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New Administration Brings Opportunity to End HIV Discrimination at State Department

Paul Cates,
LGBT Project
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January 15, 2009

With all eyes focused on Hillary Clinton’s confirmation to the post of Secretary of State, we here at the ACLU are hopeful that there will be some changes in how the new leadership at the State Department treats people with HIV.

Late last week, it was confirmed to us that the one of the contracts that the State Department used (and may continue to use) with its contractors required the contractors to submit a negative HIV test for each person it employs. This was confirmed in a motion filed by State Department contractor Triple Canopy in an HIV discrimination lawsuit we filed against the State Department and Triple Canopy on behalf of a decorated Special Forces veteran who was refused a job performing security for the State Department at the Haitian embassy. While we do not know how many people were barred jobs because of this contract, we know our client is not the only person refused a job with a federal contractor because of HIV.

That the State Department contract required a negative HIV test for all the employees of its contractors is especially troublesome since it clearly violates federal law barring discrimination against people with HIV. But even more troubling is the fact that this is not the first time the State Department has been called out for HIV discrimination. This past summer the ACLU successfully advocated on behalf of a Peace Corps volunteer who was kicked out after he tested positive for HIV while serving in the Ukraine. Threatened with litigation, the Peace Corp, which is overseen by the State Department, eventually agreed that it would no longer automatically bar volunteers with HIV. And in September 2003, Lambda Legal sued the State Department on behalf of an applicant who was denied a job with the Foreign Service. After defending the policy for five years, the State Department finally agreed in a settlement to stop automatically barring people with HIV from service.

There’s no good reason for excluding every single person living with HIV from these kinds of jobs. In fact, our client worked for Defense Department contractors in Iraq from 2004 to 2005, where he led security teams on military bases. In each of these jobs, the government was aware our client had HIV, and had no problem with him working in war zones in Iraq.

Is this problem unique to the State Department? We don’t know. In fact, it’s unclear at this point what arguments the State Department intends make in defending against the case. Although Triple Canopy says that its contract with the State Department required a negative HIV test for all employees, the State Department claimed in its answer to the lawsuit that its contract didn’t bar people with HIV from employment.

Rather than try to figure that one out, let’s hope the new administration quickly recognizes that it’s illegal to automatically bar people with HIV from employment, and eliminates current discrimination. That won’t erase what happened to our client, but at least no more people with HIV will be hurt.

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