It was one year ago today that Donald Trump tweeted his intention to ban transgender people from serving in the U.S. armed forces.
Now, the Trump administration seems to be turning his attention to HIV positive service members.
A February 14 Department of Defense memo announced a new “Deploy or Get Out!” policy which goes into effect on October 1.
The new policy orders the Pentagon to discharge those service members who are unable to be deployed outside the U.S. for more than a year. According to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, the point was to ensure “readiness” within the U.S. military.
But an existing DOD policy dating back to the height of the AIDS epidemic prohibits HIV+ service members from being deployed overseas. Therefore, the new guidance would appear to make it impossible to serve their country.
HIV+ folks are prohibited from enlisting in the Armed Forces. Soldiers who are already serving but later seroconvert are allowed to stay in the military, but cannot be deployed in combat or overseas.
Two soldiers have filed separate lawsuits – Doe v. Mattis and Harrison v. Mattis – hoping to stop the new policy from going into effect.
Forty-one-year old Sgt. Nick Harrison is afraid his life would be dramatically affected by the new policy.
Sgt. Harrison hopes to make a difference for other members of the Armed Forces. He isn’t being secretive about his identity, either. Harrison was deployed to both Afghanistan and Kuwait, but was diagnosed with HIV shortly after returning home from Kuwait in 2012. “This case is not just about me,” Harrison said. “This is about every person living with HIV knowing that they can perform any job in the world, including serving in the military. Together, we must stop the Pentagon from closing its doors to successful and talented service members. I look forward to the day that I can serve my country to the full extent of my abilities, based on my performance and unfettered by unfounded fears and misperceptions about HIV.”
Harrison also claims that the military’s policy wrongfully blocked him from ascending to Judge Advocate General officer of the D.C. National Guard, reports Bloomberg, because members living with HIV also cannot achieve officer status.
Scott Schoettes, Counsel and HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal, issued this statement regarding the discriminatory policy:
“Soldiers, sailors, fighter pilots and marines are seeing their promising careers cut short, their dreams of service shattered and their health jeopardized due to antiquated notions about HIV and the stigma that results. This must end. If the court doesn’t intervene, the Trump administration will continue to discharge more promising service members living with HIV, denying them the ability to continue serving their country. Every day, people living with HIV are suffering professional setbacks and losing out on career advancement opportunities, and we are asking this court to put an end to these harmful actions.”
According to HIVPlusMag, approximately 1,200 service members could be affected by the policy change.