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2 U.S. Airmen Sue Pentagon, Say They Were Discharged For Being HIV-Positive

Two U.S. airmen are suing Defense Secretary Jim Mattis over what they describe as an “unconstitutional and improper” discharge because of their HIV status. 

The suit, filed by Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN on the airmen’s behalf, was outlined in a bombshell Washington Post report Wednesday. The plaintiffs, identified as Richard Roe and Victor Voe, said in the suit they tested positive for HIV last year during Air Force screenings. They began antiretroviral treatments after their diagnosis, they said, and doctors deemed them physically fit enough to deploy.

Still, Roe and Voe say they received discharge orders days before Thanksgiving, as HIV-positive personnel are banned from deploying to the Middle East, where many Air Force members tend to go.  

The men also said they were not offered alternative jobs, which they would have been willing to accept. 

“Particularly in light of dramatic medical advances ― the benefits of which have only recently been fully understood and documented ― a person’s HIV status bears no relation to that person’s ability to contribute to society,” Roe and Voe argued in the suit, which can be seen here. Their discharge, they added, “deprives them of their right to equal dignity and treats them as second-class citizens in violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.” 

In a statement sent to HuffPost, Air Force spokeswoman Carrie J. Volpe dismissed the allegations, saying, “Each fitness determination is conducted on a case by case basis.”

“The Air Force does not find all Airmen with asymptomatic HIV unfit, and has returned more than 150 such Airmen to duty,” she added.

Still, the news rankled many LGBTQ rights advocates, many of whom cited President Donald Trump’s repeated efforts to ban transgender recruits from the U.S. military as indicative of the Pentagon’s adverse relationship with the queer community under the current administration. 

In a statement announcing the lawsuit, Lambda Legal’s Scott Schoettes called the discharges “disgusting.”

“These decisions should be based on science, not stigma,” he said.

Echoing those sentiments was OutServe-SLDN’s Peter Perkowski, who said, “Anyone willing to put their life on the line to defend our country deserves respect, not discrimination … There is simply no justification for this decision.”

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