US government ordered to halt discharge of HIV-positive Air Force personnel
A federal judge has blocked the dismissal of US Air Force personnel who are living with HIV.
U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema issued a preliminary injunction against policies used to dismiss HIV-positive personnel from the armed forces.
The judge had heard a legal challenge on behalf of two personnel within the US Air Force, whose identities have not been disclosed.
Judge: Air Force HIV policy ‘irrational, inconsistent, and at variance with modem science’
The pair were given discharge orders in 2018 after being found “unfit for continued military service,” despite compliance with medical treatment and physical fitness requirements, and despite support from their commanding officers and medical providers.
The judge ruled that the Air Force’s approach to HIV is “irrational, inconsistent, and at variance with modem science,” noting the glowing recommendations for the two service members and the lack of risk posed by an HIV-positive person with an undetectable viral load.
The court ruling comes just ten days before one of the officers was due to be discharged.
Campaigners welcome ‘major victory’ against Air Force HIV discrimination
Scott Schoettes, Counsel and HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal, said: “This is a major victory in our fight to ensure everyone living with HIV can serve their country without discrimination.
“These decisions should be based on science, not stigma, as today’s ruling from the bench demonstrates.”
He added: “Despite President Trump’s promise to improve the lives of people living with HIV at the State of the Union this month, his administration continues to defend these policies and others discriminating against people most impacted by HIV.
“Lambda Legal will keep fighting until these brave and qualified Airmen can serve without limitation.”
Peter Perkowski of OutServe-SLDN said: “We are thrilled that Judge Brinkema recognized not just that the military’s policies were harming our members who are living and serving with HIV.
“[The judge] also indicated that, at least on the evidence before her, the military’s decisions were based on outdated medical science and are categorically denying people living with HIV the same opportunities as their fellow service members.
“We look forward to a final decision in the case.”
Lambda Legal notes that the situation for HIV-positive personnel in the armed forces has worsened since the Trump administration took power, due to a 2018 ‘Deploy or Get Out’ policy shift that directs the Pentagon to eliminate service members who cannot be deployed to military posts outside of the United States for more than 12 consecutive months.
As people with HIV are considered non-deployable, campaigners fear that the policy could result in HIV-positive servicepeople being purged.