Alex Blaze

The HIV travel ban is over

Filed By Alex Blaze | January 05, 2010 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics
Tags: Barack Obama, Canada, HIV travel ban, HIV/AIDS, people living with hiv/aids, united states

While Obama lifting the HIV travel ban was in the Top 10 LGBT Stories of 2009 Bil and I wrote up, it wasn't put into effect until yesterday. A two decades old policy that was based on nothing more than hysteria has been ended and PLWHA can enter the US as freely as anyone else.

It gets me to thinking about the many other ways we don't know how to deal with crises that result in death in the US, how we often just expect politicians to "do something," and then when they do, we blindly stand behind the theater as if it's what's keeping us safe at night. Considering how HIV is not a plague transmitted via an airborne virus, and how it's already been in the US for a long time, just keeping people with HIV out of the country isn't going to do anything to reduce infections. The fact that it's become a condition many people live with makes restricting that population's freedoms even more toxic.

But politicians had to do something so that the rest of us could feel safe.

Banning abstinence-only education; funding and developing a science-based, comprehensive sex ed curriculum for all public high schools; increasing needle exchange programs; making condoms available in prison; reducing poverty, homophobia, transphobia, HIV/AIDS stigma, and drug use; and funding anti-virals for everyone in the US don't, for some odd reason, fall into the "do something" category. Banning poz people from entering the US, criminalizing HIV positive people who have sex with HIV negative people without disclosing, and telling kids "Just say no to sex" do. Funny how that works.

Here's the story of one of the first poz Canadians to enter the US:

On Monday, a Surrey, B.C., man became one of the first Canadians with HIV to cross the border since the White House repealed the ban.

AIDS activist Martin Rooney said he was harassed and turned away the last time he tried to enter two years ago to buy a turkey in Blaine, Wash.

"I was hauled in because I had to admit that I was HIV positive, and I was basically interrogated, accused of entering the U.S. illegally, fingerprinted, photographed and run through the FBI most wanted list and sent home," Rooney recalled.

This time, Rooney was let into Washington state after a quick car search. Choking back tears, he said he was looking forward to seeing friends in the U.S.

Sounds great. America's an awesome country filled with great people, a complex culture, and more natural beauty than 300 million people can shake their fists at. I'd love for as many people in the world as possible to have a chance to at least visit.

Congrats to all the activists who worked on this since the Clinton years.

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This is excellent news, and the struggle has been waged since the start of the epidemic. What's also notable is that the lifting of the ban will also provide relief to the many HIV-positive immigrants who were forced to go underground or off the radar because they feared being deported. Sadly, many of them have also had to withdraw from treatment facilities because of the same fear.

More sanity, please.

Yes --- not only does this allow HIV+ immigrants to enter the US, it also makes it reasonable for the US to host a few of the global scientific HIV consortia that have been scheduled biennially since the start of the epidemic. There has been so much global bashlash against the ban, and so many of the would-be attendees often are HIV+ themselves, that finally the US will have a good international reputation on this point.

P.S. My impression is that the ban was implemented early on because many here in US feared that anti-viral drugs would become available only here in the US, making this country a "magnet" for HIV treatment --- supposedly at the US government expense. Finally, many years after the most powerful drugs have been cloned and are available in Africa and India and other parts at a fraction of their cost in the US, this fear is largely moot.