Gay legal group Lambda Legal delivered a petition today signed by 5,000 people urging Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, to repeal the federal government’s ‘discriminatory’ hiring policies and allow a qualified man living with HIV to work as a Foreign Service Officer.

“Employers, as well as the general public, look to the federal government to set the standard in workers’ rights,” said Hector Vargas, deputy director of education and public affairs at Lambda Legal.

“Dr Rice has the power to set the record straight and make clear that discrimination in the workplace is not acceptable, starting with allowing Lorenzo Taylor, Kyle Smith, and other qualified and dedicated applicants to serve our nation in the Foreign Service.”

Lambda Legal launched the campaign against Dr Rice last month with an email message calling members to action as well as web banner ads running throughout the month of May on websites including TheBody.com and OutInAmerica.com.

The petition is currently available for the public to sign on Lambda Legal’s “Blow the Whistle” subsite and will also be featured at PRIDE celebrations around the country.

Another round of signatures will be delivered to the Secretary of State in the autumn.

Lambda Legal represents Lorenzo Taylor, who speaks three languages, holds a Foreign Service degree from Georgetown University and easily passed the rigorous application process required to be a Foreign Service Officer.

The group claims that because of the State Department’s current policies, however, Mr Taylor was not considered for the job because he has HIV, though medical experts including the nation’s two largest organisations of HIV specialists say the State Department’s hiring practice is medically unfounded.

Lambda Legal also represents Kyle Smith, who applied for a position in the Foreign Service in 2003, but was allegedly rejected because he has HIV. The petition delivered today urges Dr Rice to repeal the State Department’s discriminatory policy and evaluate each Foreign Service applicant on a case-by-case basis.

Lambda Legal’s lawsuit on behalf of Mr Taylor, filed in late 2002, says the State Department’s policy violates the federal Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits the federal government from discriminating against people with disabilities. The lawsuit seeks a change in the policy. Last spring, federal district court Judge Rosemary Collyer issued an opinion in favour of the State Department saying that the government should not have to accommodate Mr Taylor by letting him use some of his sick and vacation leave, available to all Foreign Service Officers, to travel to see his doctor. Lambda Legal argued the appeal in the case before the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in April and a decision is currently pending. Mr Smith’s case is pending before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.