After gay cadet Kevin Deese was discharged from the Navy after a routine blood test revealed he was HIV-positive, he joined the fight against the military HIV ban, reported PinkNews.
Deese was diagnosed in April 2014, a month before he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. He was told he could graduate but would not be commissioned.
Deese told The Body that he had been dreaming of serving in the military for years, and his diagnosis took that dream away from him.
“[HIV] was not something I thought I had been at risk for,” he said. “It was a double whammy – so much stigma and shame, everything I had worked for and that the Naval Academy had paid to educate me for.”
Deese said he didn’t receive support after trying to fight for his right to serve. He said he spoke to the chaplain and brigade officer who said they weren’t going to abandon him. “But really no one had my back,” he expressed. “It was presented as very cut-and-dry with no possibility to get a waiver, no process. One of the commandants had prepared talking points for me and had scrawled ‘not a death sentence’ on a Post-It note,” he told the HIV/AIDS news outlet.
In an emotionl Facebook post, where he came out as a gay man, Deese expressed what he felt to be his duty to stand up for the lesser-privileged people living with HIV.
“I’m a little scared but determined to take additional action by putting out to the world that I am an HIV-positive gay man who’s here for people who don’t feel they can or should be out as being positive – and who’s not here for your HIV stigma, society,” he wrote.
The military first began screening applicants for HIV in 1985. The ban on HIV-positive applicants was imposed in 1991 under the George H. W. Bush administration. President Trump recently implemented a stricter version of the policy, which requires the military to track the number of non-deployable servicemembers. Those who cannot attain deployable status by the following year are selected for involuntary removal.
Deese is not the only servicemember who has fought against the policy. Sergeant Nick Harrison, who was affected by the policy, sued the Pentagon over the HIV ban.
“Nick’s situation is the perfect example of just how archaic and harmful the military policies regarding people living with HIV really are,” said Scott Schoettes, Council and HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal, an LGBTQ legal organization that assisted Harrison with his suit. Deese has since joined Harrison’s suit.