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HIV Discrimination at a Martial Arts School

Sep 5, 2017

Hi Ronda,

I have an interesting situation I'm dealing with, that takes us back to a case in 1999.

Short and simple, prior to finding out I was HIV+ I was taking Full Contact Karate lessons. I discovered my status through a required medical check prior to tournament I was set to fight in.

In discovery I was advised by my instructor to disclose my status to students who had been training with me could have been likely exposed via blood exposure. None of which reported back being HIV+..

Since the style is full contact and pad's/gloves aren't generally worn in training, blood incidents to do occur (i.e bloody knuckles, bloody noses, bloody lips, feet etc...)

It's always been standard practice that if you begin to bleed you leave the mat take care of yourself and clean up your space with cleaning materials.

Upon disclosing one of the members (still don't know who to this day) took it upon them selves to inform a few more individuals and as result fear/stigma occurred within that Dojo out my instructors control.

My old instructor and I both agreed that due to said Fear/stigma it'd be best that I didn't return. I did however ask him about changing schools under the same org which he was ok with.

At this point now I'm undetectable and have a medical letter from my doctor saying it's safe for me to train and participate.

I provided this letter to the instructor at the new school and disclosed my status. Many questions came up and ultimately we agreed that the situation could be accommodated by implementing a universal blood policy in class, and training at the new school begun.

Fast forward 6 months and subject of a group training event came up where my old dojo, and new dojo would be participating together in.

Of course my Old dojo had issues with me being there and made it clear to me that they did not want me working with their students when it came to contact based activities. Many of the students had reported to them being uncomfortable knowing I was still training even at the other school as cross training between the dojo's do occur.

Given the nature of the situation I agreed, that I would only work with students at the new dojo and or students that knew my status and were comfortable training with me. I felt it was reasonable accommodation to follow, event though at one point it did bar me from an activity

A month later, my instructor and I get an email from my old instructor regarding a uniform policy which would exclude those with HEP-A, Hep-B, Hep-C, and HIV from full contact activities, under the organization in the state.

Being that the system is full contact karate, a side from potentially warm ups or and kata, it bars one from all other activities, without any reasonable accommodation. The policy also goes as far to include group training events, seminars, and tournaments.

The main basis for this policy is a case that occurred in Virginia in 1999 with a boy who was 12 years old that wanted to join a karate dojo friends, but was denied, which went to court and Kid/parents lost. The court ruled in favor of the Karate Dojo as they felt the kid was significant risk, and a direct threat to those and others at the school. Private lessons were what was offered as accommodation which the parents felt unjust because the point was the kid going to be there his friends. (

Through out this whole process I've talked with Health professionals in my state, the ACLU, Lawyers of varying degrees some of which more familiar with this style of Karate, and the Human Rights commission in my state, and the answer has been the same from each.

1) This is a discrimination case

2) from the medical/public health side, I've been informed time and time again I'm not threat to anyone being that I'm undetectable, take my meds, follow up with my doc etc..

3) That I should either report them to human rights/justice department, sue, or do both.

4) that bases for this policy, fear around the issue is based of a 20 year old case that wouldn't hold up under today's view on HIV

In looking into discrimination my old Dojo is infact a 501c3, however because of this case in 1999, there are saying that me being there would be a direct threat to the health and safety of the others training there, and that it's just cause to deny me training there.

My current instructor on the other hand has informed my old instructor/dojo that he will not be implementing the policy based off discrimination, and the modern day medical facts around my situation.

Getting to the point here,

Is what my old dojo is planning implementing legal? Would the fact i'm undetectable hold up in court or with the Human rights council in response to the direct threat claim they are making?

The easy answer is nothing has every been contracted via sports, however these folks believe they fall under the MMA/Boxing category which I know has regulations in place for fighters, and even some Gyms require blood work to be done prior to joining (not 501c3 businesses obviously though).

Any advice on how to handle this situation further would be greatly appreciated. I've tried educating them from a medical stand point, and legal standpoint and was told I was being disrespectful and that my facts about modern day cases were wrong, I was told that I don't have an argument and even discussing the idea of this being discrimination is absurd because that would implicate training is a "right", and not a privileged, and of course i'm being told that I'm direct threat and danger to other students.

This whole situation is severely stressing me out and seeing both sides of arugement, I know i'm not a risk to anyone while being on my meds, but others do not and want to continue to make it a big issue, until they know I'm no longer training under their system or at all it seems like.


Response from Ms. Goldfein

First, I commend you for your continued dedication to your martial arts practice, even in the face of misinformation and unwarranted fear about HIV transmission.

Working our way backwards through your question, a policy that prohibits people from participating in full contact karate based solely on hepatitis or HIV status without further inquiry is impermissible under disability-discrimination laws.Determining whether HIV and hepatitis in this scenario are disabilities requires a separate legal analysis, so for the purposes of your question, let's assume they are.

The Americans with Disabilities Act clearly states that if you have a disability you can't be denied participation in activities open to the public, on the basis of the disability. The right to full participation, however, is not absolute. You may be excluded if you pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated by modifying the activity.

Under the ADA, before you can be considered a direct threat, an individualized assessment based on current medical knowledge must be conducted.If your old dojo's policy does not include an individual assessment, it is impermissible.

Your old dojo is relying on Montalvo v. Radcliffe, a flawed 20-year-old decision -- in which a karate school denied admission to a student with HIV -- to exclude you from participating fully. The court in Montalvo decided that the student with HIV was a direct threat, and that using universal precautions for infection control wouldn't be effective, despite the fact that these precautions have been recommended by medical professionals for three decades.

Good for you and your new dojo for implementing these precautions and recognizing their value.

Bad case law lingers, even if not supported by science and medicine. You should look for an AIDS legal organization in your area to help you challenge your old dojo. Depending on where you live, you can file a complaint with your state human relations commission or the federal Department of Justice without a lawyer.

Your old dojo needs to be told that after 40 years of HIV study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, not a single case of transmission from contact sports has been reported. He also needs to be told that it's against the law to require students with HIV to disclose their status and to gossip about it.

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