Kevin Deese was denied his dream of serving in the U.S. military because he’s HIV positive — now he’s fighting back.
“I don’t want to have to be in the position of suing the government. But that’s where I am,” he explained.
The 26-year-old dreamed of serving in the military since the age of nine. But in 2014, just weeks before graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy, a routine blood test showed that he was HIV positive. The dean of the Naval Academy told him that this disqualified him from being commissioned into the military after graduation.
“There was still so much stigma around HIV, that I was suddenly confronted with and also a lot a shame,” he said. “You know, but then there was the added element of just not being able to fulfill that lifelong dream of mine.”
A 1991 policy prevents people who are HIV positive from enlisting of being commissioned into the U.S. military. Critics have called the policy outdated and discriminatory.
With no other options, Deese joined a lawsuit filed by an LGBTQ+ military advocacy group that is challenging the longstanding policy.
“I don’t think it’s right that the taxpayers of this country paid probably close to $500,000 for me to go to — get a four-year education and training to be in the Navy and then to not see that return on investment,” he said.