Unfortunately, HIV-related discrimination still exists. Here’s what to do if you experience it

The news from North Carolina in October was heartbreaking, but sadly not surprisingly, even in 2021.

In a settlement agreement, the US government said that a Durham nail salon, Diva Nails, had to pay $ 7,500 in damages to an anonymous client for denying him future services after learning he was was HIV positive. The regulations also required the salon to create and display a policy of non-discrimination regarding HIV and other disabilities upon entry, and to provide all employees with HIV education and non-discrimination training, including the fact that transmission of HIV in a living room is virtually impossible.

According to the local newspaper The news and the observer, the client was leaving the salon after paying for his pedicure when another client, who had known him from church, asked aloud if salon staff “knew about his condition.” Then, according to the regulations, the salon owner followed him outside, said he knew the client “had AIDS” and asked him not to return to the salon. (For his part, the owner denies prohibiting the client’s future service, but admits that he asked for the client’s HIV status, and that the client brings a doctor’s note on his next visit.)

The client filed a complaint with the Department of Justice, which investigated and resulted in a settlement rather than a civil action. (The US attorney in the case told TheBody that he would pass on our request to speak to the anonymous client and his private attorney. As of this writing, TheBody has not heard from them.)

Decades later, cases of HIV-related discrimination persist

It’s good news that the client, who wouldn’t have a car and reportedly visited Diva Nails because it was the only salon within walking distance, has taken legal action, though he feels “Embarrassed and anxious” because of the incident, according to the regulations. But it is also deeply concerning that the incident took place, almost 40 years after it was confirmed that HIV cannot be transmitted by chance and more than a decade after it was confirmed that people who regularly take their anti-HIV drugs. HIV are not at risk of transmitting HIV, even sexually.

Unfortunately, despite these findings, such incidents still occur more frequently than they should. “I’ve been doing this job for 14 years,” says HIV-positive lawyer Scott Schoettes, the long-time former director of the HIV project for Lambda Legal, which advocates for the rights of LGBTQ and people living with HIV. “There is still a lot of ignorance and misperception, and I didn’t really feel that there had been a significant drop” in cases of discrimination against people living with HIV.

A recent case that Lambda took on was in the name of Nikko Briteramos, an HIV-positive man who was refused service at a Los Angeles barbershop in 2017 after one of the barbers recognized him during a his high-profile arrest on charges of HIV criminalization years earlier. he was only 19 years old. The barber was ordered to pay $ 75,000 in damages to Briteramos, who then worked with Lambda and the Black AIDS Institute on “Cut the Stigma,” a campaign to fight HIV-related discrimination.

On several pages of Facebook groups for people living with HIV (PLHIV), TheBody asked people to recount incidents of perceived discrimination and was inundated with responses.

In upstate New York, D., who requested anonymity, wrote to us that she had been “discriminated against by a clinic that practices laser hair removal” about ten years ago. ‘years after voluntarily declaring his HIV status there. “I was told I couldn’t do the procedure because my DNA could get to the laser and possibly infect others.” (To state the obvious, it’s wrong.) “I knew better, I brushed it off and never looked back. I would still like to have my hair removed, but I’m uncomfortable trying again and having to disclose my status. I felt ashamed, embarrassed, angry and disgusted.

But D. is not the only one not to take legal action against the clinic. Many PLHIV are unaware that they are protected from discrimination by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and perhaps also by state and local anti-discrimination laws. Even if they know it, sometimes they choose not to continue the action in order to avoid spending time and mental energy. (I once lodged a complaint about a possible incident of HIV-related discrimination at a dentist just because after a while I didn’t want to care.)

Such alleged incidents also occur outside of the United States, of course. In Cornwall, England, Veritee Reed-Hall said she was denied the services of a tattoo parlor after disclosing her HIV status. Her insistence to salon staff that tattooing posed no risk of HIV transmission fell on deaf ears, she said. The salon challenged her to file a lawsuit in civil court, but she didn’t because of the expense, she said. She added that she had not heard from various HIV organizations she had contacted about the incident.

