In Protest Tonight of Cirque du Soleil's HIV Discrimination, Community, Lambda Legal and Fired Gymnast Speak Out

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Growing local and national organizations continue to join the fight to end illegal bias by Cirque du Soleil
November 20, 2003

(San Francisco, November 20, 2003) - Leading advocates and community members will protest Cirque du Soleil’s HIV discrimination tonight at Cirque du Soleil’s “Alegria” outside of Pac Bell Park at 6:30 p.m. Matthew Cusick, a gay man who was illegally fired from his performance job at Cirque du Soleil because he has HIV, will attend the event and speak to the community.

Tonight’s protest stems from a federal discrimination complaint Lambda Legal filed in July against Cirque du Soleil on behalf of Cusick. Although the company’s own doctors cleared him to safely perform, Cirque du Soleil management told Cusick that because he has HIV the company would not continue to employ him. Earlier this month, Lambda Legal and activists launched a broad campaign against Cirque du Soleil starting tonight with a protest at “Alegria” in San Francisco and including a nationwide petition drive, as well as planned protests in the months ahead at other Cirque shows nationwide.

WHAT: Community action against Cirque du Soleil for HIV discrimination (background and campaign materials)

WHO: Matthew Cusick (gymnast fired because he has HIV), Lambda Legal, San Francisco’s LGBT Community Center, National Association of People with AIDS, Horizons Foundation, PFLAG and numerous other local community leaders

WHEN: Tonight, Nov. 20, 2003, 6:30 p.m.: Local organizations, community leaders and Lambda Legal will hold a community action outside the evening performance of “Alegria”

WHERE: Outside the parking lot across from Pac Bell Park (off of Terry Francois Blvd. near 3rd St.)

“There is a growing public outcry locally and nationally against Cirque du Soleil’s HIV discrimination. Tonight, the community is joining Matthew Cusick in taking our message directly to Cirque du Soleil,” said Michael Adams, Director of Education & Public Affairs at Lambda Legal. “Cirque du Soleil wants to market itself aggressively to the gay community and make a tremendous amount of money from the gay community, without being accountable for its discrimination. Tonight, we’re standing shoulder to shoulder with local and national leaders to put that discrimination to an end. ”

In an attempt at damage control last week, Cirque du Soleil began sending a letter to members of the public - admitting that it fired Cusick solely because he has HIV, but claiming that such action is not “discrimination.” In the letter, Cirque du Soleil says Cusick was fired “solely for safety reasons.” Cirque’s letter and its other public statements on the issue offer no explanation for how a highly trained gymnast could transmit HIV while performing in such a heavily rehearsed and choreographed show. Mainstream medical, scientific and athletic organizations say that athletes with HIV should not be restricted from performing or competing.

“As an athlete who has lived, worked and competed successfully for three years while being treated medically for HIV, I fully support Matthew Cusick, who was wrongfully discriminated against because of having the disease,” Rudy Galindo said. “There are many thousands of Americans with HIV who contribute every day to the betterment of our society, who despite their serious medical problem extend every effort to live full and productive lives. My sincere hope and prayer is that Cirque du Soleil reconsiders their grossly unfair and heartless decision, and that they reinstate Mr. Cusick immediately - wishing him well and supporting his determination to be the best athlete and entertainer that he can be.” Galindo, a former U.S. men’s figure-skating champion, was one of the first major U.S. athletes to continue competing on the world stage after disclosing his HIV status. A number of athletes, performers and experts have joined the campaign and have spoken out against Cirque du Soleil’s HIV discrimination.

Some of the organizations supporting the campaign and tonight’s community action in San Francisco include: the Stop AIDS Project; the National Association of People with AIDS; The San Francisco AIDS Foundation; The San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center; San Francisco’s Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center; PFLAG-San Francisco and PFLAG-Peninsula (both local chapters of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays); Lyon-Martin Women’s Health Services; the Horizons Foundation; the National Center for Lesbian Rights; Bay Area Physicians for Human Rights; Broadway CARES/Equity Fights AIDS; Dancers Responding to AIDS; and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association.

In addition to protests at Cirque’s San Francisco show tonight and throughout the month, Lambda Legal and local leaders will hold community events at Cirque du Soleil performances in a number of cities, including Atlanta (March 25 through April 11, 2004) and New York (May 6 through June 6, 2004). A package of materials on the campaign - including printable leaflets, petitions and other resources.

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Contact: Fred Shank, 212/809-8585, x267


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