US changes policy on HIV+ diplomats

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The US State Department has decided that people who are HIV positive will be considered as candidates for the foreign service.

The government was facing a lawsuit from an HIV positive man who was denied entry to the service under a rule changed last week.

Gay rights group Lambda Legal welcomed the decision.

“At long last, the State Department is taking down its sign that read, ‘People with HIV need not apply,'” said HIV project director Bebe Anderson.

The lawsuit was due to go to trial in the next two weeks, but the State Department has settled out of court.

The case was brought by Lorenzo Taylor.

Despite speaking three languages and passing the rigorous exam process for entry into the foreign service, he was turned down when he revealed his HIV status.

“They and others with HIV will know that they do not have to surrender to stigma, ignorance, fear or the efforts of anyone, even the federal government, to impose second-class citizenship on them,” he told AP.

“They can fight back.”

The State Department said it has removed HIV from a list of medical conditions that automatically disqualify candidates from the foreign service.

In future HIV positive candidates will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

“We have a policy requiring that all foreign service officers be worldwide available as determined by a medical examination at the time of entry into the foreign service,” said Gonzalo Gallegos, a State Department spokesman.

“That has not changed. The new clearance guidelines provide that HIV-positive individuals may be deemed worldwide available if certain medical conditions are met.

“The change simply reflects medical advances in the area of HIV care and maintenance.”

In December 2007 a former US ambassador left his post at the State Department after criticising Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s treatment of gay people.

Michael E Guest retired after more than 26 years as a form of protest against regulations that he considered as unfair to same-sex partners of foreign service officers.

The 50-year-old, who is openly gay, served as a US ambassador to Romania when Bush took office.

He was the first out gay person to be confirmed by the Senate to an ambassadorial post.

Since his return home in 2004, he has appealed directly to the US Secretary of State Rice to end gay discrimination.

“For the past three years, I’ve urged the Secretary and her senior management team to redress policies that discriminate against gay and lesbian employees,” he said during his farewell speech in Washington.

According to Guest, under the current regulations only a US State Department’s spouse can claim several rights which are denied to unmarried partners and same-sex partners.

These include issues such as the lack of training for same-sex partners to recognise terrorist threats, the lack of medical care and the need to pay for one’s own transportation when one’s partner is on duty.

Guest said that these issue could have been solved simply with Ms Rice’s signature, but his pleas had never received any attention.