President-elect Obama challenged over HIV civil rights abuses

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An LGBT civil rights group has urged the new President of the United States to tackle inequalities faced by people living with HIV and AIDS.

Lambda Legal said that some federal policies make life more difficult for Americans with the virus.

“People living with HIV in the United States continue to face difficult challenges and some of those are caused or exacerbated by federal policies,” said Bebe Anderson, HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal.

“Government-sponsored discrimination is one of the worst types of discrimination because it invites others to follow.

“At the very least, we should expect our government officials — federal, state and local — to reject policies that explicitly exclude people living with HIV or that are interpreted in a way that marginalises them.”

Lambda Legal will advocate for the new administration, which takes office on January 20th, to take actions including:

* issuing immediately an executive order to ensure that all federal agencies are complying with the federal Rehabilitation Act and are not imposing medically-unwarranted restrictions on employees and applicants living with HIV.

* directing the Department of Justice to issue official guidance to state officials, clarifying that states’ exclusion of people with HIV from occupational training schools and licensing in professions such as barbering, massage, food services, and home health care violates federal antidiscrimination law.

* directing the Surgeon General to re-issue findings reflecting the conclusive scientific evidence showing that needle exchange and syringe access programs reduce drug abuse and prevent HIV infection and urging Congress to lift the ban on federal funding that limits these programs and costs lives.

* directing the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of Transportation to promptly issue regulations implementing the ADA Amendments Act in accordance with its remedial purposes.

Barack Obama was elected as President of the United States on November 4th. He will take the oath of office on January 20th. Last month in a statement on the transition website set out his views on HIV-related issues.

“Obama supports lifting the federal ban on needle exchange, which could dramatically reduce rates of infection among drug users.

“Obama has also been willing to confront the stigma — too often tied to homophobia — that continues to surround HIV/AIDS. He will continue to speak out on this issue as President.”

People with HIV face problems entering the United States.

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.

In October the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that it will issue regulations which purport to “streamline” the waiver application process for HIV-positive short-term visitors.

Members of the European Parliament successfully lobbied for the end of the effective ban on HIV+ people entering the United States earlier this year.

In July President Bush signed the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) Act, which lifts the ban on HIV positive people from entering the United States.

The bulk of the legislation aims to fight AIDS in the developing world. MEPs pressured the European Commission to raise the HIV issue in talks on visa arrangements between the EU and US.

Gay group Immigration Equality said that under the new rules a short-term traveller must meet twelve stringent criteria “that impose unnecessary burdens on HIV+ travellers and continue to stigmatise those living with HIV. Some criteria are inconsistent with current medical knowledge of HIV transmission and treatment.

“Among other things the waiver applicant must prove: that he or she is traveling with an adequate supply of antiretroviral medications (or that they are not medically necessary); that he or she has health insurance that is accepted in the United States and will cover any potential medical care here; and that he or she does not pose a public health risk.

“These criteria are inconsistent with current medical knowledge of HIV transmission and treatment and continue to treat HIV unlike any other medical condition.”

Visitors who take up the waiver do not have the right to apply for a green card from within the United States – even if he or she marries a US citizen.

Department of State consular officers will make decisions on waivers.

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.