The Pentagon’s Dismissal of Airmen for HIV Status Is Ignorant and Dangerous

Advocates for Youth strongly condemns the dismissal of two airmen from the Air Force on the grounds of being HIV positive. The dismissal is an outrageous violation of civil rights and basic human rights, and is grounded in ignorance and prejudice.  

“These decisions have deep repercussions. They reinforce beliefs about HIV that aren’t based on science, and that people living with HIV need to be ‘managed’ and ‘controlled’ for the safety of others. Stigma is born out hate and ignorance and there is simply no place for this kind of thinking in the future that we are creating,” said Bryce Santos-Fegers, youth leader with Engaging Communuties around HIV Organizing (ECHO), a first-of-its kind council of youth activists living with HIV who are actively organizing online and in their communities.

People living with HIV experience stigma and discrimination in a world that, too often, still takes an uninformed and alarmist approach to HIV prevention, treatment, and care.  Stigma is one of the greatest threats to the health and well-being of young people living with HIV, resulting in employment discrimination, housing discrimination, and even violence.

“While advances in science and HIV treatment continue to keep people like me alive, stigma and AIDS-phobia continue to threaten the humanity of those living with HIV. The decision to dismiss two airmen sends a clear message that people living with HIV are devalued and discriminated against. It also communicates that living openly and freely is rewarded with punishment and banishment.” said Louie Ortiz-Fonseca, Director for LGBTQ Health and Rights.

Further, the decisions shows a total lack of understanding of HIV and how it is transmitted.  We have known since very early in the epidemic that HIV isn’t transmitted through everyday contact like sharing utensils. And with modern medications which lower the levels of HIV in the blood to undetectable, it is nearly impossible to transmit the disease through sexual contact.  

“It’s a sad state of affairs when the most highly funded, technologically advanced military in the world apparently can’t find a doctor who understands how HIV works,”  said Debra Hauser, President, Advocates for Youth. “We need everyone, including the United States military, to educate themselves about HIV, respect the rights of people living with HIV, and stop perpetuating stigma.”

No one was put in harm’s way by these two airmen – except apparently, themselves, now the target of employment discrimination from the highest levels.

“Young people who are living with HIV have the right to live free from discrimination,”  said Debra Hauser. “This decision is not only groundless, it is a malicious attack on people living with HIV that will have ramifications far beyond these two airmen.”