Protests planned against Cirque du Soleil
Activists will be protesting outside Cirque du Soleil events in San Francisco and Orange County, Calif., in December, January, and February to object to the company's firing of an HIV-positive man because of his serostatus. Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, which is coordinating the events, said protests will be held outside San Francisco's Alegria show from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on December 6, 13, and 20. Protestors in Orange County, Calif., plan to hold rallies outside Cirque's Verekai show every day that it runs, from January 16 to February 18. Lambda also has filed a federal discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and is coordinating an online petition that will be presented to Cirque officials on December 1, World AIDS Day. The petition, which can be seen online at www.lambdalegal.org, says in part, "Cirque should get its facts straight, educate its employees about the real way HIV is transmitted, and reinstate Matthew Cusick."
The protests stem from Cirque's firing in April of Cusick, 32, who is openly gay and HIV-positive. Cusick was fired just days before he was to begin performing in the company's Mystere show in Las Vegas. Company officials said Cusick, who had already gone through months of training and preparation for the aerial acrobatics job and was cleared for the job by a company doctor, was fired because he posed a threat to other company employees and Cirque event attendees. "A growing consensus of organizations, athletes, artists, medical experts, government officials, and communities are sending Cirque a clear message that this discrimination is outside the mainstream and won't go unnoticed," said Michael Adams, director of education and public affairs at Lambda. "We're delivering that message to Cirque's doorstep at these local shows and with the first batch of petitions on World AIDS Day."
San Francisco's Human Rights Commission also is investigating whether Cusick was fired illegally from his job. Because Cirque is leasing city property to stage its Alegria show in San Francisco, the company is required to abide by city laws against HIV discrimination. The commission set a December 2 deadline for Cirque to provide the panel with the company's employment policies for people with HIV, the titles and descriptions of jobs for which individuals with HIV would not be hired, and any documents from medical authorities that recommended Cusick not be hired for the job. The commission could levy fines against the company, terminate the current lease agreement, or even bar the company from future city contracts if it finds Cirque discriminated against Cusick by wrongly firing him.