ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A federal judge in Virginia has ordered the Air Force to halt efforts to discharge service members who are HIV-positive. The ruling came in a case filed by two HIV-positive airmen who are suing to prevent their discharge under the military’s “deploy or get out” policy.
U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema in Alexandria issued the preliminary injunction Friday. She ruled that the Air Force's treatment of HIV-positive personnel is "irrational, inconsistent, and at variance with modern science."
The Air Force has ruled the airmen’s HIV status means they can’t deploy around the world without a waiver, and must be discharged, according to the lawsuit filed Dec. 19 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.
The ruling will keep the two airmen in the Air Force for the time being. They were just days and weeks away from being formally discharged.
The airmen argue that these policies are discriminatory, unconstitutional and — because they don’t reflect how far HIV treatments have advanced in recent years — anachronistic.
The airmen, a staff sergeant who enlisted in 2012 and a senior airman who enlisted in 2011, adhere to a treatment regimen that has left them without any HIV symptoms and with an undetectable viral load that cannot be transmitted, according to the lawsuit.
“At best, DoD and Air Force policies singling out service members living with HIV for starkly different treatment are an unfortunate vestige of a time when HIV was untreatable and invariably fatal,” the suit states. “These anachronistic policies are no longer justified in light of modern medical science. … They currently constitute outright discrimination.”
Two non-profit legal organizations focused on advancing LGBT rights and the rights of people living with HIV — OutServe-SLDN and Lambda Legal — filed suit against the Department of Defense on behalf of Army Sgt. Nick Harrison in May 2018 for what they allege are discriminatory policies that restrict the ability of people living with HIV to serve in the U.S. military.