LGBTQ group sues Pentagon over policy banning HIV-positive recruits

An LBTQ+ advocacy group is seeking to force the military to reverse its longstanding policy of denying entry into the armed forces for people who are banned from enlistment due to their being afflicted with HIV/AIDS and is suing to get their way.

On Thursday, the day before Veterans Day, Lambda Legal which represents those who are living with the disease filed a lawsuit in a Virginia federal court against the Department of Defense and the Army alleging that the Pentagon has “impermissibly” discriminated against HIV/AIDS victims, seeking to end the ban on such individuals.

According to NBC News, the lawsuit has been filed “on behalf of three individuals living with HIV: Isaiah Wilkins, a gay police officer in Georgia; a transgender lesbian woman who left the military in 2013 to transition and a straight woman who had dreams of becoming a parachute rigger. (The women are identified in the lawsuit with pseudonyms because they fear further discrimination, according to Lambda Legal.) Minority Veterans of America, a minority-serving organization for current and former service members, is also named as a plaintiff in the suit.”

The lawsuit names Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Army Secretary Christine Wormuth as defendants.

“Scientific discovery, innovation, and medical advances have radically changed the landscape of HIV treatment and prevention—as well as the ramifications of an HIV diagnosis and prognosis for people living with this condition,” the lawsuit states. “These medical advances should have led to an overhaul of military policies related to people living with HIV. Instead, the Department of Defense and the Army—and all military departments—have maintained the bar to enlistment and appointment of people living with HIV, even as these same policies were revised in other ways over the years.”

“Thursday’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, follows Lambda Legal’s landmark victory in April, decided by the same court, that requires the Pentagon to now allow HIV-positive service members to be promoted and to deploy overseas,” NBC News reported. “Before the court ruling, U.S. military policy was to place restrictions on service members if they were diagnosed with HIV after they had successfully enlisted. In a memo to military leadership in early June, Austin eased the restrictions on those currently serving, but he didn’t address the policy that banned HIV-positive recruits.”

“There should be no barrier for folks like Isaiah who want to serve,” said senior Lambda Legal attorney Kara Ingelhart of the gay Georgia police officer who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit, stating that the earlier ruling was  “incredibly clear.”

“Founded in 1973, Lambda Legal is the oldest and largest national legal organization whose mission is to achieve full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and everyone living with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work,” according to the New York City-based group’s website.

“For nearly 50 years, Lambda Legal has worked to address the highest priority needs for members of the LGBTQ+ community and those living with HIV,” the group states. “As we push forward into 2022 and beyond, Lambda Legal will continue to serve as a firewall against the escalating attacks on the LGBTQ+ community and people living with HIV, and continue to chart the course to a world where our identities and relationships are respected, protected, and celebrated.”

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