The United States of America, when it comes to LGBT rights, while presenting itself as “the leader of the free world” actually trails at the back of the pack. The 19 year old US Immigration and Nationality act which denies entry to HIV positive travelers is the most restrictive HIV visitation worldwide policy, followed by Syria testing requirement for those staying longer than 15 days, according to the US government’s own HIV travel list. A 2003 UK survey found that 99% of HIV+ patients who came to the US did so illegally, including 15% of those on medication who stopped taking their medication during their visit for easier entry. It is no surprise that gay men are targeted for HIV related examination and exemption, including visitors from Canada.
The CDC, who had sat on its hands during the first years of HIV/AIDS jumped into action in 1987 to uniquely deny entry to any HIV positive non-nationals, based on it being a “dangerous and contagious disease.” This was part of a larger federal advertising and funding program with the message: “Anyone can get AIDS.” While technically true, it also channeled money from already high risk groups to low risk heterosexuals and started the panic of a heterosexual AIDS epidemic. Within a year 69% of Americans believed it. So in 1993 Congress amplified the act and turned it into permanent law.
Though the Chicago Gay Games got a government wavier for HIV participants and visitors, six months from the start of the Gay and Montreal Out games, 51% of gay European Athletes had chosen to go to Montreal while only 7% to Chicago. As the President for Team Sydney Geoff Lynne explained “The challenge with the waiver is that you are then on record, and if you ever try to enter the US in the future, they will know you are an HIV-positive person and can deny your right to entry.” Though originally part of INS, the job of keeping HIV positive individuals out of the US is now part of the Department of Homeland Security.
The American Medical Association and the World Health Organization have both stated the policy has no sound reasoning, but it remains. While the US is often a large funder for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment overseas (though always with morality clauses), their exclusionary HIV entry law presents the US as one large gated community. “Stay away from us,” they tell HIV/AIDS people of the world, “and we’ll give you some money.”
In an odd twist, this week Russia did what the US cannot, it stopped blaming gay men for HIV by dropping it’s blood ban on gay citizens. France and Australia are planning to follow suit. As yet, neither the US or the UK have plans to end the stigmatization regarding blood donation to gays or bisexuals.
If the US wants to be a world leader in human rights and LGBT issues, it would help if it was at the front of education and change. Each year, the disinformation surrounding HIV is replaced by education and understanding. It is long overtime to remove those laws the disinformation created.