FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
LITTLE ROCK -- The American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to the Arkansas Board of Cosmetology today asking it to clarify a state regulation that has been used as the justification by a Paragould-based cosmetology school to expel an HIV-positive student.
"After being diagnosed with HIV, I took a hard look at my future and realized that becoming a cosmetologist would allow me to do something that I've always wanted to do and give me the flexibility to manage my HIV," said Allan Dugas. "I was devastated when the school kicked me out. I don't understand how they could know so little about HIV when it's been proven that you don't get HIV from casual contact. I really hope the state clears this up, because I'd hate to have this happen to other people like me."
Dugas, who began his training at the beginning of 2005, was informed by Hair Tech Beauty College on January 27, 2005, that he could no longer continue his studies after he voluntarily disclosed his HIV status to an administrator at the school. Dugas told the administrator he was HIV-positive to explain why he was feeling under the weather one day. In a written letter sent after his expulsion, the school claimed that it could not allow Dugas to continue with his studies because of a state regulation that prohibits people with an "infectious or communicable disease" from practicing cosmetology.
"Now, more than 20 years into the AIDS epidemic, we know for a fact that you don't get HIV from getting a haircut," said Grif Stockley, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Arkansas. "We call on the Board of Cosmetology to be a champion for HIV-positive Arkansans by clarifying its regulation before more people are harmed like Mr. Dugas. People with HIV need to be able to earn a living just like everyone else."
In its letter to the Board of Cosmetology, the ACLU letter points out that cosmetologists with HIV pose no genuine risk of exposure to their clients and asks the board to make it clear that people with HIV are not barred from practicing cosmetology. The ACLU notes that banning people with HIV from the practice of cosmetology would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, which protects people with HIV against discrimination.
"It's unfortunate that so many people continue to have irrational fears about HIV transmission," said Dr. Marty Seltman, Residency Director of Forbes Family Practice Residency Program in Pittsburgh, PA, who has cared for HIV-positive patients for over 20 years and teaches educational programs on the primary care of HIV-positive individuals. "But when you look at the science and the two decades of research, it's clear that you are not going to get HIV simply from receiving the services of an HIV-positive cosmetologist. The state's policy may make sense with regard to other diseases that would pose a genuine risk of transmission, but HIV is just not contagious through casual contact."
A copy of the letter Hair Tech sent to Dugas dismissing him from the school, the ACLU's letter to the Board of Cosmetology as well as photographs of Dugas and Hair Tech Beauty College are available at www.aclu.org/caseprofiles.