U.S. State Department Changes Policy Disqualifying HIV-Positive People From Entering Foreign Service

The U.S. State Department on Friday removed HIV from a list of medical conditions that automatically disqualify people from entering the Foreign Service, the AP/Google.com reports. According to the state department, Foreign Service candidates living with HIV now will be considered for positions on a case-by-case basis -- similar to candidates who have other illnesses, such as cancer -- to determine whether they are eligible for "worldwide availability."

The policy change comes less than two weeks before a trial in a lawsuit involving an HIV-positive man who was rejected by the Foreign Service despite his qualifications, the AP/Google.com reports. The lawsuit was filed in 2003 by Lorenzo Taylor, a trilingual international affairs specialist. Taylor passed the Foreign Service exam process but was denied when he revealed his HIV-positive status to the state department.

According to the state department, the policy was changed after consultation with medical experts and in response to the lawsuit. However, the department maintained that the policy never purposefully discriminated against HIV-positive people. The state department also noted that the previous policy had applied only to Foreign Service candidates, not those who had contracted the virus or other conditions during their tours, the AP/Google.com reports.

"We have a policy requiring that all Foreign Service officers be worldwide available as determined by a medical examination at the time of entry into the Foreign Service," Gonzalo Gallegos, a state department spokesperson, said, adding, "That has not changed." Gallegos said that the department's chief medical officer had "revised its medical clearance guidelines on HIV based on advances in HIV care and treatment and consultations with medical experts. The new clearance guidelines provide that HIV-positive individuals may be deemed worldwide available if certain medical conditions are met."

Taylor said in a statement, "Now people like me who apply to the Foreign Service will not have to go through what I did." He added, "They and others with HIV will know that they do not have to surrender to stigma, ignorance, fear or the efforts of anyone, even the federal government, to impose second-class citizenship on them. They can fight back." New York-based Lambda Legal -- which represented Taylor and advocates for homosexuals, bisexuals, transgender people and HIV-positive people -- applauded the change. "The new guidelines mean that candidates for Foreign Service posts who have HIV will now be assessed on a case-by-case basis, as the law requires," Bebe Anderson, the organization's HIV project director, said, adding, "At long last, the state department is taking down its sign that read, 'People with HIV need not apply.'"

Lambda Legal said the suit has been settled "partly due to the new guidelines." However, the state department said the policy change was not part of the settlement. "The change simply reflects medical advances in the area of HIV care and maintenance," Gallegos said (Lee, AP/Google.com, 2/16).

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