The Trump administration’s latest bid to have two HIV-positive airmen discharged from service has been blocked by courts for a second time.
The two men, referred to by the pseudonyms Roe and Voe, were given discharge orders in 2017 on the basis that they couldn’t be deployed to the Middle East due to their HIV-positive status.
Both men are on antiretroviral treatment, have no symptoms, and have been pronounced physically fit to deploy by their doctors.
Their discharges were blocked by a preliminary injunction in February last year, which the Department of Defence and the Air Force appealed.
On Friday, January 10, a federal court moved to uphold the injunction, judging that the ban on deployment was based on an “obsolete understanding” of HIV/AIDS.
“[It] may have been justified at a time when HIV treatment was less effective at managing the virus and reducing transmission risks. But any understanding of HIV that could justify this ban is outmoded and at odds with current science,” said Judge James A. Wynn Jr.
“Such obsolete understandings cannot justify a ban, even under a deferential standard of review and even according appropriate deference to the military’s professional judgments.”
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The servicemen, like other HIV-positive people with undetectable viral loads, have no symptoms of HIV. They take a daily medication which means they cannot transmit the virus through normal daily activities, and their risk of transmitting the virus through battlefield exposure is extremely low if at all possible.
“But the Government did not consider these realities when discharging these servicemembers, instead relying on assumptions and categorical determinations,” the ruling stated.
“As a result, the Air Force denied these servicemembers an individualised determination of their fitness for military service.”
Roe and Voe were represented by Lambda Legal, a civil rights organisation that fights on behalf of LGBT+ people. Scott Schoettes, Lambda Legal’s HIV Project director, said that the government was unable to give a reasonable justification for the servicemen’s “discriminatory treatment”.
“This is the second federal court to find that the Trump administration’s attempt to discharge these individuals is unlikely to pass legal muster,” he said in a press release.
“At the root of these discharge decisions and other restrictions on the service of people living with HIV are completely outdated and bigoted ideas about HIV.
“Today’s ruling clears the way for us to definitively prove at trial that a person living with HIV can perform the job of soldier or airman as well and as safely as anyone else.”