Two U.S. military members are suing the Pentagon over discriminatory polices on service members living with HIV.
According to Task And Purpose, U.S. Naval Academy graduate Kevin Deese and an Air Force Academy graduate who’s using a pseudonym have filed a lawsuit against the Pentagon. The two service members did so with the help of the LGBTQ advocacy group Lambda Legal. This case is just one of three challenging the military’s policies on HIV-positive people. The law currently blocks HIV-positive Americans from enlisting and states that active-duty personnel who are diagnosed with HIV are prohibited from becoming officers or deploying. This then limits their career paths within the military.
“It’s important that people with HIV be allowed to follow their dreams, including serving their country through military service,” said Deese in a statement. “Some of the bravest, strongest and smartest people I have ever met live with HIV, and our armed forces deserve to benefit fully from their resiliency and commitment to service, rather than being held back by outdated and prejudicial policies. There is not a job in the world that a person living with HIV can’t do.”
According to MetroWeekly, U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett in Baltimore ruled on Wednesday, September 2nd, that there’s “no rational basis” for why HIV-positive people should be prohibited from serving. In this ruling, five of the lawsuit’s 10 claims were upheld in spite of the Defense Department’s motion to dismiss the case.
“There is simply no basis to hold that officers must be free from HIV even if they are physically capable of service and would otherwise be able to deploy,” Bennett wrote. “The military’s policy of withholding officer commissions from HIV-positive service members renders those service members second-class citizens. That is precisely what the equal protection clause forbids.”
Thanks to this federal court win, Deese and Doe, as well as the plaintiffs of the two other cases, will get to argue against the discriminatory laws in high courts and possibly landmark trials.
Scott Schoettes, Lambda Legal’s HIV Project Director who’s representing Deese and the John Doe, said in a statement: “Again and again, federal courts have ruled against the Trump administration’s attempts to shut down these lawsuits vindicating the rights of service members living with HIV to serve their country free from discrimination.
“By now, one would hope the administration would see the writing on the wall and stop defending policies that serve no purpose but to prevent these patriotic young men from serving their country,” Schoettes added. “We will continue prosecuting these lawsuits until the military is forced to bring its HIV-related personnel policies into the 21st century.”
“Thanks to modern science, there is no legitimate reason to deny service members living with HIV the ability to continue to serve their country without arbitrary restrictions on their assignments and ability to deploy,” Peter Perkowski, the legal director of the Modern Military Association of America, which is also representing the plaintiffs, added.
“As the military struggles to meet recruiting goals, the last thing the Department of Defense should be doing is reinforcing harmful stereotypes and discharging highly trained service members based on outdated science.”