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Lambda Legal
petition calls for end to federal HIV discrimination

Lambda Legal
petition calls for end to federal HIV discrimination

Lambda Legal delivers petition to Condoleeza Rice calling for an end to HIV discrimination

Lambda Legal on Thursday delivered a petition signed by 5,000 people urging Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to repeal the federal government's discriminatory hiring policies and allow a qualified HIV-positive man to work as a Foreign Service officer.

Lambda Legal represents Lorenzo Taylor, who speaks three languages, holds a foreign service degree from Georgetown University, and easily passed the rigorous application process required to be a Foreign Service officer. Because of the State Department's policies, however, Taylor was not considered for the job because is HIV-positive, though medical experts, including the nation's two largest organizations of HIV specialists, say the hiring practice is medically unfounded.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of Taylor says the State Department's policy violates the federal Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits the federal government from discriminating against people with disabilities, including HIV. The lawsuit seeks a change in the department's outdated ban on HIV-positive applicants.

Last spring, federal district court judge Rosemary Collyer issued an opinion in favor of the State Department, saying that the government should not have to accommodate Taylor by letting him use some of his sick and vacation leave, available to all Foreign Service officers, to travel to see his doctor. Lambda Legal argued the appeal in the case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in April, and a decision is currently pending.

Lambda Legal also represents Kyle Smith, who applied for a position in the Foreign Service in 2003 but was also rejected because he is HIV-positive. Smith's case is pending before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The petition urges Rice to repeal the State Department's discriminatory policy and evaluate each Foreign Service applicant on a case-by-case basis.

"Employers, as well as the general public, look to the federal government to set the standard in workers' rights," said Hector Vargas, deputy director of education and public affairs at Lambda Legal, in a press statement. "Rice has the power to set the record straight and make clear that discrimination in the workplace is not acceptable, starting with allowing Lorenzo Taylor, Kyle Smith, and other qualified and dedicated applicants to serve our nation in the Foreign Service."

The petition is currently available online for the public to sign at https://ga4.org and will also be featured at gay pride celebrations around the country this month. Another round of signatures will be delivered to Rice in the fall. (The Advocate)

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