The Continuing Saga of the Cusick Case

Though we thought we had reached the conclusion when we told you last issue that Cirque had reached an agreement to re-hire gymnast Matthew Cusick (who had been terminated by Cirque for being HIV-positive), it seems there is more to say.

The Advocate, in their April 13, 2004 issue, features a strikingly handsome Cusick on the cover over the headline “Gays in Sports – How They’re Winning The Game. Gymnast Matt Cusick takes on Cirque du Soleil’s anti-HIV discrimination.” The article, written by Patrick Letellier with some very photogenic pictures of Matt, brings us up to date. We find out that as of their press time Cirque has still to hire Mr. Cusick as an acrobat. We are also brought up to date on Zumanity’s male dance couple Johan and Patrick (Johan has a “devastating” shoulder injury and will be out indefinitely. They have another male couple coming into the show very soon.)

In related news, we finally received (thanks to Ms. Rivera-Weiss of the office) a press release from the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, which was one of the agencies that brought complaints against Cirque due to the Cusick case. We’ve attached the entire press release below, though it mostly formalizes what we published previously.


The City and County of San Francisco Human Rights Commission today announced that it has completed successful negotiations with Cirque du Soleil to resolve the Commission’s complaint that Cirque discriminates against certain employees or prospective employees with HIV. The Human Rights Commission had written to Cirque du Soleil in November 2003 alleging that the company violated its contract with the City and County of San Francisco by maintaining a policy that people with HIV could not be hired for acrobatic positions. The allegations were based on Cirque du Soleil’s termination of Matthew Cusick from employment as an acrobat in Las Vegas when Mr. Cusick revealed that he was HIV positive, and the fact that Cirque du Soleil’s policy against hiring people with HIV as acrobats also applied in San Francisco. The Human Rights Commission did not accept Cirque du Soleil’s argument that people with HIV posed a danger to fellow employees and audience members. As a City contractor that leases space from the Port of San Francisco for its performances, Cirque du Soleil is prohibited by City ordinance from discriminating against people with HIV.

Following Cirque du Soleil’s receipt of the Human Rights Commission’s complaint, a series of meetings and phone conversations took place between HRC staff and Cirque du Soleil executives and attorneys. The Human Rights Commission is very pleased to report that Cirque du Soleil came to recognize that there was no scientific or medical basis for maintaining a discriminatory policy against people with HIV, and that their fears about the dangers of viral transmission were unfounded. Cirque du Soleil now agrees that all positions at Cirque du Soleil, including acrobats, are open to people with HIV. Additionally, the Human Rights Commission worked with Cirque du Soleil to strengthen the company’s anti-discrimination policies worldwide. Cirque du Soleil agreed to include all of San Francisco’s protected categories, including sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV status, height, and weight. These protections affect not only San Francisco employees and members of the public, but all employees and members of the public in Cirque du Soleil venues internationally. Finally, Cirque du Soleil has embarked on a program to train and educate employees about HIV transmission.

The Human Rights Commission congratulates Cirque du Soleil for their willingness to look more deeply into the important issue of discrimination against people with HIV, and to be willing to change their minds and overturn their discriminatory policies. The Commission also commends Matthew Cusick for his courage and commitment in fighting back against discrimination, and for contributing to international understanding of the truth about the talents, abilities, and rights of people with HIV.”