These gay men were fired from the peace corps after they tested positive for hiv n gas price


In a March 8 letter about Tin’s case reviewed by BuzzFeed News, the Peace Corps said that “medical separation” was appropriate. His stipend would be cut off, and he would have to wait three to six months — time he’d need to make sure his new treatment was working well, the letter argued — before reapplying for a post in a different country with better medical resources. In person, Tin recalled, his Peace Corps health worker told him that Cambodia was not on an approved list of countries where people with HIV could serve.

Tin is one of at least two gay men ousted from the Peace Corps this year after testing positive for HIV. Two other gay men who used to work for the program told BuzzFeed News that Peace Corps doctors denied their requests for PrEP, the daily pill that protects against HIV infection, because their sexual behavior was deemed not risky enough. And when one of those men managed to get a second request for PrEP approved, he was then threatened with dismissal for exactly the behavior that made him eligible for the drug: having unprotected sex.

The Peace Corps is a federal program launched 57 years ago by President John F. Kennedy to create a civilian army spreading American values in poor areas of the world. Like the US military, it has repeatedly come under fire for its policies on the sexual health and safety of its servicemembers. In 2014, for example, a new law forced the Peace Corps to lift its 35-year ban on federal abortion assistance for volunteers. The year before that, a different law overturned its ban on pregnant volunteers. In 2011, yet another law required the organization to address its long track record of mishandling sexual assault cases.

And in 2008, Jeremiah Johnson, a Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine, had his service terminated after testing positive for HIV. The ACLU took up Johnson’s case, claiming that the Peace Corps was discriminating against people with disabilities. In response, the organization implemented a new policy to not automatically terminate HIV-positive volunteers but to instead assess them on a case-by-case basis.

As for the two men booted this year, the Peace Corps told BuzzFeed News that, “The health, safety and security of Volunteers are Peace Corps’ top priorities.” Its 7,000-plus volunteers work in 65 countries around the world, but there are only 18 where it can “provide appropriate medical support” to those with HIV, a spokesperson said by email.

In addition to concerns about volunteers’ health, the Peace Corps also must consider local legal restrictions around HIV status that could endanger the safety of volunteers or people they work with. In some countries, for example, it’s illegal for people with HIV to have sex without condoms, or to keep their HIV status secret from their sexual partners.

After 32-year-old Jeremiah (a different Jeremiah than the man ousted from the organization in 2008) arrived in 2015, he saw a Peace Corps doctor in Chernihiv and asked about how to get access to PrEP. The doctor seemed generally uncomfortable discussing gay sexual health, Jeremiah recalled, and was confused about what the drug was. (BuzzFeed News is withholding Jeremiah’s last name to protect his identity.)

The doctor eventually asked him to fill out a form, based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2014 guidance around evaluating risk of HIV exposure. A few weeks later, according to emails reviewed by BuzzFeed News, the Peace Corps denied his request for PrEP, saying his answers on the form showed that his sexual behavior was not risky enough to merit a prescription. Jeremiah was stunned.

His request was approved — but before getting the drugs, he had to listen to his doctor read a statement out loud. The letter, Jeremiah recalled, stated that he was violating his Peace Corps contract by engaging in sexual behavior that put himself or others at risk. And if he continued this behavior, the doctor said, he could face dismissal. (The Peace Corps did not answer questions about whether volunteers are contractually obligated to use condoms. Instead the spokesperson wrote: “Peace Corps Volunteers are expected to comply with both Peace Corps’ medical policies and the instructions of Peace Corps Medical Officers regarding the prevention and treatment of illness and injury.”)

At the medical office in Kiev for a routine medical check, Fishon asked the doctors about PrEP. Initially, as with Jeremiah, the doctor said he didn’t know what PrEP was, and then gave him a form to fill out. Fishon stated that he was a man who had sex with men, and that in the last year he had had sex without condoms and had contracted a sexually transmitted infection — all factors that make PrEP strongly recommended by the CDC.

When asked if he had yet had sex in Ukraine, he said no — and that answer prompted the Peace Corps to deny his request. A doctor at Peace Corps headquarters wrote an email to Fishon saying his “current sexual activity does not meet criteria” and advised him to “use condoms every time you have sex.”

“I am so disappointed in the Peace Corps because I feel like they dropped the ball every step of the way,” Fishon said. “They talk about being an organization that wants to be diverse and inclusive — and they like that on the surface — but the fact of the matter is they don’t have the structure in place to protect those people.”