I still remember the fear that was instilled in me when I was pulled over and refused entry to the US for being HIV+, November 11, 2007.
I was interrogated, treated like a terrorist (actually the definition of terrorist is "one who instills fear to terror in others"), photographed, finger printed and run through the FBI most wanted list: all because I was supposed to know that I had to carry a medical waiver as a person who was HIV+ to enter the US, even if only for a shopping trip expected to last no longer than 3 hrs.
This not only angered me, but the event caused a major change to my life and left me restricted as to where I could go and how I could continue my HIV work with my partners in the U.S. and Tijuana, Mexico.
I could not even take a flight that would have a scheduled stop over on U.S. soil. What would happen if for some reason similar to 9/11 or this past Christmas Day where the flight was diverted to a U.S. airport?
So I rallied some support from the local media, provincial and federal politicians, the International Court System and Egale Canada, and we had a rally on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery March 16th, 2008, to support the then-U.S. Senate amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act that would ultimately remove this archaic ban.
In July 2008 President Bush 43 signed the PEPFAR Bill which included the amendment. Great, now all HIV + people would be free to once again travel and immigrate to the US! No, not as simple as that. We had to go through a Presidential election in the U.S. - the candidate of Hope and Change as the winner. Great, now once again it was only a matter of time and this would be solved! NOT!
As time passed and social change was being resisted by the opposition, nothing was being done. Once again I rallied the troops with a goal to have another rally, this time at the Peace Arch Border Crossing in the BC/Washington State entry point.
I was told that this would be a waste of time and that it would achieve nothing. In July of 2009, 60 Canadians were refused entry to an HIV/Aids Housing conference in Washington D.C., and around the same time a UK HIV Specialist was denied entry to a medical conference in Seattle Wa.
I guess the media outcry on these issues led the administration to order the CDC to post the new ruling for public comment in an attempt to revoke this ban.
Ironically the original date chosen for the rally, August 16th 2009, was one day before the CDC public comment period was to end. Along with that and the 2 refusals of entry in July quite the support built up the the Rally and another rally was organized on the Buffalo Niagara Border. I know for sure that the Surrey Rally brought in some 1500 signatures in support of the CDC ruling to remove the travel ban completely.
Great - now we could once again cross! NOT.
Finally at the end of November the State Dept. and the President announced the end of the Travel Ban at the signing of the extension of the Ryan White Act. Awesome, now we could cross over into the US - NOT!
Weeks later under pressure the US Administration announced the date for the end of this travel and immigration Ban - January 4th, 2010. Within hours of this announcement the International AIDS Society announced the the World AIDS Conference would be held on U.S. Soil for the first time ever in 2012. YESSSSSSSSSS...
Now less than 24 hours before I attempt to cross again, I have feelings of great trepidation, excitement and memories of that horrid experience November 2007. I am excited that the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) called and offered to cover the crossing with their cameras so this can be documented - at least I will not be alone, and if there are any issues they will be documented.
I am feeling cautiously optimistic that this will be a drama free experience - and honestly I have no idea how I am going to feel.
I would like to thank EVERYONE who supported this campaign. I am full of love for those close to me, who stood by me through the past 2 years and very proud that we got this ban revoked - let us hope that the stigma of HIV will soon go away and that governments will finally realise that it is better to encourage testing and understand that it is so much better in the long run and more cost effective to treat this disease at the earliest stage possible.
With the advances in science and medication, those infected with HIV can be productive members of society. We also, as HIV + people have to be responsible about our choices and we also need to educate by example so we can finally remove the stigma!
Martin Rooney successfully crossed into the United States Monday, January 4, 2010.