have behind me. Thank you to anyone who's ever voiced their support; it means more than you can know.
But enough about me…happy World AIDS Day to all; may we take a moment to remember all those who died and those who still die today because they cannot access treatment.