Just days before Christmas, President Donald Trump has discharged two United States Air Force (USAF) service members for being HIV-positive.
Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN, with partner law firm Winston & Strawn, filed a lawsuit, Roe and Voe v. Mattis, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia Wednesday on behalf of the two airmen.
The two airmen filed a lawsuit yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia against Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. They say the Pentagon’s decision to discharge them over their HIV status violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause and federal law.
As detailed in The Washington Post, the case was filed anonymously to protect the plaintiffs’ medical privacy.
The plaintiffs received notification just days before Thanksgiving, denying their discharge appeals despite compliance with fitness assessments and medical treatment, as well as strong support from commanding officers. Nevertheless, the plaintiffs were found “unfit for continued military service.”
“It’s disgusting that the Trump administration is sending some men and women in uniform home for the holidays without jobs simply because of their HIV status,” said Scott Schoettes, Counsel and HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal. “These decisions should be based on science, not stigma. Lambda Legal is suing to stop these separations and will not stop 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.”
Lambda Legal writes:
The lawsuit challenges the Pentagon’s discriminatory deployment policies, which prevent servicemembers living with HIV from deploying outside the United States without a waiver. For years, these policies have restricted the opportunities of servicemembers with HIV. Now these same deployment restrictions are being used to justify separating servicemembers solely based on HIV status.
The “Deploy or Get Out” policy, unveiled by the Trump administration in February 2018, directs the Pentagon to identify servicemembers who cannot be deployed to military posts outside of the United States for more than 12 consecutive months and to separate them from military service. Since current U.S. military policy identifies servicemembers living with HIV as non-deployable, they face immediate discharge under this Trump policy.
OutServe-SLDN is also an organizational plaintiff in this case to advance the interests of its members who are living with HIV and serving in the military. Along with Harrison v. Mattis and Deese and Doe v. Mattis, this is the third lawsuit that Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN have brought to challenge military policies that discriminate against people living with HIV.
“Anyone willing to put their life on the line to defend our country deserves respect, not discrimination,” said Peter Perkowski, Legal & Policy Director of OutServe-SLDN. “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.”