Isaiah Wilkins Dreamed of Serving His Country. But the Military Turned Him Away Because of His HIV Status.

Photo courtesy of Lambda Legal.

Isaiah Wilkins and Lambda Legal are fighting to eliminate the U.S. Armed Forces’ archaic, discriminatory policy. Meet Wilkins at our March 24 event.

At the young age of 16, Isaiah Wilkins had already identified his lifelong dream: to join the U.S. Army. Having grown up raised by a long line of proud military family members, Wilkins, a gay Black man, had plenty of role models to look up to and knew firsthand what this kind of career in service entailed.

Wilkins wasted no time carving out a path of his own, joining the Georgia Army National Guard and enrolling at Georgia Military College, a junior military institute, all before reaching his early 20s. Equipped with experience and driven by his relentless passion, Wilkins’ dream was just within reach.

That is, until a routine medical examination necessary to enlist in the military revealed Wilkins was living with HIV. Despite having an undetectable viral load — and thus not transmittable —  Wilkins was immediately barred from enlistment, per the U.S. Armed Forces’ policy.

Years of hard work and momentum were dashed abruptly and harshly.

But being the born fighter that he is, Wilkins isn’t backing down. And we at Lambda Legal are right by his side. In November 2022, we filed Wilkins v. Austin, challenging the military’s archaic, discriminatory HIV rule.

“Giving up on my dream to serve my country is not an option. The military is in my blood, my family has served in every military campaign dating back to the Civil War,” Wilkins said at the time of our filing.

“I urge this court to strike down this discriminatory policy. People living with HIV want to serve. We raised our hands and said, ‘I volunteer.’”

Lambda Legal has been at the forefront of advocating on behalf of people living with HIV since our founding. That’s more than 40 years spent uplifting and protecting one of the most vulnerable populations in this country. This is why we took on Wilkins’ case without a second thought.

Lambda Legal believes in the humanity of everyone living with HIV — that they deserve the same right to freedom and joy as anyone else. Our argument in Isaiah’s lawsuit reflects the principles that have always guided our historic HIV work. We center science, not stigma — knowing that people can enjoy robust, full lives and achieve undetectable status thanks to antiretrovirals and continued advancements in HIV medicine.

Case law is also undoubtedly on our side. The Wilkins lawsuit follows a landmark ruling that we received in Harrison v. Austin and Roe v. Austin in 2022. In its decision, a federal court ordered the Department of Defense to stop discriminating against service members living with HIV and to allow them to deploy and commission as officers in the military.

We are hopeful that we can build upon that milestone ruling with the Wilkins case, and that Isaiah will one day be able to serve his country.

Meet Isaiah Wilkins at our March 24 event at the Bonnet House Museum & Gardens in Fort Lauderdale, where he is scheduled to speak.

For decades now, numerous clients have come to South Florida to share their powerful stories of resilience and bravery. In fact, our very first Fort Lauderdale event 20 years ago featured a speech from then-plaintiff Matthew Cusick, who was fired by his employer because he was living with HIV.

To learn more about our essential HIV advocacy work, visit


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