Three cheers for Senators Gordon Smith and John Kerry. They have introduced a bill that will finally drag the US out of the Jesse Helms era and end the embarrassing situation in which the US, unlike every other civilized country, is still aligned Saudi Arabia, Libya and the Sudan with respect to travelers and immigrants with HIV. I obviously have an interest here because this could open the path for me to pursue the dream of my lifetime - to become an American citizen. But it's a no-brainer from any perspective. There's no reason that HIV should be treated as an air-borne infectious disease on the lines of smallpox rather than as a medical condition such as Hepatitis-C in determining the right to visit, work or immigrate to the US. The malaria-style designation was made by Jesse Helms almost two decades ago - and has never been rescinded. This is also a great legacy for the Bush administration - and its AIDS commissioner, Mark Dybul - as a sign of the way that the mainstream right has gone from paranoia to reason and compassion on HIV and AIDS. It's also typical of Gordon Smith: a Republican who has long since shown that conservatism and bigotry are not one and the same. Money quote from Kerry:
"It's incredible that the federal government still tolerates a ban that not only restricts AIDS experts with the disease but also refugees who are seeking asylum in our country. My legislation will end this draconian law. The attempts to fix this law through a complex waiver system, while admirable, still don’t do anything to rectify the discriminatory underlying problem. That is why I have introduced this legislation to permanently strike this unfair provision from the books."
The trouble has always been the lack of an active constituency in the US to get rid of this law. In the end, international pressure may have been instrumental - especially after China - China - recently gave up this draconian policy. It was getting embarrassing that future international AIDS conferences could never occur in the US because too many people would have been barred from even entering the country. If you care about this issue and would like to thank Smith and Kerry for their support, click here for Smith's office and here for Kerry's. It would mean a lot if you could add your voice.
Of course this is an emotional issue for me. All I've ever wanted is to become an American. Having HIV has not been an easy ride. But perhaps the worst thing about finding out fourteen years ago that I was positive was simultaneously realizing that my dream of becoming an American was over. Now, perhaps, it isn't.