Op-ed: Discrimination Is Not a Game

An abrupt ejection from a basketball game in Florida illustrates the extreme ignorance that has stuck around about HIV.

BY Kimberly Huggins

May 06 2014 11:15 AM ET

A young man was kicked out of a Kissimmee Parks and Recreation basketball game because he is HIV-positive. If you are asking yourself “Did this happen in 1991?” the answer is simply no. This regrettably occurred in April. In the year 2014.

Well, let’s backtrack for a little bit. Dakota Basinger, a 21-year-old rap artist, was playing basketball all season for Florida Dream Sports, a league sponsored by the city of Kissimmee, Fla. A week before the game, Basinger found out that he was HIV-positive and courageously disclosed the fact on his Facebook page. Approximately four minutes into the second half of the game, the referee blew the whistle and a city employee summoned Basinger and his mother into a room. They were confused, and unbeknownst to them, they would be told that because of his HIV status, he would need to stop playing for good.

I could only imagine the rush of emotions Basinger and his mother must have felt hearing those cruel and piercing words come out of that employee’s mouth. What do you mean he has to stop playing for good? Why?

I was outraged reading about this. Why would this employee think it was OK to make this decision (which was later found out to be an unapproved decision)? Anyone minimally educated in how HIV works understands that the virus can only be transmitted when blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and/or breast milk comes in contact with a mucous membrane or damaged tissue or if it is injected into the bloodstream? Doesn’t she know that telling him that he can’t play in the game solely because of his HIV status is discrimination? Doesn’t she know that excluding him from playing in a sport that I am sure he enjoys is reinforcing the social stigmas surrounding HIV? Doesn’t she realize that telling him he cannot play has shredded any confidence he may have had about living a normal life post-diagnosis?

Then it hit me.

This employee, along with many other oblivious individuals, are still mentally stuck in the era where HIV and AIDS were foreign entities that, almost without warning, took the lives of family and friends. They are still ignorant about how HIV can be transmitted. They are still in belief that you must quarantine HIV-positive individuals for fear of acquiring the disease. They have yet to acknowledge that the HIV of today is not the HIV of 30 years ago. In this day and age, there are medications that people can take to sustain their health and allow them to lead a normal and healthy life. What are you afraid of?

Fortunately, one of his teammates didn’t feel any anxiety about him because of his recent diagnosis. He told the Sun-Sentinel newspaper, “It didn’t really bother me at all. You can’t catch HIV by playing ball. It’s not contagious that way.”

As it turns out, he isn’t the only person who has been recently discriminated against because of their HIV status. Recently, Arizona governor Jan Brewer vetoed the appalling “license to discriminate” bill, which could have potentially allowed pharmacists to refuse to provide HIV and hormone replacement drugs on the basis of religious freedom. In Louisiana, Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit on behalf of an HIV-positive man against Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana because it violated the Affordable Care Act by interrupting care for people with preexisting conditions when refusing to accept Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program funds to cover his insurance premiums. Without insurance, his HIV medication would cost him more than $1,000 a month. Even though the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services rejected the insurer’s justification for refusing Ryan White Support, BCBS has yet to reinstate its policy against accepting third-party payments. In Michigan, a woman was pulled over by a police officer for a broken tail light. Once the officer realized the driver did not have a license, he searched the vehicle and the woman’s possessions and stumbled upon her HIV medications. Upon this discovery, the officer “berated and humiliated” the woman for not revealing her HIV status — as if she needed to!  

Need I go on?

It is becoming increasingly apparent to me that although there is a wealth of information out there regarding HIV prevention and treatment, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to create competency on this matter. We must consistently have these conversations within our communities, because as it stands, we cannot take for granted that basic information about HIV is common knowledge. We cannot allow another Dakota Basinger case to occur. We cannot continue to give compassionate support to someone recently diagnosed with cancer and shun our fellow brethren because their battle is against HIV. It is wrong. It is cruel and a crime against humanity.

As a community we must lift one another up — no matter the circumstance. We must strive to create safe spaces for every human being. We must break down the social structure that allows these volatile ideologies to coexist where humanitarian efforts dwell.

 

KIMBERLY HUGGINS was a college freshman in 2010 when she lost an uncle to AIDS. She currently is a National Youth HIV and AIDS Awareness Day ambassadors, a public health graduate student ,and an adolescent health educator. She is dedicated to advocating and empowering youth to make safe sexual decisions and take responsibility for their health.

Tags: HIV, Commentary

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