Trump’s policy to ban HIV positive military service members will go to court

Trump HIV Military Policy

Sgt. Nick Harrison has sued the Defense Department claiming its new policy of automatically discharging all service members who are HIV positive is discriminatory. His lawyers also have asked a judge to block the policy from being implemented. Photo: Salma Mohammed and Lambda Legal.

Lawyers fighting the Trump Administration’s policy that would discharge all service members who are HIV positive won a double legal victory Friday.

The Eastern District Court of Virginia in Alexandria said a motion to block the policy and a complaint that the policy discriminates against people who are HIV positive can both proceed to the next legal level.


Sgt. Nick Harrison, 41, sued the Defense Department in May claiming the Pentagon’s policy discriminates against people living with HIV.

“All service members with HIV want is for the Pentagon to let us do the jobs we signed on to do,” Harrison said in a statement. “These patriots love this country, volunteered to be soldiers, and look forward to the day that they can serve to the full extent of their abilities, and to not be impeded by misperceptions about HIV.”

About 1,200 people living with HIV serve in the U.S. military, according to AIDS United, according to the advocacy group AIDS United.

The Defense Department has not commented on the complaint or the motion for a preliminary injunction.

Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN have collaborated on the cases, Harrison v. Mattis.

Oral arguments in efforts to block the Pentagon’s ban on HIV positive people are expected to begin in mid September in front of federal Judge Leonie Brinkeman at the Eastern District Court of Virginia in Alexandria. Brinkeman could rule that day or a few weeks after that oral arguments.


Under current policy, people with HIV cannot join the U.S. military, but those people diagnosed after their enlistment can remain in the armed forces under strict regulations. A 1991 Pentagon directive bars HIV-positive service members from deploying overseas, but does not prohibit them from serving in other capacities.

Harrison’s complaint, a precursor to a lawsuit, follows the Trump Administration’s announcement in February that a new policy — called “deploy or be removed policy” — would being October 1.

According to the policy, any service member who is unable to be deployed outside of the United States for more than 12 months — meaning all HIV-positive service members, according to established Pentagon policy — would be deemed non-deployable and discharged.

The administration claims the policy would improve military readiness for deployment.

If discharged, Harrison, who has spent 18 years in the military, and other service members living with HIV would suffer irrevocable harm to his career, and lose critical health care and other benefits, according to the complaint.

Contact the journalist: [email protected]

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

Share This

Share this post with your friends!