The Peace Corps are removing gay men from their services if they test positive for HIV.
Openly gay man Romany Tin was teaching English in Cambodia back in January. Tin, who had been excited to go to Cambodia due to his father being from the country, later found himself being forced to leave.
First, Tin felt himself getting sick. After going through some tests, Tin found out that he had contracted HIV.
As if that wasn’t scary enough, Tin soon found himself being flown back to Washington, D.C. After a month of treatment, his viral load became undetectable (and as science now tells us, to be undetectable is to be untransmittable).
That said, Tin soon found out that the Peace Corps had no intention of sending him back to his job at Cambodia.
"I told my Peace Corps health officer in D.C. that I wanted to go back to Cambodia. But she said, 'Sorry, I don't think you can, the Peace Corps doesn't allow HIV-positive volunteers to serve in Cambodia.' That's some B.S., I thought,” Tin told news source Them.
Then, Romany Tin learned he had to wait between three and six months to find out his next location assignment. Also, he would not be getting paid during that time.
But before he could get his next assignment, Tin was officially let go from the organization in March.
Sadly, this isn’t the first and last time that the Peace Corps has fired gay men for being contracted with HIV. Former Peace Corps volunteer Jeremiah Johnson was sent home from the Ukraine back in 2008 after he tested HIV-positive.
The ACLU took on Johnson’s case saying that these acts violated the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits discrimination in Federal Agencies based on disability. The ACLU also says that the Peace Corps then agreed to stop instantly firing volunteers for testing as HIV-positive.
"When the Peace Corps ended my service after I tested positive for HIV in 2008, there was at least some solace when we got them to publicly commit to ending this discriminatory practice and adhere to federal law," says Johnson, who now works for the HIV, TB, and HCV think tank Treatment Action Group. "Seeing Romany face the exact same illegal injustice a decade later, when there is zero justification for medically separating a volunteer for a manageable condition that is simple to monitor and treat, is deeply infuriating."
In addition, another man, who wished to be identified as “M,” spoke to Buzzfeed and said that he too was forced to leave his host country in southeast Asia after being tested.
“We didn’t know what to do but cry,” M. said in reference to himself and Tin.
Another man, whose name also happened to be Jeremiah, also spoke to Buzzfeed. This Jeremiah tried to get PrEP when he first landed in Chernihiv. Unfortunately, he was denied the prescription, because his sexual behavior was not risky enough.
“I was sexually active and was going to a country where they had the highest prevalence of HIV infection in Europe,” Jeremiah said. “It was definitely something I felt I needed.”
That caused Jeremiah to go to a second doctor and lie on his form to make it seem like he was engaging in risky behavior. While he did get the prescription, he was told his postilion was a risk due to his risky sexual behavior.
While this Jeremiah never contracted HIV and left his host country of his own free will, his experience left him disgusted with the organization.
“I think LGBT health in the Peace Corps is almost nonexistent,” he said. “It just isn’t there.”
With more and more stories coming out of gay men being fired due to contracting HIV, HIV and LGBTQ activists are condemning the Peace Corps’s policies.
“We are concerned that the Peace Corps’ policy pertaining to volunteers diagnosed with HIV is arbitrary, not grounded in evidence, and being implemented without critical attention to the well-being of the volunteers,” said the Treatment Action Group in a letter to the Peace Corps on Tin’s behalf.
“In practice, these policies mean that volunteers who make the health-conscious decision to get tested for HIV — a practice the Peace Corps should encourage — are, in effect, punished if they test positive.”
We'll see if the Peace Corps changes its ways.
h/t: Them, Buzzfeed, LGBTQNation