July 17, 2009
Washington, D.C. -- The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a new fact sheet yesterday informing state licensing boards and occupational training schools -- and the general public -- that it is a violation of the Americans for Disabilities Act to bar people with HIV from professions such as barbering, massage therapy and home health care assistance. The new guidelines were issued in response to requests from AIDS Legal Council of Chicago, the American Civil Liberties Union, The Center for HIV Law and Policy, Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders and Lambda Legal.
"The DOJ has sent a loud and clear message to the state licensing boards and occupational training schools that HIV discrimination won't be tolerated," said Catherine Hanssens, Executive Director of The Center for HIV Law and Policy. "Even this late into the HIV epidemic, we continue to hear from people who are being barred from professions out of fear and ignorance about how HIV is spread. We are grateful for DOJ's leadership in helping to end this irrational discrimination."
As the fact sheet states, state licensing agencies and public trade schools for barbering, cosmetology, massage therapy and other occupations are covered by the Americans for Disabilities Act, and, because HIV is considered a disability under the ADA, any state licensing agencies or trade schools that bar people with HIV are in violation of federal law. The fact sheet concludes that it is safe for people with HIV to work in these professions and explains, "circumstances do not exist for the transmission of HIV in a school or workplace setting, including those involving massage therapy, cosmetology, or home healthcare services."
In urging DOJ to issue the guidelines, the HIV advocacy groups provided DOJ with several recent examples of people with HIV facing discrimination from state licensing boards and training schools. These included a Georgia man whose massage license was revoked by the City of Atlanta, an Arkansas man who was kicked out of a cosmetology school because of the school's interpretation of state licensing requirements, and a Tennessee couple who had their foster parent license denied because one of them had HIV.
"For far too long state licensing boards all over the country have been allowed to wreck havoc on the lives of people with HIV out of ignorance about how HIV is spread," said Rose Saxe, a staff attorney with the ACLU AIDS Project. "We've known for years that you cannot get HIV through a hair cut or a massage, yet state laws have kept many people from these professions. Thankfully DOJ is now making states get rid of these senseless policies."