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U.S. HIV Travel Ban

Mr. Obama, please lift this ban!

By Bradford McIntyre

August 24, 2009 - On August 16th 2009, supporters of lifting the 22 year-old U.S. HIV travel ban, from both Canada and the United States, enjoyed the Sunday morning sunshine in a spectacular outdoor setting, in Peace Arch Park, at the border between Canada and the United States.

"Mr. Obama, please lift this ban!" said Martin Rooney, an individual infected with HIV and dedicated to creating HIV and AIDS awareness locally and internationally. Martin Rooney was denied entry into the United States in 2007 because of his HIV status. He was detained 3 hours, fingerprinted and photographed, before being told he could not enter the United States and was told to return to Canada.

Martin Rooney chose Peace Arch Park at the Canadian and U.S. border as the location for a rally he organized in support of the United States lifting the HIV Travel Ban, which is a discriminatory ban preventing anyone infected with HIV from entering the United States.

"I chose the Peace Arch as the symbol of open borders."

Atop the Peace Arch Monument are the words "BRETHREN DWELLING TOGETHER IN UNITY". This was a peaceful rally, meant to draw attention to the HIV Travel Ban issue and in support of the U.S. government passing legislation eliminating the ban completely.



As the HIV Travel Ban stands today, an HIV-positive person must apply for a waiver, a special travel visa and pay $131.00. A final review may take months before the person is then allowed to enter the United States.

HIV should not be listed as communicable.

"I want you to know that I was able to cross the border from the United States to Canada with my HIV medications in hand, without the slightest worry that I would be barred from entry. I am ashamed to say that it would not be the same if I were an HIV+ Canadian going in the other direction." said Charles King, President and CEO of Housing Works, NYC, who spoke at the rally.

1.5 million HIV+ American Citizens enjoy the freedom to leave and travel outside their country.

Most people are not aware that HIV-positive individuals who live outside the United States are banned from entering the U. S. They are shocked and disgusted that access is denied on this basis!

In June, 60 Canadians living with HIV and who were planning to attend the North American Housing and HIV/AIDS Research Summit in Washington, D.C. were denied entry into the U.S.

In order to enter the United States, people living with HIV and AIDS may decide to leave their HIV/AIDS meds at home fearing they will be turned away at the U.S. border if found out to be HIV+.

I have been HIV-positive for 25 years and I have not visited the United States since 1997, when I started antiretroviral drugs because I refuse to lie to immigration officers at the border, hide my meds and risk my health!

Stopping the usage of HIV/AIDS medications, for as short a time frame as one day, can create a window of opportunity for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), to become drug resistant to the medications that an individual takes. Viral replication can then occur with subsequent illness and even death! This is a risk that HIV+ people may choose for many personal reasons: visit partners, families and friends, seek specific medical treatment, attend HIV/AIDS related events and conferences, participate as an invited speaker or resource person at various venues to provide information on assorted topics, (which may include HIV and AIDS education and awareness) and perhaps, simply to enjoy vacations in the United States.

People are not getting tested for HIV and not getting treated because of the stigma and discrimination. When receiving treatment, people are less likely to infect others, which prevents the spread of HIV. Worldwide, prevention methods now support using antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) to stop the spread of HIV!

An International AIDS Conference has not been held in the United States since 1990. However, the International AIDS Society has voiced interest in considering the United States for the 2012 International AIDS Conference if the U.S. drops the ban.

"The IAS's opposition to the ban is rooted in its history as the convener of the International AIDS Conference. A fundamental principle of the IAS is that people living with HIV should be able to participate fully and without restrictions at HIV conferences. Hence, the conference has not been held in the U.S. since 1990 because of the ban on entry of people living with HIV," explained Dr Montaner.
Media Release: June 11, 2009 - IAS Investigates Washington D.C. as Host of 2012 International AIDS Conference

There were approximately 30-50 people who attended the rally. This low attendance clearly shows that HIV+ people still don't want others to know they are HIV-positive. None, of the HIV+ individuals working for Vancouver HIV/AIDS organizations attended. In fact, there were not any Vancouver AIDS organizations at the rally. Meanwhile, other individuals infected with HIV, their partners, families and friends, community members and politicians made every effort to be there. We need everyone, who is HIV+ to Come Out if we are ever to get rid of the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV. We need the voices of individuals infected with HIV to stand and have their voices heard and counted. How long will (HIV+) people sit on the sidelines letting others do all the work?

Charles King, in his speech voiced that given the geographical proximity of the rally that he was ashamed that so few HIV+ people from the United States were in attendance and apparently, that they did not think it important to show up in support of the rally.

I contacted AIDS Vancouver and was told that they don't attend any HIV/AIDS events. There were not any representatives from British Columbia Persons with AIDS Society (BCPWA) at the rally either. I have been told many there feared being placed on a list by the U.S. government, if they attended the rally and that this would prevent them from crossing the border in the future.

Speakers at the rally included: Martin Rooney, Charles King, David Parsons, Surrey Acting Mayor Barinder Rasode, Dr. Hedy Fry Liberal M.P. Vancouver-Centre, Sue Hammel NDP MLA Surrey-Green Timbers and Victor Elkins, Hospital Employees Union.

Supporters in attendance included: government, media, sponsors and fans of the band FAIRFIRE.

  • Indie Rock Band FAIRFIRE, who donated their time and sound equipment, provided entertainment.
  • Staging subsidized by Wild Coast Productions donated by Bruce Ralston MLA & Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 402 City of Surrey Employees.
  • Deborah Payment and Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Fraser Valley West Local donated tent rental.
  • VIP Tent and refreshments were donated & hosted by the Out In Surrey Rainbow Cultural Society, Surrey's original Gay Lesbian Bi-sexual Trans-gendered Queer organization.
  • The BC Government and Service Employees Union donated printing.
  • The AIDS Bear was donated by Dab the AIDS Bear Project, Florida.
  • AIDS Ribbons were donated and made by Alan Bygrave and Christine McNabb Simpson.
  • I believe the Rally was very successful and informative. Earlier before the Rally started, while the band was setting up their equipment, the interval provided a perfect opportunity for the media to interview the people in attendance.

    Many media representatives from Canada and from the United States reported on this important event. These media outlets prepared reports on the HIV Travel Ban Rally for print, television and radio transmissions. However, all of the media referred to attendees as AIDS Activists. What I observed were people living with HIV, their partners, families and friends being active in their participation. For most of them, this was the first rally they had ever attended and most of those in attendance do not consider themselves to be AIDS Activists.

    There is no scientific basis for this current HIV travel ban. HIV infection may or may not cause progression to disease or death. There are people infected with HIV, who have never had any immune suppression and have never had any HIV replicated in their bodies. There are individuals, who were infected with HIV through receiving tainted blood. Doctors, nurses and health care providers have been infected with HIV accidentally. There are HIV positive infected individuals, who are refusing to be tested for HIV, for fear of discrimination.

    There are people infected with HIV, who are now seniors. Since the emergence of HIV, mothers have given birth and their adult children have given birth. Now, there are generations of people infected with HIV. People of all ages and from all walks of life are infected with HIV.

    On a personal note, I have been infected with HIV since 1984. My cd4 count (Immune System) is a strong 940. My blood work shows that I have been undetectable for HIV since 1997, when I first started HIV/AIDS medications. Any one of the above examples is sufficient reason for removing the HIV Travel Ban in the United States and everywhere that a similar travel ban exists!

    Bradford McIntyre, HIV+ since 1984
    Founder: Positively Positive - Living with HIV/AIDS
    www.PositivelyPositive.ca


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