Two HIV-positive Air Force members have filed a joint lawsuit against Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Days before Thanksgiving, the men -- who have remained anonymous to protect their medical privacy -- were discharged after complying with fitness assessments and medical treatment. They're now asking the court to reverse the decision.
Both Airmen appealed the Pentagon's discharge and were immediately denied, being found "unfit for continued military service" despite having strong support from their commanding officers. They are suing Mattis in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia and challenging the Pentagon's existing discriminatory policies, which dictate that HIV+ service members cannot be deployed outside the US without a special waiver.
Earlier this year the Trump administration unveiled the "Deploy or Get Out" policy, which empowers the Pentagon to discharge service members who cannot be deployed outside the US. As HIV+ service members can't be deployed, this policy effectively specifically targets them.
"Anyone willing to put their life on the line to defend our country deserves respect, not discrimination," said OutServe-SLDN's Legal & Policy Director Peter Perkowski in a statement. "These Airmen are acknowledged leaders and good at their jobs. They have served honorably for many years. They have the support of their commanders and medical personnel, who state that having HIV will not affect their ability to do their jobs. There is simply no justification for this decision."
Lambda Legal released a statement calling "disgusting" that the Trump administration would fire these men just before the holidays simply for being HIV+. "These decisions should be based on science, not stigma," said Scott Schoettes, Counsel and HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal. "Lambda Legal is suing to stop these separations and will keep fighting until President Trump understands that there's not a job in the world a person living with HIV cannot safely perform, including the job of soldier."