AIDS Activists Rally for Repeal of HIV Immigration Policy

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Aug 11, 2009

A series of coordinated rallies will take place along the U.S./Canadian border on Aug. 16 in protest of the ongoing ban preventing HIV+ travelers and immigrants from entering the United States.

In a triumph of bureaucracy over law, the ban was officially lifted by Congress, but relevant U.S. Department of Health & Human Services regulations have not been revised, and HIV+ visitors are still not allowed to enter the country.

The ban has been in place since the 1980s, despite a greater scientific understanding of AIDS and the virus, HIV, that causes it.

HIV cannot be transmitted through casual contact.

Even so, as sixty Canadian would-be attendees to June's North American Housing and HIV/AIDS Research Summit in Washington, D.C., learned last spring, HIV+ travelers entering the country are only allowed to cross the border after obtaining special permission, despite then-President Bush signing legislation to lift the ban last year.

Calling the ban "despicable," a press release from Housing Works announced that "HIV-positive U.S. residents will cross from Canada to the U.S to emphasize the discriminatory nature of the ban."

The rallies are timed to show support for an Obama administration initiative to remove the last bureaucratic barriers to free travel in the U.S. by HIV+ visitors.

"The U.S. is very close to lifting this ban; national and international voices are needed to ensure that this is done," the release notes.

The rallies will take place at "Peace Arch Park, Surrey, British, Columbia, the last stop before the Canadian U.S. border and Central Avenue, Fort Erie - QEW Overpass across the bridge to Buffalo, New York," the release advises.

"The Surrey, BC event takes place August 16 from 10:30 am to 1:30 p.m.," adds the release.

"The Buffalo event takes place on Aug. 16 from 2:30 pm to 3:15 p.m."

The event is expected to draw "Hundreds of people living with HIV and their supporters from Canada and the U.S.,": the release says.

"Speakers at the Surrey, BC event include Surrey Mayor Barinder Rasode and Vancouver Centre Member of Parliament Dr. Hedy Fry.

"Speakers at the Fort Erie event include representatives from local AIDS Service Organizations from both Canada and the United States."

Text at the Housing Works Web site relates, "Martin Rooney, who is spearheading the action in Surrey, became passionately committed to ending the travel ban when he was stopped at the border entering the United States from Canada in November 2007 and was questioned about his HIV status.

"Rooney was told that, despite violating the law ban on HIV-positive travelers, he could enter the country by paying for a $130 waiver. Rooney objected on principle."

The text at the site quotes Rooney as saying, "Either I'm a threat to the U.S. or I'm not, and $130 shouldn't change that."

Immigration Equality also noted the probable upcoming end of the ban, with text at the group's Web site quoting executive director Rachel B. Tiven as saying, "Immigration Equality has been committed, for over a decade, to repealing this ban
that disproportionately affects LGBT people.

I am thrilled to report that after so many years of discrimination, the end is in sight," Tiven added.

Immigration Equality encouraged readers to add their voices to those speaking out against the ban during the public comment period.

Noted text at the site, "We still have a couple of procedural hurdles to clear, but the end is definitely in sight.

"None of this would have been possible without the leadership of Senator John Kerry, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, and former Senator Gordon Smith, who led the fight in Congress last year to remove the statutory HIV ban.

"Immigration Equality has also convened a broad-based coalition that has continued to push for full equality under U.S. immigration law for people living with HIV," the text added.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


  • , 2009-08-14 03:18:33

    Lift the ban against those who are HIV.It is total discrimination. I agree and I support all those who are rallying to be heard.GOD is on our side.

  • , 2009-08-16 11:23:08

    HIV/AIDS is a Global disease. It does not discriminate from young and old, rich and poor, developed or underdeveloped world, neither does it discriminate colour, religion, sexual orientation and race. This is an issue that concerns all of us , because we are in this together.Every one in the world has had a family member get infected, survivor or died.Every person in the world has heard stories of how it is transmitted and with drugs in the market everywhere in the world most people are living longer and having good quality of life. Countries who discriminate gainst those who are affected, also have the epidemic in their front yards and back yards waiting to explode because they are still wisphering about it and living in denial. The more we live in denial and politicise the disease the more it will creep on us due to lack of education for the USA masses, and having ignorant ideas about the disease. Discrimination, prejudice has to stop. The HIV travel ban should be lifted before the end of the year 2009. Every one in USA has not been educated enough about the epidemic and have been blinded thinking the disease is only affecting the poor continents. No this is a Universal issue. Let us stop discriminating humankind based on a disease. USA educate your people to accept others in their communities and visitors who are HIV+. USA start the ABC system.(Abstain,Be faithful, Use condoms) and be transparent and compassionate. It is not a death sentence any more. Let us fight HIV/AIDS the same way we fight cancer, MS,and Hepatitis and other STD’s.

  • , 2009-08-16 11:27:17

    Immigration officials and USA embassies, border services,USA diplomats and Consulates please STOP the discrimination and POLITICIZING the epidemic

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