Dutch AIDS activist enters U.S. as HIV travel ban ends

Sun. January 10, 2010 12:00 AM by OnTopMag.com

New York City - A Dutch AIDS activist considered to be the first HIV-positive person to travel to the U.S. after it ended its travel restrictions on such people landed Thursday in New York.

On Monday, the United States ended its 22-year-old policy that banned HIV-positive people from entering the country.

Clemens Ruland and Hugo Bausch were greeted at JFK airport by Immigration Equality staff attorney Aaron C. Morris, Boris Dittrich, advocacy director of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights program at Human Rights Watch, and members of the Dutch consulate.

Ruland, 45, is HIV-positive, while his partner, Bausch, is not. Ruland works with young people in the criminal system. He was infected in New York by an ex-lover and diagnosed HIV-positive in 1997. Anti-Retroviral Therapy has kept his virus load undetectable. He returned to visit the U.S. once in 2005, but said he feared being detained.

The Bush administration approved the end of the travel ban in June 2008, but failed to implement the regulatory changes to end the restrictions. President Obama called the travel ban a "decision rooted in fear rather than fact" in announcing the policy's January 4, 2010 end.

The Dutch AIDS service organization SOAAIDS is behind the visit. Ruland entered a poem into the group's essay contest to win the couple's passage to New York City.

Paul Zantkuijl of SOAAIDS told On Top Magazine that Ruland says he is completing two circles. A personal circle that began in New York when he became infected and a larger circle that excluded HIV-positive people from entering the United States. Ruland said he was affected by the 1989 detention of the Dutch AIDS educator Hans Paul Verhoef, who remained jailed for four days in Minnesota when he attempted to enter the country, and numerous other AIDS activists who've been banned from entering the U.S.

In an interview posted at the Democracy Now website, Ruland said shortly after arriving: "I am more than just a virus, I am a human being. And you don't have to be afraid of people with HIV and AIDS."

Article provided in partnership with On Top Magazine