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Lifting HIV Ban, Transcript TV interview Democracy Now

[1/8/2010]

“I Am More Than Just a Virus, I Am a Human Being”–HIV-Positive Dutch Man Among First to Visit US Legally After 22-Year Ban

 

 Gay rights groups around the world are praising the United States for lifting a twenty-two-year ban that barred foreigners who have HIV from legally entering the country without an official waiver. The United States was one of only about a dozen countries that barred people who have HIV. On Thursday, Clemens Ruland of Holland became one of the first known HIV-positive people to legally visit the United States since the travel ban was lifted. In a Democracy Now! exclusive interview, Clemens Ruland joins us in our studio along with his partner, Hugo Bausch, and Boris Dittrich, the LGBT advocacy Guests:

Clemens Ruland, one of the first known HIV-positive people to legally visit the United States since the travel ban was lifted.

Hugo Bausch, Clemens Ruland’s partner.

Boris Dittrich, advocacy director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch.

Rush Transcript

JUAN GONZALEZ: Gay rights groups around the world are praising the United States for lifting a twenty-two-year ban that barred foreigners who have HIV from legally entering the country without an official waiver. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. The ban covered both visiting tourists and foreigners seeking to live here. President Obama announced the ban would be lifted in October, but the rules didn’t change until this week.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Twenty-two years ago, in a decision rooted in fear rather than fact, the United States instituted a travel ban on entering into the country for people living with HIV/AIDS. Now, we talk about reducing the stigma of this disease, yet we’ve treated a visitor living with it as a threat. We lead the world when it comes to helping stem the AIDS pandemic, yet we are one of only a dozen countries that still bar people, from HIV, from entering our own country. If we want to be the global leader in combating HIV/AIDS, we need to act like it.

JUAN GONZALEZ: The United States was one of only about a dozen countries that barred people who have HIV. In 1989, the US ban made international headlines when a Dutch AIDS educator named Hans Paul Verhoef attempted to travel to a gay and lesbian conference in San Francisco. He was detained in Minnesota and jailed for four days after the AIDS drug AZT was found in his luggage.

AMY GOODMAN: On Thursday, another Dutch man, Clemens Ruland, became one of the first known HIV-positive people to legally visit the United States since the travel ban was lifted. On Thursday afternoon, he flew into New York’s JFK International Airport with his partner, Hugo Bausch, who is HIV-negative. Clemens Ruland was diagnosed with HIV in ’97 after being infected by an ex-lover in New York. Under the travel ban, he has been barred from returning to New York until now.

Well, Clemens Ruland and Hugo Bausch join us now in the studio here in New York, along with Boris Dittrich, advocacy director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch.

We welcome you all, and welcome to New York.

CLEMENS RULAND: Thank you.

HUGO BAUSCH: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: It has been quite a journey for you. Talk about what the trip was like last night.

CLEMENS RULAND: Well, the trip was very exciting. And even already at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, it was busy with the press. And we had a perfect flight over here, and then a lot of attention when we arrived at the airport and were welcomed by Boris Dittrich and a Dutch consul.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you asked questions when you came to JFK?

CLEMENS RULAND: Yeah, we gave interviews at the airport.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you asked questions by Customs officials?

CLEMENS RULAND: No, it actually went the same way like I was used to in all the other times in the past that I flew into the US. So, in that sense, it was no difference. It was a difference for me, because it felt totally different. In the past, for example, five years ago, when I flew in, I had to lie, like thousands of other people, lie about my HIV status to be able to visit friends here in New York.

AMY GOODMAN: Why they had—where had they asked you about your HIV status that you had to lie?

CLEMENS RULAND: Well, they don’t ask you, but because I’m depending on my medication, I have to carry it with me. And to get it is safe into the country, I always carried it in my hand luggage. So it means if they check you at Customs, they might find your medication. And in that way, they find out you’re HIV-positive.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Boris Dittrich, how often did the US government—the cases where the ban was actually exercised or imposed on travelers coming into the United States?

BORIS DITTRICH: Well, actually, on a yearly basis, we know about cases of people who have been arrested and sent back to the country of origin, because, for instance, in the hand luggage, officers found some medication. And nowadays, you need to apply for a visa to the United States seventy-two hours in advance in your home country, and in the questionnaire there were questions about, do you have HIV as a disease? And if you filled in “yes,” then already your access was denied. So a lot of people who were honest about their status were denied access to the US.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the struggle in this country to have this policy, the ban, lifted, Boris.

BORIS DITTRICH: Well, Human Rights Watch and a lot of other groups were campaigning against this ban for years and years, because we know that in other countries there was no ban, and even WHO and UNAIDS and all kind of international and medical standards said it’s ridiculous to have a ban, because it is actually a fake protection, because people go underground. You give a stigma. You discriminate people living with HIV. And because they are not honest and when they want to enter the US, it gives such a negative approach that people don’t want to be tested, for instance. So, actually, it’s counterproductive. And this has been proved in many reports. But the US government didn’t want to change, until President Bush decided to change it. And then, of course, President Obama finished the job recently.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what are some of the other countries that still have a ban?

BORIS DITTRICH: Well, the good news is that, for instance, South Korea also lifted the ban. They were also persuaded by all the data and facts.

But the Russian Federation, for instance, is a country that still bars people who are living with HIV to enter the country. And you get ridiculous situations. For instance, I was invited to attend an HIV/AIDS meeting in Moscow. And people who wanted to talk about what it is like to live with HIV were not allowed into Russia to talk about it. Well, the Russian government was supporting




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