U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (IL-05), Vice-Chair of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, along with Representatives Sara Jacobs (CA-53) and Barbara Lee (CA-13), led 31 members of congress in a letter urging the Biden Administration to direct the armed services to permit individuals living with well-managed human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and Hepatitis B virus (HBV) to join the military. Members of the Senate also sent an identical letter, led by Senator Chris Coons of Delaware and Kristen Gillibrand of New York. People living with HIV and HBV can manage their condition with as little as one pilla day and are able to lead very full, long lives. Particularly given the advancements in medicine for both HIV and HBV, these viruses do not in and of themselves make an individual less able to serve, and the risk of battlefield transmission is near zero. There is no longer any plausible argument to deny these individuals the ability to serve their country.
Servicemembers who contract HIV while serving have also long had restrictions placed on their service and career advancement. Following a recent lawsuit, the federal government reversed its position and now permits servicemembers living with HIV to be commissioned as officers and deploy abroad. The letter sent by Quigley, Jacobs, and Lee seeks to build on that victory for all Americans living with HIV and HBV, and ensure that those who want to serve their country face no unnecessary barriers to doing so.
“For years I have fought archaic, discriminatory policies that are still present in our government. From the policy preventing gay and bisexual men from donating blood to the current ban on HIV and HBV-positive individuals in the miliary, the reasons for such limitations have no root in science or reason. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed that such a ban is in violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution, and holds no rational basis other than to discriminate,” said Rep. Quigley. “Ultimately, there is virtually zero likelihood of someone with HBV or HIV passing it to someone on the battlefield, and that fact is strengthened as a result of today’s modern medicine, which has empowered individuals with HIV to reach an undetectable viral load. It is time for the stigma around HIV and HBV to end, and this policy to end with it. I am optimistic that the administration will heed this call and move forward with the highest consideration and understanding of the importance of this matter.”
“As the representative of the country’s largest military community and the heart of San Diego’s LGBTQ+ community, I know how harmful HIV and HBV discrimination has been for our military and for my constituents,” said Congresswoman Sara Jacobs. “I’m glad the Department of Defense updated its HIV policy for officers and those already enlisted, but it’s long past time to end the discriminatory ban for those looking to join the military. The policy currently in place affects force readiness and morale and fails to reflect our military’s values of equality, diversity, and inclusion. The Administration should move swiftly to remove barriers to service for qualified individuals living with HIV or chronic HBV. Anyone who is qualified to serve our country, and wants to serve our country, should be able to do so.”
“As the Co-Chair of the Caucus on HIV/AIDS, I am dedicated to ending the discriminatory and harmful policies that have restricted people diagnosed with HIV and HBV from living their lives. The policies that prevented HIV- and HBV-positive individuals from joining the military are steeped in discrimination and stigma, not backed by medical science,” said Rep. Lee. “The HIV/AIDS epidemic has rocked communities of color and made marginalized communities more vulnerable. It is our responsibility to fight for the rights of these individuals and I am confident that this administration will recognize this discrimination and move forward with ending these predatory policies. It is past time to end our stigma against HIV and HBV and continue our work towards an AIDS-free generation.”
“Lambda Legal has a long history of defending LGBTQ+ people and people living with HIV against discrimination in the military, including litigation challenging Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the ban on open transgender military service, and most recently, successfully challenging the discriminatory restrictions placed on servicemembers living with HIV. It is essential that the Department of Defense take the next step by formally ending discrimination in enlistment for people living with HIV or chronic HBV,” said Lambda Legal CEO Kevin Jennings. “There are people living with HIV/HBV who are ready, willing, and able to serve our country that are being harmed every day this ban remains in effect. We urge immediate action by the Biden administration to remove this remaining discriminatory obstacle to commencing dedicated service defending our country.”
“As our nation entered into one of the most difficult military recruiting cycles in more than twenty years, it is even more critical now, to recruit and retain individuals who are capable and qualified to serve, including individuals living with HIV or chronic HBV. Medical technology has vastly improved in the past decades, making transmission rates almost zero and a person’s viral load undetectable,” said Jennifer Dane, CEO of Modern Military Association of America. “Discriminating against these individuals is not simply unjust, but a threat to national security. The Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security must act now to remove these barriers to service.”
“Scientific evidence shows that people living with hepatitis B do not pose a risk to others, and that hepatitis B does not impact the ability of military students and personnel to serve. By failing to align their current policies with recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Defense has created an inequitable environment where people living with hepatitis B and HIV are vulnerable to being discharged unnecessarily,” said Chari Cohen, DrPH, MPH, President of Hepatitis B Foundation. “We urge President Biden to take swift action to ensure that all who wish to serve in the military can do so unimpeded.”
“The current policy banning the military enlistment of individuals with well-managed Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) ignores the science in favor of stigma. It is a disservice to this country’s values and to those who would volunteer to protect them. We strongly urge the Biden Administration to allow all who want to serve their country, including individuals with well-managed HIV or HBV, to do so without facing unnecessary barriers,” said Human Rights Campaign Senior Vice President Policy and Political Affairs, JoDee Winterhof. “Due to advancements in modern medicine regarding HIV and HBV, individuals living with these viruses can and do lead long and full lives, often requiring just one pill a day to manage their condition. These advancements also mean that the risk of transmission is near zero and the research demonstrates that neither of these viruses makes an individual less able to serve – a fact recently recognized by our nation’s military leaders when they began allowing already-enlisted members with HIV to continue their service. We call on the Biden Administration to follow the science and to allow individuals with well-managed HIV and HBV to serve their country.”