HIV-positive service members can still dream of rising in the ranks. 

Becoming a commissioned officer in the United States military remains possible for HIV-positive service members, a federal judge ruled this week. 

“There is simply no basis to hold that officers must be free from HIV even if they are physically capable of service and would otherwise be able to deploy," wrote Judge Richard D. Bennett of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. “The military's policy of withholding officer commissions from HIV-positive service members renders those service members second-class citizens. That is precisely what the equal protection clause forbids.”

The court’s ruling on Wednesday rejected the Trump administration’s efforts to dismiss a lawsuit brought by service members Kevin Deese and John Doe against the Navy and Air Force. Lambda Legal worked with the Modern Military Association of America (MMAA) and pro bono co-counsel Winston & Strawn to challenge the Pentagon’s discriminatory policies on service members living with HIV. 

“Thanks to modern science, there is no legitimate reason to deny service members living with HIV the ability to continue to serve their country without arbitrary restrictions on their assignments and ability to deploy,” said MMAA Legal Director Peter Perkowski. “As the military struggles to meet recruiting goals, the last thing the Department of Defense should be doing is reinforcing harmful stereotypes and discharging highly trained service members based on outdated science.”

In a press release, Deese, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, said "I'm glad that I will get my day in court. It's important that people with HIV be allowed to follow their dreams, including serving their country through military service. Some of the bravest, strongest, and smartest people I have ever met live with HIV, and our armed forces deserve to benefit fully from their resiliency and commitment to service, rather than being held back by outdated and prejudicial policies. There is not a job in the world that a person living with HIV can’t do. I hope that this case helps to reset expectations about what is possible for people living with HIV."

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