Federal Judge Blocks Dismissal of HIV-Positive Airmen

A federal judge in Virginia has temporarily blocked the Department of Defense from discharging two HIV-positive members of the Air Force, siding with LGBT advocacy groups Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN. As The Daily Beast noted last September, longstanding military policy bans HIV-positive people from enlisting in the armed forces and prevents most current service members who receive an HIV diagnosis after enlistment from deploying overseas.

In combination with a new Trump administration policy on medical fitness—known colloquially as “Deploy or Get Out”—the military’s HIV policies are now being used to discharge HIV-positive service members, LGBT advocates say. Lambda Legal sued in late 2018 on behalf of two pseudonymous airmen who received their discharge orders, arguing that they should be protected under the Constitution’s equal protection clause—and that an HIV diagnosis should not medically preclude the airmen from serving, given the state of modern treatments like anti-retroviral therapy which can effectively eliminate risk of transmission.

On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Leonie M. Brinkema ruled in favor of the airmen, preventing them from being discharged—at least until a later trial. As the Washington Post reported, Judge Brinkema said of the two airmen: “These are the kinds of people that it seems to me the military wants to keep in the service.” Scott Schoettes, HIV Project Director for Lambda Legal, called the ruling “a major victory in our fight to ensure everyone living with HIV can serve their country without discrimination.”—Samantha Allen