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AIDS Project Director's Report
AIDS Discrimination Isn't Over

By Catherine A. Hanssens

June 30, 1999

Discrimination against people with HIV and AIDS is alive and well, as our busy docket indicates. The creation of some legal protections for people with HIV, coupled with new drug therapies and overblown reports of the "end" of AIDS, have caused many policymakers to shift their attention away from the continuing discrimination.

The fight to ensure that the Americans with Disabilities Act fulfills its basic mandate has repeatedly taken us to the United States Supreme Court in recent months. In Federal district and appeals courts, in cases like Doe v. Mutual of Omaha and Chabner v.United of Omaha, we are battling to protect people with HIV from discrimination by health insurers. We have fought in the highest state courts in New York and California, in New England Life Insurance v. Doe and Galanty v. Paul Revere Life Insurance Co., to force providers of disability insurance to follow the law and honor their contracts with HIV-positive policy holders. And with the filing of our complaint on behalf of a dental hygienist with HIV, in Waddell v. Valley Forge Dental Associates, we are again battling irrational fear of health care workers with HIV.

Much of our advocacy over the past months, however, has taken us from courtrooms to conference rooms as we have attempted to negotiate with federal and state officials for reasonable policies on HIV surveillance and privacy protections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is pushing for national reporting of the names of those who test positive for HIV, despite clear evidence that such a system produces poor data and discourages testing and early treatment. The CDC has sponsored a companion effort to create a "model" state privacy law which could gut fundamental principles of privacy and informed consent by allowing virtually unfettered sharing of sensitive HIV-related information without the knowledge or consent of affected individuals. Lambda has worked hard on both initiatives, challenging federal officials to better serve the related goals of privacy and public health.

With crucial support from more than 100 national organizations and individuals, including luminaries like Dr. Jocelyn Elders and the National Urban League, Lambda has helped spur debate on both of these initiatives. On the names reporting front, we prepared comprehensive comments on the CDC's proposed guidelines and gathered to endorse a consensus statement warning government officials of the dangers of such a system. Our work on the privacy law includes exhaustive policy briefings as a member of a CDC-sponsored advisory committee, where we are working to ensure that privacy and autonomy are preserved in the model law. We have carried this battle into several key states, and in the process forged important bonds between gay men and lesbians, people with HIV and AIDS, people of color, immigrants, IV-drug users, survivors of domestic violence, and medical professionals. We believe that such diverse coalitions are essential.

One of the most recent examples of such an effort is our nascent Foster Care Initiative. Nowhere is the profound failure of national HIV prevention efforts, and the intersection of HIV-discrimination, sex-phobia and homophobia more apparent than in state child welfare systems' treatment of LGBT youth and the sexual health needs of all adolescents in state care.

In all of these efforts against backlash and indifference, the AIDS Project continues Lambda's tradition of forceful and effective advocacy for those affected by the AIDS epidemic.




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