06/11/2020 | Writer: Defne Güzel
While HIV was a health crisis in the 80s, today it is a social crisis for those living with HIV. Those living with HIV cannot come out, they are dismissed from their workplaces, are targeted, exposed, isolated, forced into ghettos.
In June 2020, we have initiated the monitoring and reporting study on human rights violations against LGBTI+ persons living with HIV (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or bodily, gender and sexually diverse persons). I can easily state that this study herein, which we have finalized by combining the extensive interviews with analysis study, has fulfilled its aim of identifying the human rights violations and the fields where those violations took place against LGBTI+ persons living with HIV; in order to focus on this in detail while providing a ground where LGBTI+ persons living with HIV can provide their direct testimonies regarding their lives.
Within the scope of the study, we had the opportunity to conduct in-depth interviews with 10 LGBTI+ persons living with HIV. Despite the fact that we could not come face to face with these persons due to the pandemic period and met them online, I am delighted with this study; since Covid-19 could not upend our ties while the interviews caused a spontaneous overflow of common and powerful feelings. I would like to thank all the participants I had the opportunity to meet, who did not refuse me in sharing their stories openly. It was an excellent experience for all of us that this study and report took place via online interviews in the days when the Covid-19 pandemic taught many of us the experience of working remotely at home. Although there were technical problems such as interruption of internet connection, seeing that online interviews still preserve the authenticity of the stories, albeit on screen, made this work productive.
While conducting interviews with LGBTI+ persons living with HIV, unfortunately, we could not get the chance to meet and access diverse identities and experiences. For this reason, I would like to highlight the reasons behind this situation as follows in order to avoid any deficiencies in the report:
Lesbians and bisexual women living with HIV are exposed to discrimination, especially by their families, partners and healthcare staff who are aware of their HIV status. Unfortunately, women cannot disclose their HIV status, given the extent of discrimination and violence they may face. The heterosexist, cissexist patriarchy interrupts women in every field, just as they prevent women from developing policies and a discourse in this field.
The safety of sex workers living with HIV is under threat, especially by their clients. Sex workers living with HIV are constantly afraid of being disclosed. When these people are infected with HIV, they either have to leave their jobs or they are forced to disclose themselves. Therefore, they cannot share their HIV status due to economic concerns.
Transgender persons living with HIV are subjected to discrimination by healthcare staff in their medical procedures. The healthcare staff is refraining from providing HIV+ transgender persons with medical procedures or transgender persons are exposed to a series of discrimination and violence during these processes or the exorbitant prices are charged to them by healthcare institutions.
LGBTI+ prisoners living with HIV are exposed to discrimination and violence by the prison administration and officers. They are isolated, cannot access their medicines, and cannot enjoy the necessary medical checks and treatment.
LGBTI+ persons with disabilities living with HIV face various problems in accessing health; due to non-inclusive hospitals and physical conditions.
LGBTI+ foreign nationals living with HIV are unable to access medicines, especially due to recent regulations on health insurance and they cannot receive appropriate treatment due to uncertainties and they cannot reach the information on the alternative options due to language barriers.
LGBTI+ elders living with HIV cannot stay in nursing homes in line with the regulation and they are forced into loneliness and isolation, even when they cannot meet their basic needs.
As it is known, the process of living with HIV has changed a lot. With routine checks performed every three or six months while using one or two antiretroviral pills (ART) taken once a day, those living with HIV can live as healthy as anyone else. ARTs destroy viral copies by blocking HIV from reproducing and return the immune system back to an almost normal state by diminishing the number of HIV RNA in a milliliter of blood to 20 copies, while also eliminating HIV transmission by reducing the concentration of virus in the blood. Thanks to this situation, which is referred in the literature as “Undetectable=Untransmittable (U=U)”, HIV+ persons who achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load (the amount of HIV RNA in the blood) by taking antiretroviral therapy as prescribed cannot sexually transmit the virus to others
However, HIV phobia has not changed unfortunately. Prejudices against those living with HIV persist. While HIV was a health crisis in the 80s, today it is a social crisis for those living with HIV. Those living with HIV cannot come out, they are dismissed from their workplaces, are targeted, exposed, isolated, forced into ghettos. HIV-related stigma manifests itself differently exposing those living with HIV to violence, suicide, and death.
In this qualitative report, you will read the problems, requests, needs and stories of LGBTI+ people living with HIV as well as how their rights are violated. During this study, we heard from the participants frequently that “It was also very good for me to review my own story and evaluate whence I came”. This means a lot. Despite all the pressure and persecution, persons living with HIV drag themselves up by their own bootstraps. HIV+ persons are coming out of the closet, they organize, grow together, become stronger, claim equality. They initiate a movement in which they embellish the literature by adding their own stories while centering of the subjects in it.
Finally, I would like to express my profound gratitude to my colleagues Umut Güner, Yıldız Tar, Murat Köylü, Metin Uzun and Kerem Dikmen who offered their cooperation and understanding throughout this study.
I hope you enjoy reading this report…
Translation: Özge Gökpınar
Tags: human rights, labour, health