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Overview - Civil Rights

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"Every person with HIV or AIDS is someone's son or daughter, brother or sister, parent or grandparent. We cannot allow discrimination of any kind to blind us to what we must do."

President Clinton, May 20, 1996
Signing of the Ryan White
CARE Act Reauthorization


Discrimination against people living with HIV or AIDS violates the human rights of individual Americans and undermines our efforts to prevent and treat HIV infection. The extraordinary stigma that has been attached to HIV disease hampers the ability of people living with HIV and AIDS to live full lives free of fear.

Discrimination also undermines efforts to prevent and treat HIV infection and bring the epidemic under control. Fear of discrimination and stigma causes many people not to seek testing for HIV; thus many remain unaware of their HIV status and go without the care that could help them live longer, healthier lives. Opportunities to educate people are also lost as people avoid prevention programs because of the stigma associated with HIV.

The fourth goal of the National AIDS Strategy is to fight discrimination on all fronts, including employment, access to health care, education, housing, service establishments, and other areas covered by Federal law, and to provide national leadership in erasing the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS.

Record of Accomplishment

During the early years of the AIDS epidemic, protection of the civil rights of people living with HIV and AIDS was sporadic, at best. Individual lawsuits were the first line of action. By the late 1980s, however, the Federal government began to respond more aggressively with actions including:

  • Enactment of the Harkin-Humphrey Amendment to the Civil Rights Restoration Act, clarifying that Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 applied to people with contagious diseases, including HIV; and
  • Enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which protects individuals living with HIV and AIDS and people perceived to be at risk for HIV from discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodation.

Since he took office, President Clinton has directed relevant agencies to make enforcement of the civil rights of people living with HIV and AIDS a priority. Key actions include:

  • Vigorously enforcing the ADA by the Justice Department, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, and the Department of Health and Human Services;
  • Vigorously enforcing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as it pertains to recipients of Federal funds such as hospitals, nursing homes, and social service agencies;
  • Leading the effort to repeal the "Dornan Amendment," which would have required the discharge of all military personnel who are living with HIV;
  • Establishing an HIV/AIDS education program available to all Federal workers; and
  • Using the Presidential "bully pulpit" to speak out repeatedly against discrimination against people with HIV and AIDS. In December 1995, the President hosted the first ever White House Conference on HIV and AIDS, bringing to the White House more than 300 people from around the country to discuss with the President the impact of the epidemic on their lives and communities.

Future Opportunities for Progress

There are four key ways that the Federal government is maintaining its commitment to meeting the goal of ensuring that people living with HIV are not subject to discrimination:

Enforcing Rights

Efforts to protect the civil rights of people with HIV and AIDS must be ever-vigilant. The Federal government will continue to exhibit strong leadership on this issue through its enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act and public condemnation of discriminatory acts or statements. Active steps are being taken to prevent discrimination in the areas of employment, access to health care, education, housing, and service establishments. A joint effort by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice aimed at access to nursing homes is a significant step forward in protecting the rights of people living with HIV.

Protecting Workers

The Federal government is examining existing policies related to the exclusion of people living with HIV from Federal employment. The Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy is working with Federal Agencies to examine the respective policies of each to determine whether they comply with Federal public health guidelines.

Opposing Discriminatory Legislation

The Administration will continue to oppose, in the strongest terms possible, efforts by the Congress to discriminate against people living with HIV and AIDS.

Providing Leadership

Leaders of government have an obligation to use the power of their elected office to speak out against acts or words of discrimination against any group of people. President Clinton and members of his Administration have used and will continue to use their positions to oppose discrimination against people living with HIV and AIDS.




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