Several high-profile athletes, performers and AIDS experts including Olympic competitors and pioneering HIV doctors have joined growing public protests against Cirque du Soleil for firing a gymnast because he has HIV, Lambda Legal announced in October.
Local and national groups joined Lambda Legal for a community action outside Cirque du Soleil's "Alegria" performance in San Franciscoand in growing protests in the weeks and months ahead.
The protests stem from a federal discrimination complaint Lambda Legal filed in July against Cirque du Soleil on behalf of Matthew Cusick, a gymnast who was fired because he has HIV. Although the company's own doctors cleared him to safely perform, Cirque du Soleil management told Cusick that because he has HIV the company would not continue to employ him.
Lambda Legal said a number of people and groups are joining the effort because athletes and performers with HIV should not be restricted or fired simply because of their HIV status. They include: Rudy Galindo ( U.S. men's figure-skating champion ) ; David Picheler ( Olympic diver 1992, 1996, 2000 ) ; Patrick Jeffrey ( Olympic diver 1988, 1996 ) ; Eric Anderson ( first openly gay high school or collegiate male sports coach ) ; Dr. Paul Volderbing, M.D. ( leading national and international authority on HIV since the first days of the epidemic ) ; and Dr. John Stansell, M.D. ( also a leading authority on HIV ) .
Athletic and performing organizations have also joined the protest, Lambda Legal announced, and they include: The Project to Eliminate Homophobia in Sport; the San Francisco Fog ( a prominent gay men's rugby team ) ; Broadway CARES/Equity Fights AIDS; and Dancers Responding to AIDS.
"As an athlete who has lived, worked and competed successfully for three years while being treated medically for HIV, I fully support Matthew Cusick, who was wrongfully discriminated against because of having the disease. There are many thousands of Americans with HIV who contribute every day to the betterment of our society, who despite their serious medical problem extend every effort to live full and productive lives," Rudy Galindo said.
"My sincere hope and prayer is that Cirque du Soleil reconsiders their grossly unfair and heartless decision, and that they reinstate Mr. Cusick immediatelywishing him well and supporting his determination to be the best athlete and entertainer that he can be." Galindo was one of the first major U.S. athletes to continue competing on the world stage after disclosing his HIV status.
In an attempt at damage control last week, Cirque du Soleil began sending a letter to members of the publicadmitting that it fired Cusick solely because he has HIV, but claiming that such action is not "discrimination." In the letter, Cirque du Soleil says Cusick was fired "solely for safety reasons."
Cirque's letter and its other public statements on the issue offer no explanation for how a highly trained gymnast could transmit HIV while performing in such a heavily rehearsed and choreographed show. Mainstream medical, scientific and athletic organizations say that athletes with HIV should not be restricted from performing or competing.