A Day Without Kisses

A protest against Hershey just in time for Valentine's Day

Courtesy of AHF

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) is boycotting the Hershey Company over the Milton Hershey School’s decision to not allow an HIV-student to enroll. Billed as “Hershey: A Day Without Kisses,” the protest asks others to boycott the PA-based company’s candy this Valentine’s Day.

How did it all start?

The Milton Hershey Schoola prestigious boarding school for low-income scholarship students funded by the Hershey Company – rejected a 13-year-old boy for admission citing his HIV-positive status, saying he’s a “direct threat to the health and safety of others.”

AHF is also holding a press conference tomorrow, and has been sharing details about the boycott on Facebook and Twitter.

“We are asking the public to join us in telling Hershey that this Valentine’s Day will be a day without Kisses for them as Hershey continues on its path of discrimination and ignorance as displayed by the Hershey School’s rejection of an otherwise qualified student due to his HIV-positive status,” says AHF President Michael Weinstein. “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. Hershey must denounce this illegal and repugnant discrimination and enroll the boy at the school. In the meanwhile, we plan to use the power of pocketbook to shame Hershey by asking fair-minded members of the chocolate-buying public not to buy Hershey this Valentine’s Day.”

The group also launched this website where the public can learn more about the case, learn the facts about HIV/AIDS and send emails to three Hershey Company and Milton Hershey School Trust board members, urging them to reconsider the student’s admission.

federal discrimination lawsuit has also been filed by AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania on behalf of the 13-year-old student at the center of this controversy. The group claims that the Milton Hershey School has violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. Currently, 1,850 other students are enrolled at the residential institution, which serves children in pre-kindergarten to 12th grade.

“The ignorance displayed by the Hershey School’s leadership is unacceptable and demonstrates just how much work there is still to be done to dismantle the fear and misinformation that still surrounds this disease more than 25 years after Ryan White,” adds AHF’s Weinstein.

If you remember, Ryan White was a teenager from Kokomo, Ind., who, in the mid-1980s, was expelled from middle school because he was HIV-positive. A lengthy legal battle with the school ensued and White became a hero for those with the disease at a time when less was known about how it was spread. After his death in 1990, the U.S. Congress passed a major piece of legislation named in his honor – the Ryan White CARE Act – which provides funding for HIV/AIDS programs for low-income Americans.

“It is unfortunate that Hershey has shown such a shocking lack of knowledge of basic facts about HIV and how it is spread, and are instead reacting with ignorance and prejudice,” explains Tom Myers, general counsel and chief of public affairs for AHF. “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.”

He cites recent studies that suggest people with HIV on treatment are up to 96 percent non-infectious in ordinary living situations – as would be the case with this young man. “Because of this,” he says, “those on treatment are not a threat to health and safety of others. The young man in question does not pose a direct threat to anyone and Hershey should admit him into the school to begin the education that he desires – and deserves.”

What do you think? Will you boycott Hershey’s chocolate tomorrow? Or do you believe the school has the right not to admit an HIV-positive student?