Originally published on Advocate.com November 14 2003 12:00 AM ET
Amid growing protests over the firing of a gay man for having HIV, Cirque du Soleil has started sending out copies of a six-paragraph letter, admitting to the firing but claiming that such action is not "discrimination." The letters come one week after Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund launched a series of protests against the Montreal-based troupe, beginning with one at the San Francisco opening of its Allegria show on November 6.
"It's mind-boggling that Cirque du Soleil readily admits they fired someone for no other reason than his HIV status and then says that isn't discrimination," said Michael Adams, director of education and public affairs at Lambda Legal. "Today, it's clearer than ever that Cirque du Soleil just doesn't get it. People with HIV can work safely in a wide variety of jobs, and it's illegal to fire people because they have HIV. We started this campaign with community groups to teach Cirque du Soleil an important lesson about discrimination--and we're now seeing how badly this is needed and what a powerful impact it's already having."
Lambda filed a federal discrimination complaint in July against Cirque du Soleil on behalf of Matthew Cusick, the man fired because of his HIV status. Although the company's own doctors cleared him to perform for the Las Vegas-based show Mystere, Cirque du Soleil management told Cusick that because he has HIV, the company would not continue to employ him. In the letter Cirque du Soleil is sending to people who write to the company complaining about the termination, Cirque du Soleil senior staffer Renee-Claude Menard says Cusick was fired "solely for safety reasons." Cusick was hired to perform on the Russian high bar and the Chinese poles. But, according to Lambda, the letter offers no explanation for how a highly trained gymnast could transmit HIV while performing in such a heavily rehearsed and choreographed show. Several mainstream organizations--including those dealing with sports that involve far more physical contact than Cirque du Soleil performances--have clear policy statements, based on volumes of credible scientific research, that athletes with HIV should not be restricted.