A federal court has been urged to stop the Pentagon from discharging HIV-positive service members, according to a press release from Lambda Legal, a nonprofit legal defense organization that fights for the LGBT and HIV communities.
Lambda Legal filed a motion for a preliminary injunction in relation to the lawsuit Harrison v. Mattis. It is requesting that the court order the cessation of discharges until the case has been decided.
The Harrison case not only challenges current Pentagon policy but would also affect President Trump’s “Deploy or Get Out” policy. Announced in February 2018, Trump’s policy orders the discharge of service members who cannot be deployed for 12 consecutive months, regardless of fitness or ability to serve.
According to current Pentagon policy, service members who contract HIV while in the military are considered non-deployable and cannot be appointed as officers (people living with HIV are not allowed to enlist in the first place).
This means that HIV-positive service members now face discharge.
Lambda Legal was joined by OutServe-SLDN, an association that serves LGBTQ veterans and military members, along with pro bono counsel from Winston & Strawn LLP.
“Since we first filed this case, we have heard from countless service members wanting to share accounts of how the Trump administration’s irresponsible policy is derailing their military careers,” said Peter Perkowski, legal director of OutServe-SLDN, in the release. “The court cannot stand by while Nick and other service members across the country face imminent harm to their careers, reputations and livelihood.”
Plaintiff Sergeant Nick Harrison faces discharge from the military and is also being denied a promotion, according to the release.
The release also notes that Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN are representing an anonymous plaintiff living with HIV in a companion lawsuit, Doe v. Mattis. In that case, the Air Force refused to commission a service member as an officer after his graduation from the Air Force Academy despite the recommendations of medical professionals.
“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,” said Scott Schoettes, counsel and HIV project director at Lambda Legal, in the release. “This must end. 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.”