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Ban on AIDS Victim Bias Proposed : Councilman Wachs Cites Discrimination Against Patients

Times Staff Writer

A law that would make it illegal in Los Angeles to discriminate against persons with AIDS was proposed Friday by City Councilman Joel Wachs.

At a press conference, Wachs said there is no evidence that the deadly ailment can be spread in any way other than through an exchange of body fluids--usually through sexual contact or blood transfusions. “Yet every day people are losing their jobs or denied other basic treatment because of ignorance, fear or bigotry,” Wachs said.

Wachs’ proposal, which must be heard by the council’s Public Health and Human Resources Committee before it is voted on by the full council, would make it a misdemeanor to discriminate in rental housing, employment, business establishments, city facilities, city services or public accommodations against persons with AIDS “or an AIDS-related condition,” which Wachs did not define.

Proposal Failed in Illinois

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Although Wachs said he believed his was the first such proposal in the country, a similar proposal failed in Illinois, according to a spokeswoman for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York.

The Wachs proposal raises questions about who exactly would be affected by the ordinance and how it would be enforced.

Wachs said, for instance, that an employer should be allowed to change the assignment of a medical worker with AIDS “if that person directly worked with blood or needles,” known transmitters of the ailment. Or, if a restaurant worker with AIDS later contracted hepatitis, a communicable disease spread through food or drink, the restaurant worker would not be protected under the ordinance, Wachs said.

“I’m trying to define a difference between arbitrary discrimination and action taken for good rational reason,” he said.

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‘New Field of Case Law’

Ted Goldstein, a spokesman for the city attorney’s office, said the proposal “is dealing with a new field of case law.” The provision of the ordinance dealing with “an AIDS-related condition” will have to be clearly defined, he added.

Bill Misenhimer, executive director of AIDS Project Los Angeles, said he has “definitely seen an increase” in discrimination complaints by those stricken with acquired immune deficiency syndrome. The agency, which Misenhimer said sees two-thirds of the AIDS patients diagnosed in the city, said 30 to 40 people have said they were asked to vacate their apartments after their landlords found out they had AIDS.

With 45 new cases diagnosed locally every month compared to 15 to 20 new cases each month last year, “the problem is likely only to increase,” Misenhimer said.

Martin James of Shanti Foundation, a counseling agency, said one man with AIDS who had lesions on his face “was asked personally by a West Hollywood restaurant owner to stop dining there.”

Wachs’ proposal will be discussed next month by the council committee, which already is studying proposals by Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky that include seeking more state and federal funding for AIDS research.


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