DF-ST-87-06962 The Pentagon, headquarters of the Department of Defense. DoD photo by Master Sgt. Ken Hammond, U.S. Air Force.

Lambda Legal files suit to defend military members with HIV

Lambda Legal, the LGBTQ advocacy group, has filed a motion to force the Trump Administration’s Department of Defense from discharging military service members who are currently living with HIV.

Other organizations have joined Lambda Legal, including OutServeSLDN and the law firm of Winston & Strawn LLP.

The suit, Harrison v. Mattis, seeks to challenge alleged discrimination practiced by the DoD on issues of enrollment, as well as the practices of deployment, and enlistment.

As a public institution representing the wide demographic swath of America, the United States military has often served as the battleground for questions of social justice and due process.

Within the military, there are countless questions regarding quality of life, availability of care, and career advancement for marginalized persons. And this is doubly true of LGBTQ people serving in the ranks.

The current suit was filed in May.

The eponymous client, Sgt. Nick Harrison, was quoted in a release by Lambda Legal. Harrison said that the case was “not just about me.”

“This is about every person living with HIV knowing that they can perform any job in the world, including serving in the military. Together, we must stop the Pentagon from closing its doors to successful and talented service members.”

“I look forward to the day that I can serve my country to the full extent of my abilities, based on my performance and unfettered by unfounded fears and misperceptions about HIV.”

According to various reports, the “Deploy or Get Out” policy, so-called, was developed by the present Executive Branch in early 2018, specifically February.

According to the restraints of this policy, the Pentagon and the DoD must act to discharge those members of the armed forces who cannot deploy outside of the territory of the United States for more than twelve continuous months.

Under that rubric, those service members with HIV have been classified as non-deployable persons, without any regard to their fitness. Those persons who are living with HIV, in any status, may not enlist in the armed services at all.

By the current law, the process of sifting and discharge is not required by law to begin until the fall of 2018—specifically October. Yet the military has already begun to enact the program.

Lambda Legal HIV Project Director Scott Schoettes said that “Soldiers, sailors, fighter pilots and marines are seeing their promising careers cut short, their dreams of service shattered and their health jeopardized due to antiquated notions about HIV and the stigma that results.”

“This must end,” he added. “If the court doesn’t intervene, the Trump administration will continue to discharge more promising service members living with HIV, denying them the ability to continue serving their country. Every day, people living with HIV are suffering professional setbacks and losing out on career advancement opportunities, and we are asking this court to put an end to these harmful actions.”