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May 04, 2011


It is a Civil Right to Live Free from Discrimination on the Basis of HIV/AIDS Status

By David W. Knight, Trial Attorney, Disability Rights Section, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice

Department of Justice

When the Attorney General, Eric H. Holder, Jr., signed the Justice Department’s operational plan (PDF 354 KB) for implementing the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, he underscored the Department’s leadership role in eradicating discrimination against those living with HIV/AIDS. The Civil Rights Division has significant enforcement authority over the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Fair Housing Act, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 - Federal laws that protect individuals with HIV/AIDS from discrimination on the basis of their HIV/AIDS status. In furtherance of its leadership role, the Division is partnering with community-based groups in order to educate individuals with HIV/AIDS about their rights under the law. 

Last month the Department partnered with the AIDS Community Research Initiative of America (ACRIA Exit Disclaimer), which is funded by the Elton John Foundation, to conduct a national HIV health literacy technical assistance program. The Department joined ACRIA for intensive, two-day trainings in Memphis, Tennessee and Augusta, Georgia. In January, the Department participated in a similar training in Birmingham, Alabama. Each session provided an opportunity for the Department to reach local public health professionals, case managers, and advocates, and, in the process, to share information about illegal discrimination and build critical relationships in the communities visited.

Over the past several months, the Department has also performed direct outreach to AIDS service organizations and advocacy groups in Jackson, Mississippi; Columbus, Ohio; San Francisco, California; and Detroit, Michigan. Meetings with these organizations will continue through the year. Those interested in learning more about federal disability rights statutes, and the rights of individuals with HIV/AIDS, can call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA information line at 800-514-0301, 800-514-0383 (TTY), or access the ADA website.

The stigma associated with HIV remains far too high.  Even today, fear of discrimination keeps some Americans from learning their HIV status, disclosing their status, and accessing medical care.  Consequently, the National HIV/AIDS Strategy identified reducing stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV as a key tactic in national efforts to reduce HIV-related health disparities. The accompanying NHAS Federal Implementation Plan calls upon the Department of Justice to enhance cooperation with other Federal agencies to facilitate enforcement of Federal antidiscrimination laws.  Information about the important role that enforcement of antidiscrimination laws can play in changing the HIV/AIDS epidemic can be found in an excerpt from the NHAS (PDF 90KB).

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Tommy Chavis from Montgomery, Alabama

As a person living with HIV for the past 20 years and both an advocate for PLWHA and the Director of Eduction for Montgomery AIDS Outreach, I would like to say thank you to both ACRIA and the Department of Justice. I believe we could all sit around and say "It's about time" but nothing positive could possibly come from that. I am just grateful for what is being done now to stop the stigma and discrimination surrounding this disease. I am not one of those people that sits around and talks about the issue, I am actively involved in this fight and I did attend the ACRIA Training in Birmingham, Alabama. Thanks again and keep up the good work.

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