Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN, with partner law firm Winston & Strawn, filed a lawsuit on Wednesday, Dec. 19, on behalf of two HIV-positive members of the United States Air Force that were given discharge orders just days before the holiday season, according to a Lambda Legal press release sent out this afternoon.
Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN filed the lawsuit, Roe and Voe v. Mattis, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The case was filed anonymously to protect the plaintiffs’ medical privacy, according to a Washington Post exclusive
According to the press release, the plaintiffs received notification just days before Thanksgiving that their “their discharge appeals [had been denied] despite compliance with fitness assessments and medical treatment, as well as strong support from commanding officers. … the plaintiffs were found ‘unfit for continued military service.’”
Scott Schoettes, HIV Project director at Lambda Legal and legal counsel in the case, said that it is “disgusting that the Trump administration is sending some men and women in uniform home for the holidays without jobs simply because of their HIV status.
“These decisions should be based on science, not stigma,” Schoettes continued. “Lambda Legal is suing to stop these separations and will keep fighting until President Trump understands that there’s not a job in the world a person living with HIV cannot safely perform, including the job of soldier.”
The lawsuit challenges deployment policies at the Pentagon that prevent service members living with HIV from deploying outside the United States without a waiver. The suit alleges that the policies have “restricted the opportunities of service members with HIV” for years and are now “being used to justify separating service members solely based on HIV status.”
According to the press release, the “Deploy or Get Out” policy, “unveiled by the Trump administration in February 2018, directs the Pentagon to identify service members who cannot be deployed to military posts outside of the United States for more than 12 consecutive months and to separate them from military service. Since current U.S. military policy identifies service members living with HIV as non-deployable, they face immediate discharge under this Trump policy.”
OutServe-SLDN is also an organizational plaintiff in this case to advance the interests of its members who are living with HIV and serving in the military. This is the third lawsuit Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN have filed challenging military policies that discriminate against people living with HIV. The other two are Harrison v. Mattis and Deese and Doe v. Mattis.
“Anyone willing to put their life on the line to defend our country deserves respect, not discrimination,” said Peter Perkowski, Legal & Policy Director of OutServe-SLDN. “These airmen are acknowledged leaders and good at their jobs. They have served honorably for many years. They have the support of their commanders and medical personnel, who state that having HIV will not affect their ability to do their jobs. There is simply no justification for this decision.”