27 A fter having a cold that just wouldn’t go away, Dae- jeon native Lee Jeong- sik went to the doctor for some blood tests. It was December, the month he discovered that he was HIV-positive. In person, Lee is mild-mannered and welcoming, casually chatting with strangers as though they are old pals. It is no wonder, then, that when Lee heard his diagnosis, he described his reaction as “just calm.” “When I realized I was infected, I wasn’t surprised or shocked at all,” he said. “I had a feeling that I might be infected with HIV. … I have many friends with HIV, so maybe that’s why I wasn’t that surprised or shocked.” The public shaming and judgment toward people with HIV/AIDS is pres- ent all over the world. But it is espe- cially acute in conservative Korea, where the disease is associated with homosexuality. In addition, acceptance of sexual minorities and alternative gender identities in the country has been slow save for a couple of notable exceptions. Often, those who contract the disease are ostracized from soci- ety, or deprived of financial and emo- tional support from their families. “People who are infected are used to being alone,” Lee said. “They try to hide themselves. They can’t tell others because they are afraid.” Lee, 27, came out to his parents at age 16, and said the news saddened his mother and angered his father. “At the time, they thought gay equaled transgendered. The meaning of gay was an effeminate man, a pros- titute,” he said. “My parents didn’t ac- cept it. They wanted me to get married (to a woman).” Lee was eventually forced to leave his family home. He joined a gay rights group and dropped out of school. He said a lot of members of the LGBTQ community in Korea are kicked out of their homes or are otherwise rejected by their families after coming out and the loss of support forces many to leave school. Fast-forward almost a decade, and his present state of contentment is palpable. He is living with friends in the Haebangchon neighborhood of Seoul, a stone’s throw from the hub of the Korean queer community in Itaewon, and working as a government-paid as- sistant to people with disabilities. He is also an activist who is working to draw attention to the plight of people living with HIV/AIDS and expand their rights while dispelling the misperceptions about the disease and those afflicted by it. “There’s really no difference be- tween before (the diagnosis) and now,” he said. “The one thing is that now my friends can support me more.” Yet he still encounters the discrim- ination that people living with HIV/ AIDS face in Korea. His sister is the only one in his family who knows that he is HIV-positive. “People attack minorities in society,” Lee said. “I can feel the discrimina- tion.” Story by Kellie ell / Photos by Nina Sawyer Translation by Seunghyun alex lee and Chan dong Park Additional reporting by Jongmin lee HIV-posItIVe but not alone actIVIst lee Jeong-sIk aIms to Help people lIVIng wItH HIV/aIDs fInD comfort In communIty