Federal Judge Stops Defense Department From Discharging HIV+ Military - For Now

A federal judge has ordered the Trump administration to stop discharging HIV+ members of the U.S. military for the time being.

The order came in the case of Roe and Voe v. Shanahan, filed by Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN, with partner law firm Winston & Strawn, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two Airmen who were given discharge orders in November of last year.

Both men had tested positive for HIV in 2017 during routine screenings, and after beginning antiretroviral treatment they were deemed asymptomatic and declared physically fit to deploy, according to The Washington Post.

Even though they had the backing of their commanding officers, they were informed in November that the military prohibits personnel with HIV from being deployed to the Middle East, where the majority of Air Force members are expected to go.

In February 2018, the Trump administration announced its “Deploy or Get Out” policy which ordered the Pentagon to identify service members who cannot be deployed to military posts outside the United States for more than 12 consecutive months, and to separate them from military service.

Both men say they can deploy with no issues as long as they take a supply of medication with them.

One of the airmen told The Washington Post he'd already been deployed to the Middle East twice, and both times his duty didn't require him to leave his base where proper medical facilities were available.

Neither men were given the option of alternative jobs, which they say they would have accepted.

U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema issued the preliminary injunction Friday after hearing oral arguments in regarding Lamda Legal and Outserve-SLDN’s motion for a preliminary injunction as well as the Trump administration’s motion to dismiss.

Judge Brinkema granted the injunction after ruling the plaintiffs (who filed pseudonymously as “Richard Roe” and “Victor Voe”) were likely to prevail in stopping their discharge.

Peter Perkowski, OutServe-SLDN’s Legal & Policy Director, issued a statement which read: 

“We are thrilled that Judge Brinkema recognized not just that the military’s policies were harming our members who are living and serving with HIV. But also indicated that, at least on the evidence before her, the military’s decisions were based on outdated medical science and are categorically denying people living with HIV the same opportunities as their fellow service members. We look forward to a final decision in the case.”


(h/t Lambda Legal, Washington Post)

U.S. Military Defends New Policy That Could Get HIV-Positive Soldiers Expelled

The Trump administration has announced a new military policy that would ultimately make HIV-positive service members incapable of serving, but the policy is already being indirectly challenged in court.

The new “Deploy or Get Out!” directive is supposedly meant to improve military readiness by getting rid of soldiers who can’t deploy for more than 12 consecutive months “for any reason,” according to Bloomberg.

The Trump administration defended the policy after being questioned on it by saying:

"The determination about whether to commission an officer is one involving an inherently military judgment about whether a service member is fit and qualified to serve in such a position.”

While this policy may not mean much to LGBTQ service members alone, its combination with an already applied policy has terrible repercussions.

An earlier directive brought in during the 1980s states that service members with HIV aren’t allowed to deploy overseas. The idea was that their HIV-statuses would have been too complicated for military missions and thus made them incapable of deploying.

Unfortunately, that now outdated policy is still in action today. Combining the new “Deploy or Get Out!” policy would mean that all HIV-positive service members, who can’t deploy because of the earlier directive, would automatically be fired. This is a clear violation of constitutional rights.

Thankfully, the older directive is already being challenged in court. On September 7, a HIV-positive, 41-year-old, National Guard member from Oklahoma filed a lawsuit with the help of OutServe-SLDN, an LGBTQ military organization.

"Thus, even with the significant advances in HIV treatment, the unique demands and challenges of military service have led DoD to determine that it is necessary to generally prohibit HIV positive persons from being appointed, enlisted, or inducted into the service," according to the filings.

Again, the lawsuit has only now been filed so there’s still a long journey ahead for the court battle.

h/t: Bloomberg

Defense Department Refuses To Officially Acknowledge Pride Month

For the first time in six years, senior Pentagon officials have not formally acknowledged LGBTQ Pride Month.

Ever since the misguided ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy was repealed in 2012, the Pentagon has issued an official memo which served as an official endorsement of Pride Month and effectively encouraged local events.

A former senior Obama administration official, speaking off the record, told The Washington Post, “It makes it known that there’s an authorization, that there’s support.”

But this year, there was no memorandum issued for Pride. So the assumption must be that there is no support.

That said, there was an event held at the Pentagon on Monday by DoD Pride, the LGBTQ employee group at the Defense Department. However, unlike previous years no high-level department officials showed up to address the crowd.

According to The Washington Blade, the tension at the DoD event was “palpable” as folks were keenly aware of the elephant in the room - President Trump’s proposed ban on transgender service members. 

Even though the policy proposal is held up in four federal courts, LGBTQ military service members are wary.

Maj. Jamie Lee Henry, staff internist and a transgender active duty physician at Walter Reed Medical Center, spoke at the event calling Pride a time for “celebration of our humanity, our resilience and our bravery,” but referenced the worries the transgender military ban has stirred.

“I am not a stranger to the dark,” Henry said. “Recent events had me think a lot about experiences that I’ve gone through over the last five years.”

In another sign of lagging support, the Defense Department’s Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity’s web site lists event-specific posters designed for Black History Month, Women’s History Month, and Dr. Martin Luther King Day. But nothing for Pride Month.

So, DoD had to create its own poster.

When asked why there was no official declaration this year, Pentagon spokewoman Air Force Maj. Carla Gleason sidestepped the question.

“The Department of Defense supports diversity of all kinds across our military and we encourage everyone to celebrate the diversity of our total force team,” said Gleason. “We value all members of the DOD total force and recognize their immense contributions to the mission.”

This is also the second year that Donald Trump’s White House failed to acknowledge Pride Month.

There were presidential proclamations to recognize June as Great Outdoors Month, National Ocean Month, National Caribbean-American Heritage Month, African-American Music Appreciation Month, and National Homeownership Month, but no presidential proclamation for Pride Month.