28/11/2020 | Writer: Defne Güzel
It is not HIV that forced persons into loneliness, despair, pessimism and stigmatization; but the prejudice and fear that society does not destroy.
We get acquainted with Alp from the interview called “They expect me to throw away my diploma because I live with HIV!”. After being diagnosed with HIV, Alp was prevented from doing the job at the school where Alp was working, and Alp was discriminated when applying for jobs to other schools on account of the military service exemption report. Alp has shared those experiences with KaosGL.org and in other media platforms
We discussed with Alp about the discrimination Alp faced in labor life, the struggle and the dreams for the future in our “AIDS in Syringe” article series.
I would like to ask my questions based on the statements you provided before; While your HIV status and military exemption do not pose obstacles for doing your job, you have been subjected to various discrimination by workplaces for being HIV positive and for having military service exemption. How did these processes develop? Can you briefly explain?
The process started with the diagnosis of HIV I got from the hospital where I went for my routine checks in the first year of my profession. When I was diagnosed, my doctor suggested for me to be hospitalized since various tests are needed in order to initiate the drug treatment and so that the scans could be done as quickly as possible. On the other hand, I accepted this suggestion, otherwise I would have to get an appointment for different days for each screening process and have to go to the hospital. I was hospitalized for three days in the infection clinic of the hospital. In terms of hospitalization I mean, I was only going to the hospital and when the test was done, I was returning to my home in the evening. I sent an email to my administrator to inform the school about the situation that I was in the hospital. I was called by phone and asked questions about this hospitalization procedure. After I said that I am in the “infection” clinic when they asked about which clinic I am in, my situation began to be investigated more. When I got back to school, meetings were held with the school administrators to ask me what my situation was, but I did not tell them. Ultimately, they themselves should have learned somehow; they stated that it was not important for me to tell them about my situation anymore, that they “guessed” themselves and that they told me it would not be appropriate for me to work at this school; they offered me two options and asked me to choose one of them: I could either do paperwork in a separate room arranged for me and, or not come to school but I would get my salary. I asked for a day to think. When I went to school the next day, I left my job saying that I was contracted with this school to become a teacher so I could not do any other job.
They told me that I could not be a teacher in this country, which is a job I really wanted to do, and I studied devotedly for four years and decided to become a teacher by deciding from high school. That moment was inexpressibly hard for me. I was just able to say that “but what you are doing is the discrimination”. With this injustice, the way home from school was much longer and more difficult for me this time.
I made job applications to other schools to be able to work next year. I got a job offer by taking the exams opened by a school run by a university, and then passing the interviews. When I went to submit my documents for my entry, my reason for military service exemption was questioned, when I did not tell, I was referred to the workplace doctor. The workplace doctor investigated my healthcare status and whether I had a chronic condition. The doctor threatened me by saying that if I give false statements, I will be in “trouble”, even if I do not say, the doctor will be able to see from the online system that doctors can use. I shared my HIV status, thinking that the doctor already knew my situation, that the doctor is aware of the protection of personal information between patient and physician, the doctor is the right person to understand me as a doctor. The answer I got was that the doctor was dealing with “persons like me” a lot and unfortunately the doctor had to share this with the school administration and left the room. Then I ran to ask what I could do to prevent the doctor from doing this, and I got the answer, “Get a report stating that you are healthy from the hospital”. I immediately went to my own doctor in the hospital providing surveillance. They wrote the report stating, “It is okay for this person to teach”. I gave the report to the school. A few days later, I received a phone call and received the information that my employment contract was unilaterally cancelled without stating why.
I got a very good result from an exam held by another school and was called for an oral interview. After this oral interview, I received the information that I failed, since they question my military service exemption instead of asking me questions about my teaching skills.
I am currently working in a school, but since I had my information turned off from the systems so that the doctors could not view my reports, I was able to get a job without any problems.
So how do you evaluate this unlawful practice of those workplaces?
In addition to being unlawful, I think I have experienced a very unfair and injustice situations. Because of these, I thought of quitting the profession, I forced myself on what else I could do. I started to see myself insecure and inadequate, my self-confidence is challenged. Since I was a person trying to survive without getting support from my family, I had to work economically and to continue my life. I had great difficulties leaving aside my professional satisfaction and meeting my most basic needs.
