The Peace Corps may do work around the world to reduce HIV stigma and discrimination, but, according to a report on Friday, it’s a different story if one of its volunteers tests positive.
A Peace Corps volunteer who was stationed in Cambodia claims the federal government agency quarantined him in a hotel room and then terminated his service after he tested positive for HIV.
Twenty-three-year-old volunteer Romany Tin told the LGBTQ publication Them that Peace Corps officials pulled him out of Cambodia three days after he tested positive for HIV. Rin was reportedly flown to Washington, D.C. and housed in a hotel room for 38 days in what the Peace Corps called “medical separation,” according to Them.
“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,’” Tin told Them.
The Peace Corps claims it only sends volunteers to countries with the medical infrastructure to handle the volunteer’s needs. But HIV is not listed on the government agency’s list of medical conditions that are “difficult to accommodate.”
A Peace Corps spokesperson confirmed to Splinter that Tin was indeed placed in Cambodia, but did not respond to followup questions about his termination and whether he was given the opportunity to relocate. The spokesperson said, “the Peace Corps is committed to an ongoing assessment of the challenges associated with properly supporting Peace Corps Volunteers who are HIV-positive with the goal of accommodating Volunteers where possible and reasonable.”
The Peace Corps also told Them that it does not terminate people simply for being HIV-positive. That’s a relatively recent change, though. The Peace Corps fired a volunteer in Ukraine in 2008 because local laws ban foreigners with HIV from working in the country. The volunteer was not given the option to finish his service elsewhere. The ACLU then successfully pressured the Peace Corps to agree to no longer terminate volunteers with HIV and place them in countries that don’t ban them.
Federal law also protects people with HIV from discrimination solely on the basis of their status. Tin’s alleged experience raises discrimination questions during an era when people with HIV who are in treatment can have an undetectable viral load and prevent transmission.
The LGBTQ civil rights group Lambda Legal has already put the Peace Corps on notice.
Tin told Them he plans on appealing the Peace Corps decision to terminate his service.