Gay civil rights group urges President Bush to overturn HIV+ ban

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An American group that defends the civil rights of LGBT people and those living with HIV has urged President George W Bush to end the ban on visitors and immigrants who are HIV+.

Earlier this month the United States Senate approved a new bill that includes clauses that will end the ban.

Senators authorised $50 billon (£25bn) for PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, by 80 votes to 16.

Republican Senator Gordon Smith and Democratic Senator Kerry attached an amendment to a bill repealing current US immigration law.

At present any foreign national who tests positive for HIV is “inadmissible,” meaning he or she is barred from permanent residence and even short-term travel in the United States.

There are waivers available, but obtaining them has always been difficult.

The ban originates from 1987, when fear about the spread of the disease led US officials to require anyone with HIV to declare their status and apply for a special visa.

At present the law requires the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to include infection with HIV (the only disease or condition specified in the statute) on the list of diseases that serve as a basis for inadmissibility.

Lambda Legal use impact litigation, education and public policy work to push for gay equality for LGBT people and those living with HIV.

Executive director Kevin Cathcart said in a letter to President Bush:

“By including this provision in the bill, Congress has finally recognised that the entry bar against individuals living with HIV is an unjustifiable infringement of basic human rights, not in keeping with the traditions of this country, the principles on which it was founded or the role we want to play in the global fight against HIV and AIDS.

“The power now rests with you and your administration to complete the process of dismantling this ill-advised, unfair and anachronistic policy.

“Lambda Legal urges you to sign this bill into law.

“Moreover, we urge you to immediately direct the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to begin the process of removing HIV from the list of diseases that serve as grounds for inadmissibility.

“Not only is this the medically and scientifically correct thing to do, it is the right thing to do.”

It is unclear if President Bush’s administration will take action or allow the new President’s team to make the changes when they take office in January.

Section 305 of the PEPFAR reauthorisation bill repeals the statutory language requiring HHS to include HIV on the list of diseases that make a person inadmissible to the US, thus returning to HHS the authority to make a determination based on medical knowledge and public health principles.

“The ban makes absolutely no sense given what we know about HIV,” said Scott Schoettes, HIV staff attorney at Lambda Legal.

“The dismantling of this blatantly discriminatory policy is long overdue.”