Despite all this, I did not give up and learned to behave with courage to prove myself that I could be a teacher, first to myself and then to the society. These unfortunate events I have been through have actually built me a lot. I was not guilty or sinful; that I became more confident and courageous; these has also enabled me to be more aware of how I should behave against prejudices, to be aware of my rights and to defend myself. When persons are able to cope with their good or bad experiences, they can get stronger. I experienced bad things, but in the end I am still an educator. Persons approach situations with fear since they do not know and see far away. I do not blame anyone because persons are not aware of what the situation is. I embraced it as my duty to shed light by explaining and expressing myself in appropriate time and places.
Are you considering making a legal application against the violations of rights you have experienced?
I thought of making a legal application, but at my first place of work, I quit my job with an agreement. I did not start it because I did not feel psychologically good enough to follow the legal process. In the second institution where I worked, I could not start it because within the first two months one of the parties had the right to terminate the employment contract without showing any reason. I will just write to the Turkish Medical Association against the doctor who disclosed me.
How is the situation at the current workplace?
I am currently working in a smaller school than previous schools. With the experience I got from my previous experiences, I was able to carry out the process in a more decent way. I had the online systems shut down so that the physicians could not view my health status. I was able to get a job by making up a more “innocent” reason for my military exemption. I have not experienced a negative situation so far, but of course this does not mean that I will not. I can only manage the process more consciously. Lets see, what will happen in future.
So lets talk about your future plans. What are you thinking about your future, what are your plans?
I have no complicated future plans. I have no plans such as earning a lot of money, having a comfortable life, buying house, car, obtaining a status, academic degree, etc. I am a socially sensitive person. I want to be as useful as I can for persons who have been subjected to injustice, violation of rights and who are marginalized and excluded.
I actually chose teaching as a profession because I was aware of how big the influence of a teacher on a child in line with my negative experiences with my own teachers. I want to be a teacher and make a difference in the future as it is now. I want to create a positive change in the lives of children, to broaden their horizons and to continue my profession by ensuring each of them to feel special.
There are places, institutions and persons that you do not share your HIV status with. What is the reason behind that?
Stigmatization. In Turkish, it is damgalanma, lekelenme. Social stigmatization is based on perceivable social characteristics that distinguish a person from other members of society; it is disapproving or discrimination. Since I live with HIV, I am evaluated by others with stereotypes. It becomes much more difficult for me then because these stereotypes are actually those that society avoided by fear and hate since the past. In a society that is very closed and hypocritical about sexuality, someone living with HIV is faced with a phobia by being just considered in line with how and which ways they live sexually. The reason for all these incidents I have experienced is the prejudice, unconsciousness, hypocrisy of society and endless phobia.
The prejudices of persons about HIV have made your life difficult. How do you cope with these challenges?
I started out by coming out to my circle of friends who witnessed the troubling events I went through. It felt good to coming out, express myself, to be accepted and to say that my rights are violated. I was coming out to the persons around me, raising their awareness and feeling satisfied when I saw the change. I was even a spokesperson in a conference with the support I received from the Pozitif-İz Association on 1 December, World HIV/AIDS Awareness Day at the same university running the school where I was discriminated against. I started my speech at the conference as “If you do not express yourself, others will speak for you, but in which ways will they do that?” When I left the conference, I felt relieved as if I had walked for miles wearing heavy boots on my feet for a long time and then took off my boots in a warm house and rested. My ways of coping with these difficulties is to coming out and express myself.
What is your opinion about the current HIV policies?
I have been in contact with the Pozitif-İz Association since the time I was diagnosed with HIV. From beginning to end, they patiently answered all my questions and referred me to the relevant places on how to defend my right. They have always been very patient, selfless and generous in providing all the information necessary for a person living with HIV. They provided me with encouragement and empowerment for the conference. I owe them a lot. I am sure they will read this article and I would like to express my profound gratitude for them in that regard.
Unfortunately, what associations can do is limited to a certain extent. The state should also be more sensitive about this issue and make HIV policies more visible. For a group that suffers from such social stigmatization and discrimination, the state should take precautions and protect us as the citizens. It should raise awareness of persons regarding HIV and AIDS and make sexual health education compulsory at schools.
Finally, is there anything else you would like to add?
All these experiences I had show that it is not HIV that forced persons into loneliness, despair, pessimism and stigmatization; but the prejudice and fear that society does not destroy.
If someone living with HIV is on the treatment and if it is undetectable, it means untransmittable. We can be parents, friends, teachers, students, engineers and surgeons. We can do any job. The only thing that differs our lives from the others is a dose of medicine we use every day and we deserve to live as much as any human being. One should be afraid of discrimination and stigmatization, not HIV.
Then, I would like to thank you for including me in this articles series that allowed me to express myself.
Tags: human rights, health