Judicial prejudice: people with HIV barred from becoming judge

A young man aspires to become a judge. But his dream might be dashed simply because the agency doesn’t accept people living with HIV. Everyone applying for a position is forced to take a blood test. He can only hope that the judiciary will stop stigmatizing people like him, and open up its ranks for everybody equally.

Story by The Isaan Record

HIV running through his veins, a young man has hidden the fact from society almost all his life to protect himself from being discriminated against. He wants to have a normal life, to have friends, to live among others in peace.

But just a few years ago, he learned that he might never be able to achieve his lifelong dream of becoming a judge–only because his blood carries this virus.

This is the story of “Pea,” a 22-year-old law student. He agreed to share his experience living with HIV–on the condition of remaining anonymous. He hopes that his story can help lead to change in the longstanding, prejudiced employment culture that requires a blood test from job applicants, specifically designed to screen out people who are HIV-positive. The practice is prevalent, especially among judicial agencies, which has set a rule demanding applicants to reveal their HIV test results in the process.

Learning to live with it

Pea contracted the virus from his biological parents. Luckily, he had a loving caregiver who provided guidance for him since he was 4 years old.

“When I was young, I didn’t know at all that I had the virus. I took medicine as they told me to,” he says.

Taking medicine thus is one of his childhood memories that stands out for him. With counsel from his caregiver who looked after him as if she was his mom, Pea was able to take care of himself and grew up healthily. He’s lived with the virus like it’s just a common cold.

He truly understands his condition. He has learned how to live with it.

He has also learned that people around him are fearful of this virus, due to media sensationalization of it as a deadly, incurable disease. Most people don’t realize that medical technology has evolved much further from where it was 30 years ago.

“After leaving my caring home, I haven’t dared tell anyone that I have the virus because some people just can’t take it,” he says.

Getting treatment in secret 

Facing a pervasive social stigma derived from the media’s exaggeration of the disease, Pea, who was infected from when he was born, has had to find ways to adapt, especially when it comes to taking his medication.

“If I’m out with friends, I can’t take my meds, although I need to take them only once a day. My friends might ask what the pill is for so I have to go into the bathroom to take it because I’ve never told my friends I have the virus. I’m afraid they wouldn’t be able to handle it. I don’t want to lose my friends,” he says calmly, but with a hint of sadness in his voice.

He keeps it as a secret, and has only told people who matter the most to him.

“I’ve never told any of my best friends. But I told my ex, who was studying medicine and understood that you couldn’t contract the disease that easily. I also have been taking meds since I was very young, and my viral load is barely detectable. It didn’t make anything different between us,” he says.

As time passed, technology has evolved rapidly, and now a very effective treatment for HIV is readily available. However, that doesn’t seem to move public opinion very much, and that can potentially extinguish Pea’s dream of becoming a judge, as the application process would compel him to reveal his condition.

Motivated by injustice 

Living in an unfair society inspired Pea to take part in upholding justice. He realized he was interested in politics when he was in the 10th grade, and has been following the news and current events ever since. He learned that Thai society is in crisis.

“I think that Thailand is rotten. So I became interested in law and thought that one day I’d change it. If I had the power, the responsibility within the system, I wouldn’t do things in ways that I don’t approve of,” he says. “So I focused on studying law. I hoped I’d be able to rule on cases impartially, without dishonesty, without corruption. I want to change society for the better.”

That was the beginning of his pursuing a law degree and then becoming a judge as he has always been determined to become. But then he found out he had to be tested for HIV. That possibility alone threatened to shatter his dream.

The impossible obstacle

Although the criteria for achieving a judicial posting does not specifically require a blood test, the application process does require a health certificate that requires the test.

with a result for HIV.

“I’m troubled, like, hey, I have a dream, and I’m very committed to this dream, but there’s something that makes me feel that they won’t give me a fair treatment,” he says. “It’s an obstacle, a hurdle to my future.”

He became anxious after learning he had to submit to a blood test when reporting for military conscription; the certificating officials might note his “having an incurable communicable disease.”

Undoubtedly, the barely detectable disease will have a great impact on his life and his future, because he must attach his conscription certificate in any future job application.

“When I think about it, I cry sometimes. If this is really how it works, there’s nothing I can do,” he says, sobbing quietly. “Many people living with HIV have been asked to leave their jobs after getting a blood test. There have been lawsuits, and they’ve actually won, but it didn’t get them their jobs back. Their winning doesn’t change any attitudes about this.”

“Justice” just isn’t just

Having to live with this anxiety, struggling to see a light at the end of the tunnel, Pea has to ask why the judicial system.

“I’ve been questioning this for so long, also because the constitution clearly states there must be no discrimination in work. Everyone is equal, regardless of gender or nationality. If it doesn’t affect your ability to work, it shouldn’t be used as a job criteria,” he insists passionately.

He says organizations that still discriminate in this respect must change the rules to improve society, and to create fairness for all. There must be no discrimination. Everybody must be treated equally, not only in judicial agencies, but in every part of society.

“This world is built for everyone,” he says. “No one should suffer from discrimination. Society should become a better place to live, because there will then always be some space in this world for everybody.”

NOTE: This article is produced as part of a collaboration between The Isaan Record and the HIV-positive youth network and with support from UNICEF Thailand.

Read Thai version here