“I felt ashamed” because of the refusal, she wrote, “as if I was seen as less good than others – even dirty. It left me with the fear of asking for a favor and being refused. I never asked for a tattoo or a massage again. And I’ve only had waxing in places where they don’t give me a form to fill out that asks if I have HIV.

And in Indonesia, Aan Rianto wrote that just a few months ago, a hospital refused him surgery because of his HIV status, claiming he did not have the proper PPE (personal protective equipment, such as masks and gowns) to perform surgery on people living with HIV. When he complained to the government, he said, it supported the hospital’s position on PPE, despite the fact that Indonesia has many laws protecting against discrimination related to HIV. Rianto said he ultimately had the operation at another hospital.

What to do if you are discriminated against

Schoettes said he couldn’t comment on other countries, but that in the United States, PLHIV who feel discriminated against should, for now, if possible, “call them out about what they’re doing.” People can cite the ADA, as well as the possibility that there are national and local laws prohibiting HIV-related discrimination.

“See what their reaction is and if you can get them to put the denial in writing,” Schoettes says. “Sometimes they’re so arrogant that they think the law is protecting them.

Then, as soon as possible after the incident, write, type or record as detailed an account as possible, urges Schoettes, especially with a time stamp. In most states, he says, it’s legal for one party to record a call without the other party’s knowledge, so if you can, have the offending party repeat discriminatory language on a call. checked in. (After installing an app like TapeACall on your phone, you might call back later and say something like, “Why have you refused me service because I’m HIV positive?” Or “I’m very hurt that you got me. refused service because I am HIV positive. ”)

But sometimes, says Schoettes, the discrimination can be less explicit. Suppose, for example, that everything is going well until you reveal your HIV status, verbally or on a form, and the health or service provider tells you they cannot serve you for some vague reason. or unexplained.

Whether explicit or implicit, says Schoettes, it’s best to immediately contact the helpdesk of a place like Lambda Legal, the HIV Law Project, or your local ACLU affiliate after you’ve drafted your account. Their experts will hear your incident and help you determine if you have an actionable case. They can also help you determine whether you should report your incident to the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) if it concerns your current or potential workplace.

But, Schoettes notes, it is often easier to get a defendant in a case to make changes at no cost or at low cost, such as implementing anti-discrimination training or policy, than it is for him. charge a sum of damages, especially if they are not insured for lawsuits. Even if they are probably insured, it can still be difficult. For example, says Schoettes, it is almost certain that Briteramos did not receive his $ 75,000 from the barber shop. (An email to Briteramos went unanswered.)

And last year I was told about a case in which a health care provider who discriminated against an HIV-positive New York friend was ordered to pay him an amount of the order of several hundred thousand. The claimant still hasn’t paid, although he most likely has liability insurance that would cover the amount, and my HIV-positive friend and his lawyer are now redoubling their efforts to get the money.

Yet even in the absence of financial compensation, taking action against discrimination can bear fruit. On his blog, longtime HIV survivor Bruce Ward wrote about filing a lawsuit against the New York City Department of Health in 1986 when their public dentist office refused to do so. root canal treatment for her HIV, mistakenly claiming they would. having to wash the entire office, including the walls, for safety reasons after performing the procedure.

Along with three other HIV-positive complainants, Ward filed a joint complaint – “and we won,” he wrote. “There was little monetary compensation for any of us, personally. We just wanted to send a strong message about unnecessary and discriminatory dental practices. The clinic was fined and the money was donated to AIDS organizations. The most important result, however, was that the directors of the clinic were asked to implement an AIDS education program. “

Thirty-six years later, “I can still feel the humiliation I felt at the way I was treated in the dental clinic,” Ward told TheBody. “But I’m also still proud to have seen the injustice and taken action.”

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Robert Young

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