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World AIDS Day 2016: Honoring Lives Lost by Fighting Discrimination

Today, on World AIDS Day 2016, the Department of Justice reaffirms the rights of people with HIV/AIDS to live free from stigma and discrimination.  For the more than 1.2 million people in the United States with HIV, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guarantees each of them a full and equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from all our nation has to offer.  Over the past year, the department has continued to vigorously enforce the ADA to combat HIV/AIDS discrimination and stigma.

As in previous years, the department’s enforcement efforts have addressed HIV discrimination by medical institutions and practitioners.  For example, the department entered into a settlement agreement to resolve allegations that a gynecologist refused to perform a surgical procedure on a patient because she has HIV.  The department also entered into a consent decree to resolve allegations that a doctor denied pain management treatment to a patient because of his HIV.  To safeguard against further discrimination, both resolutions require the healthcare provider to adopt and implement nondiscrimination policies, to report denials of HIV treatment to the department and to pay damages to the individuals who were denied treatment.

The department also continued its efforts to address allegations of discrimination against inmates with HIV.  In June, we issued a letter of findings to the Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC), placing it on notice that NDOC illegally housed inmates with HIV in segregated cells and that inmates with HIV were stigmatized by other inmates as a result.  We further found that inmates with disabilities, including those with HIV, were denied work and other opportunities because of their disabilities, resulting in longer incarceration periods.  The department has advised NDOC that it must abolish its discriminatory policies and practices and must educate personnel and inmates about HIV to remedy these ADA violations.

The department’s efforts to better inform the public of legal requirements imposed by the ADA continue as well.  Since the National HIV/AIDS Strategy was first released, department staff have met with organizations serving people living with HIV in over 50 cities nationwide, providing them with the tools to help their clients advocate on their own behalf.  In addition, we recently published Spanish versions of two technical assistance publications: “Questions and Answers: The American with Disabilities Act and Persons with HIV/AIDS” and “Protecting the Rights of Persons Living with HIV.”  Both documents explain in plain language the rights of persons living with HIV and the responsibilities of state and local governments, employers, businesses and non-profit agencies that serve the public.

As a lead agency in the federal government’s implementation of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, we are heartened by the 2016 Progress Report [PDF 464 KB], which reflects a decline in new HIV diagnoses and indicates that, of those who have HIV, more are getting the treatment and care they need to live healthy lives.  But there is also a great deal of work still to be done, especially in fighting the stigma and discrimination that many people with HIV still suffer on a daily basis.

Through our enforcement, education and outreach efforts, we will continue striving to make the promise of equal treatment a reality for people with HIV and AIDS throughout America.  In memory of those we lost from AIDS, and in support of those currently living with HIV, we will forge on with uncompromising resolve until we reach the goal of an AIDS-free generation.

To learn more about the department’s work, please visit www.ada.gov/hiv.