WASHINGTON - Under pressure from a lawsuit, the State Department is changing rules that had disqualified HIV-positive people from becoming US diplomats.
Effective Friday, the department removed HIV from a list of medical conditions that automatically prevent foreign service candidates from meeting an employment requirement that they be able to work anywhere in the world.
The change was made after consultation with medical specialists and in response to a lawsuit filed by an HIV-positive man who was denied entry into the foreign service despite being otherwise qualified, the department said.
Prospective diplomats with HIV will now be considered for the foreign service on a case-by-case basis, along with those with other designated ailments, like cancer, to determine if they meet the "worldwide availability" standard, it said.
Officials denied that the policy had ever intentionally discriminated against HIV-positive people and noted that the policy had applied only to incoming diplomats, not those who had contracted the virus or other diseases while in the foreign service.
"We have a policy requiring that all foreign service officers be worldwide available as determined by a medical examination at the time of entry into the foreign service," said Gonzalo Gallegos, a State Department spokesman. "That has not changed."
The department's chief medical officer had "revised its medical clearance guidelines on HIV based on advances in HIV care and treatment and consultations with medical experts," Gallegos said. "The new clearance guidelines provide that HIV-positive individuals may be deemed worldwide available if certain medical conditions are met."
The decision was hailed by Lamba Legal, a New York-based group that advocates for the civil rights of homosexuals, bisexuals, transgender people, and those with HIV and represented the plaintiff in the lawsuit against the State Department.
"The new guidelines mean that candidates for Foreign Service posts who have HIV will now be assessed on a case-by-case basis, as the law requires," said Bebe Anderson, the organization's HIV project director. "At long last, the State Department is taking down its sign that read, 'People with HIV need not apply.' "
The change in policy came less than two weeks before the trial in the lawsuit brought in 2003.