Feds ease HIV ban for Gay Games in Chicago

  • Medill News Service
  • February 08, 2006 @ 5:45 AM
The federal Department of Homeland Security has waived rules banning HIV-positive foreign citizens from entering the U.S. , a temporary measure that allows HIV-positive participants in the upcoming Gay Games, the games' organizing committee announced Tuesday.

The temporary exemption from the federal ban means that HIV-positive athletes can apply to come to Chicago for the week-long Gay Games, scheduled for July 15 - 22.

"People can now go to their local U.S. consulate and secure a B-2 travel visa," said Kevin Boyer, a spokesman for Gay Games Chicago.

Under the ban passed by Congress in 1993, foreign citizens who have HIV or AIDS are prohibited from entering the United States.

Individuals can apply for a waiver from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of the Department of Homeland Security. Federal blanket waivers also are granted for large sporting events, conferences and conventions.

With help from Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowksy (D-9), Chicago Gay Games organizers obtained a federal blanket waiver for the summer festival.

HIV/AIDS activists and gay rights supporters say the immigration ban unfairly stigmatizes people living with the disease.

The ban "contributes to a climate that suggests that [HIV] is easier to catch than it is," Boyer said. "It gives the impression that the disease can be prevented by keeping people out."

Repealing the ban is barely on Congress' radar screen, said Victoria Neilson, legal director of Immigration Equality, a gay, lesbian, and HIV-positive immigrants advocate organization.

"There's a real fear of even bringing up the HIV ban with this Congress," Neilson said. "Conservatives have what they want."

HIV-positive athletes who apply to travel to the games under the federal blanket waiver will receive a single entry B-2 travel visa on a special form, which will not be permanently stamped in the applicant's passport. Opponents of the ban argue that permanent waivers affixed in passports can cause humiliation and invite discrimination.

Boyer said that while federal blanket waivers are not common, they are routine, and the procedure for obtaining waivers have been in place since the ban began. To some, a way to get past the ban could undercut the logic of having the prohibition in the first place.

Not so, said Bill Strassberger, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security.

"The process is in place to protect the American public and make it possible for people to come to the U.S.," Strassberger said.

In order to obtain a waiver, applicants must demonstrate they have been educated on proper preventive measures. They also must show the federal government will not incur any medical costs from their visit.

With the special blanket waiver now in place, Gay Games organizers expect more than 12,000 athletes from 100 countries at this summer's sports festival. The opening ceremony is scheduled for July 15 at Soldier Field.