U.S. State Department changes policy just weeks befoe Lorenzo Taylor’s lawsuit challenging policy was set for trial
The U.S. Department of State has changed its policy prohibiting the hiring of persons who are HIV-positive. The decision ends a five-year legal challenge to that policy, which was headed for arguments in a federal courtroom later this month.
The Feb. 15 announcement came while President George W. Bush was flying to Africa on a tour that would highlight the U.S. response to AIDS on that continent.
The decision lifts the blanket ban on hiring persons who are HIV positive to serve as diplomats. The department will now hire and assign current and future employees worldwide on a case-by-case basis based on their overall health status.
The lawsuit was brought by Lorenzo Taylor, now 51, a graduate of the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. He is fluent in three languages and had passed all of the hurdles to join the State Department when, in 2001, a medical review dashed his plans to become a diplomat.
State Department regulations at the time said that new employees must be available for worldwide service and that being HIV positive was an automatic exclusion. However, current employees who sero-converted were allowed to continue to work so long as their health allowed.
Taylor, with the assistance of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, sought reasonable accommodations from the department. They argued that the introduction of highly active antiretroviral therapy had changed the medical situation and the employment policy should change to reflect that.
Taylor and Lambda Legal tried going through administrative channels, but those efforts proved futile. Taylor then filed suit in federal court in 2002, charging that the State Department had violated the Rehabilitation Act.
The State Department changed the guidelines after losing its efforts to derail the suit through procedural challenges.
Bebe J. Anderson, HIV Project director with Lambda Legal, said that her agency is "extremely pleased with this change."
"At long last, the State Department is taking down its sign that read ‘People with HIV need not apply,’" Anderson said.
Taylor agreed to the settlement, which was not conditional upon his employment. He moved to San Francisco the first of this year in a new position within his old agency at the Department of Health and Human Services.
In personal correspondence. Taylor said, "I’m happy that State has finally done the right thing, but I only wish that bringing them to this point had not taken so long and so much effort. With a little courage, this could have been resolved years ago instead of on the eve of the trial."
He added, "My joy is tempered by my sadness for all the foreign service officer candidates through the years whose talents and service have been overlooked because of their HIV status and who were also victims of this archaic policy."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, February 22, 2008.