AIDS Protesters in Hershey Today

AIDS advocates to stage a protest in Hershey today over an HIV-positive teen who was denied enrollment at the Milton Hershey School

Courtesy of AHF

When it was announced that a 13-year-old student would not be permitted to enroll at the Milton Hershey School in Hershey, Pa., (about 90 miles west of Philly), first there was a lawsuit – and now a protest. Advocates from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) say they will protest outside the Hershey Company headquarters this morning (11 a.m.) over what they call a case of AIDS discrimination.

“The blatant discrimination and ignorance displayed by Hershey in this case is simply unacceptable,” says Michael Weinstein, president of AHF. “Ultimately, it is the Hershey Company itself, as the main funder of the school, that must answer for the decision not to admit the boy – a decision fueled by prejudice and fear.”

Weinstein says the protesters will be armed with signs and banners that say “No Kisses for Hershey,” demanding that the candy maker reconsider its decision to ban HIV-positive students from the school. Not since Ryan White – one of the first children to publicly disclose his HIV-positive status after being expelled from his school in the 1980s – has the question of the disease rattled so many within the educational community, and begged the question about whether boarding schools have a right to deny admission to anyone based on a medical condition.

“If Hershey is truly a company that believes in its social responsibility creed of ‘commitment to consumers, community and children,’ it will denounce this illegal and repugnant discrimination and immediately facilitate the enrollment of the boy at the school.”

The AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania is also pursuing a lawsuit against the school on behalf of the unidentified teen, claiming the Milton Hershey School has violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“It is unfortunate that the Hershey School and the Hershey Company have shown such a shocking lack of knowledge of the basic facts about HIV and how it is spread, and are instead reacting with ignorance and prejudice,” explains Jessica Reinhart, grassroots community manager for AEF, and a key organizer of the protest. “We do believe that this is an excellent opportunity to educate the public about HIV including the fact that people who are living with HIV/AIDS do not pose a significant risk to others and generally do not require any special medical attention that cannot be obtained through normal medical visits.”

We reached out to a spokesperson at Hershey for comment this morning.