Obama lifts HIV travel ban

Fri. October 30, 2009 12:00 AM by Barry Freiman

Chicago, IL - It's been a red-letter week in the LGBT and HIV/AIDS worlds thanks to the Federal Government. President Obama today signed into law the extension of the Ryan White program which provides essential funding for States to provide services and care for those with HIV/AIDS.

Shortly before signing the Ryan White extension, the President announced that, effective early 2010, the Government will finally overturn the U.S. ban on foreign travelers with HIV/AIDS. This follows Congress and the President enacting the "Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act" this week protecting the LGBT community under federal hate crimes law.

"If we want to be a global leader in combating HIV/AIDS, we need to act like it," Obama said at the White House today.

The ban has been the law of the land for more than 20 years. It will be repealed by an Executive Order, which will be finalized Monday. The Order has a 60-day waiting period before implementation so the ban should be repealed around early February 2010.

The United States is one of approximately a dozen countries that still bar entry to visitors based on their HIV/AIDS status. The ban went into effect in 1987 when the Department of Health and Human Services added the disease to the list of communicable diseases that disqualified a person from entering the United States. The Department of Health and Human Services attempted to repeal the ban in 1991, but Congressional opposition not only prevented them from doing so but ultimately had Congress changing immigration law to make HIV/AIDS the only medical condition explicitly listed as grounds to keep someone out of the States.

In February 2006, President George W. Bush temporarily lifted the travel ban to permit those with HIV/AIDS to travel to the Gay Games, which were held here in Chicago in July 2006. In 2008, President Bush signed over responsibility for the travel ban back to the Department of Health and Human Services, which would then have had to issue a rule repealing the ban. President Obama's Executive Order will have a wider effect, allowing not just tourists to visit, but enabling those with HIV/AIDS to apply for work visas and seek long-term residency.

It will also re-open the door for America to host international leaders in HIV/AIDS research and development. No major international AIDS conference has been held in the United States since 1993 because HIV+ activists and researchers can't enter the country.