Lambda Legal Seeks to Reverse Custody Restriction That Bars a Mississippi Mother from Allowing Contact Between Children and Their Aunt

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"These children should be able to be with the aunt they love, not just be able to wave at her through a window, and Ms. Rowell should be able to create a home for her family."
July 20, 2005

(Jackson, MS, July 20, 2005) — Lambda Legal today filed a brief in the Chancery Court of Jackson County on behalf of a Mississippi mother who has been barred from allowing her children to have contact with their aunt because she has HIV.

Lambda Legal represents Keri Rowell, who was granted an extension of the temporary custody of her three children contingent upon their being denied physical contact with their aunt, Tanya Wilkins, because she has HIV. Rowell wishes to live with her sister but is unable to do so as a result of the restriction.

“More than two decades of science has proved that HIV is not transmitted through casual contact within the home, and we are confident that the Court will acknowledge that Ms. Wilkins’ HIV status is not a sound reason for restricting contact with her family,” said Greg Nevins, Senior Staff Attorney in Lambda Legal’s Southern Regional Office based in Atlanta. “These children should be able to be with the aunt they love, not just be able to wave at her through a window, and Ms. Rowell should be able to create a home for her family.”

In the brief, Lambda Legal urges the court to base its judgment on sound science rather than fear and misinformation. The brief was filed in advance of a hearing that will determine the final custody arrangement.

In a custody hearing this past March, a judge granted Rowell an extension of the temporary custody of her three children as long as the children had no contact with her sister, Tanya Wilkins, because she has HIV. Prior to the ruling, Wilkins had always played an active role in the children’s lives, but since the ruling four months ago she has not been able to have any physical contact with them. Rowell wishes to move in with her sister but is being prevented from doing so by the Court’s ruling.

Cliff Johnson of Pigott, Reeves, Johnson & Minor, P.A. in Jackson, MS and Art Hewitt of Mississippi Center for Legal Services in Gulfport, MS are serving as co-counsel with Lambda Legal in filing the brief.

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Jackie Yodashkin 212-809-8585 ext.229


Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.

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