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

By David W. Knight

May 4, 2011

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

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), which is funded by the Elton John AIDS 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.

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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).

David W. Knight is a trial attorney in the Disability Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice.




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