Jeremiah S. Johnson was enjoying his work with the Peace Corps. He had taught English to teenagers in Rozdilna, Ukraine and was even thinking of trying to open an English resource center there.
However, the Peace Corps discharged him when they learned he tested positive for HIV, The Washington Post reports.
Now, Johnson, 25, who said he feels healthy, has filed a complaint with the American Civil Liberties Union. He told the Post he believes the Peace Corps’ decision to let him go is contrary to federal anti-discrimination laws.
“They told me it was Peace Corps policy for HIV-positive people to be medically separated,” Johnson said. “I was told I could not work anywhere else for the Peace Corps.”
Faced with the already difficult task of telling his family he had the virus that causes AIDS, he described coming back home one year earlier than expected as “dark and depressing.”
A lawyer from the ACLU wrote a letter to the director of the Peace Corps on Johnson’s behalf and said the Corps’ policy violates the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
The ACLU said if the Peace Corps did not want Johnson to volunteer in Ukraine, it should have offered him a chance to volunteer elsewhere.
Johnson’s termination letter is posted on ACLU's Web site.
“The Peace Corps does not have a policy of automatically excluding people with HIV,” wrote Amanda H. Beck, the agency’s press director. “The Peace Corps conducts individualized medical examinations of volunteers and applicants who are HIV-positive.”
The letter continues by pointing out that the State Department, in February, had lifted a ban that prevented HIV-positive individuals from becoming Foreign Service officers. Prior to the change, all HIV-positive applicants were automatically excluded from performing Foreign Service. However, it permitted people who were already employed and became infected with the virus after being hired to remain employed.
Johnson is currently living in Colorado and working at a restaurant. He is thinking of pursuing a graduate degree.
“The only thing I want is the Peace Corps to respond to this letter, change their policy to comply with federal anti-discrimination laws, or to clarify their policies so if they are in line with the law, they stick with it,” Johnson said. “That’s why I am going through all this.”