Kerry, queer rights and the HIV ban

John Kerry’s comments on the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling on Gay Marriage amount to a halfhearted endorsement of gay rights, notes Miguel on Come Undone.

Responding to the decision, Kerry said:

I have long believed that gay men and lesbians should be assured equal protection and the same benefits—from health to survivor benefits to hospital visitation—that all families deserve. While I continue to oppose gay marriage, I believe that today’s decision calls on the Massachusetts state legislature to take action to ensure equal protection for gay couples. These protections are long overdue.

Kerry does, however support the Permanent Partners Immigration Act, apparently.

I guess Kerry’s halfhearted support for gay marriage is to be expected—politics is supposed to be “the art of the possible” after all, but Miguel has a point.

In an email conversation with my editor at POZ the other day we had a discussion about the HIV immigration ban in the US, a subject which seems to get scant attention among activist circles in the land of the free but which she says generates a lot of email “from people who are split up from their loved ones this way, especially gay couples.”

For the uninitiated, the US does not permit people with HIV to enter the country, even for short personal visits. Stories abound of people turned back at the border after immigration officials discovered HIV antivirals in their luggage.

The ban was originally instituted by Reagan in 1987, and led to a widespread boycott of the 1990 International AIDS Conference in San Francisco. The 1992 Conference, which was to have been held in Boston, was eventually moved to Amsterdam.

In 1993, President Clinton tried to rescind the ban, but was prevented from doing so by some craft manoeuvres within Congress.

The HIV ban still stands, but you have to wonder what purpose it serves. The original argument was that it would prevent AIDS from becoming an epidemic in the US. Well, that didn’t work. I doubt very much that an argument could be sustained that people with HIV might want to access the extortionately overpriced US health “system”, or that they’ll overstay their visas to take advantage of the almost non-existent welfare system in that country.

The ban does however have a significant effect. People with HIV are forced to lie on their entry documentation, to take absurdly complicated steps to mail their HIV medication ahead of them, or to take often ill-advised treatment holidays just so they can enter the US.

And we’re not just talking about holidaymakers here. I’m personally aware of cases where positive people have had the dilemma of their employer (who may not know about their HIV status) requiring them to attend conferences and meetings in the US.

People Living With HIV/AIDS NSW has produced a fact sheet for Australians travelling with HIV abroad, including to the US. It suggests that “creative thinking and careful planning” is necessary for positive people travelling overseas. That shouldn’t be so.

So what’s Mr Kerry’s position on the travel ban? Will he finally recognise the truth—that it is an instrument of discrimination against people with HIV, that it has never served any practical purpose, that it’s unworkable and that it must be dropped?

More information can be found in this POZ article from 1997 and this AIDS Treatment News piece from 1991. The UK Terrence Higgins Trust has been campaigning to end the ban, and the coalition of groups behind has included ending the discriminatory immigration laws in its platform.