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HIV Ban Lifted for Gay Games
by Andrew Davis

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A blanket waiver from the federal government will allow HIV/AIDS-affected individuals who live outside the United States to travel to this country to participate in or attend the 2006 Gay Games, which will be in Chicago July 15-22.

The Federation of Gay Games and Chicago Games, Inc., announced that the waiver comes with federal approval of the Gay Games VII Sports & Cultural Festival being accorded Designated Event Status. HIV-positive and AIDS-affected participants and attendees can now apply for a single-entry B-2 travel visa from their local U.S. consulates.

The visa, which will be valid for about three weeks ( July 8-28 ) , will be issued on a special form instead of being placed permanently on passports. ( The waiver is actually not unprecedented. Participants and attendees living with HIV/AIDS were also allowed to come to New York to compete in the 1994 Gay Games. )

Kevin Boyer, co-vice chair of the Chicago Games, told Windy City Times that the development 'is very exciting. We've been working hard on this for months. [ Moreover, ] this [ approval ] has actually happened quite earlier than expected—which allows people to plan ahead.' He also said that the move is 'consistent with our entire philosophy that everyone is welcome. Inclusion is at the core of the Games' mission.'

There are other developments happening for the HIV/AIDS community, Boyer stated. 'Specific rules in some of the sports are being altered for individuals, including drug tests in those events that require them [ because of medications ] ,' he said. 'Also, Walgreens, a global sponsor, will be supplying medications.' Boyer added that partners—including the Center on Halsted, the AIDS Foundation of Chicago ( AFC ) , Howard Brown Health Center, BEHIV and Test Positive Aware Network—will be assisting the HIV/AIDS community in various aspects.

There is even a scholarship for HIV/AIDS-affected participants, Boyer noted. 'The scholarship is named after [ late Test Positive Aware Network executive director ] Charles Clifton. Also, anyone can make a donation by going to the Web site [ ] .'

Jim Pickett, AFC's director of public policy, lauded the waiver. 'I'd like to applaud and say how thrilled we are that the Gay Games has been able to provide for this waiver and allow HIV-positive athletes from around the world to come to this country and not be stopped at the border,' he told Windy City Times. However, he stressed that the very fact that people had to fight for the development speaks volumes. 'The ban is misguided,' Pickett said. 'The United Nations guidelines on HIV/AIDS and human rights clearly state that there is no public health rationale for restricting liberty of movement or choice of residence on the grounds of HIV status. ... The fact that the Gay Games had to jump through hoops shows the Gay Games' commitment to inclusion but it's also sad that [ people ] have to fight this ban in the first place. This short-term win just reminds us of the long-term work that still has to be done.'

However, despite having to jump through hoops, supporters feel that following protocol was definitely worth it—and are optimistic about great things occurring as a result. 'We hope that the announcement boosts increased participation,' Boyer said. 'Some HIV-positive people have been waiting; now, they know that they're officially welcomed with open arms.'

CGI thanked Mayor Daley, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, and board, staff and volunteers for their efforts to obtain the waiver.

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