29 GrooveCast GrooveCast host Chance Dorland finds out more about the HIV party. Check out the episode at groovekorea.com. lack of legal protectIons The misconceptions about HIV/AIDS in Korea are perpetuated by a lack of education about the disease and how it is transmitted. Lee said some high school teachers tell students that only the sexually promiscuous get HIV. Earlier this year, Lee was giving a lecture to a group of elementary school students in Seoul about human rights and told them he was HIV-positive. The teacher, he said, was angry for his disclosure and later complained to his boss. Yet Lee said the kids “didn’t act terrified. They were just interested in new information. (HIV) was just a word.” While this may sound hopeful, Lee is realistic about his expectations for the future. “I don’t think children will change all of a sudden,” he said. “But at least they’ll learn to think for themselves.” One problem, Lee said, is that there are no laws to protect HIV-pos- itive people from discrimination. The laws that do exist are vague and loosely worded and, he said, perhaps further isolate the people they are meant to protect. According to the AIDS Prevention Act, people who are HIV-positive are not allowed to work in places that require regular medical check- ups and employers are generally discouraged from hiring people who test positive for the virus. In addition, those in government can “force” people with the virus to receive treatment and/or take “other protective measures” at the government’s discretion. The government does, however, have laws requiring that it build medical facilities for those infected with the virus and provide assis- tance for those who are having financial problems because of the di- agnosis, when it sees fit. Before 2009, HIV was classified as a rare and intractable disease and anyone who was HIV-positive had to register their status with the government, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare. That year, however, the regulation was changed and people who were not receiving government medical assistance no longer had to register. But the registration requirement still applied to people in the low-income bracket with HIV who were receiving government medical assistance. That meant that even if they were seeking treatment for something as simple as a common cold, their HIV-positive status was apparent to anyone with access to their medical records. The policy remained for the next three years until 2012, when the “rare and intractable” classifi- cation was dropped and the policy was eliminated, allowing even those receiving government aid to keep their HIV-status private. Registration is now optional, but people who are HIV-positive must still register in order to receive government aid for HIV-related treat- ment. If they don’t, they are responsible for at least some of their own medical fees for HIV treatment, which can be pricey, even with the government covering a portion of the costs. Lee believes the social stigmas are so strong that many people would rather forfeit medical treatment than admit their status. There is also a lack of resources in Korea for people living with HIV and AIDS, and what is available is often misleading or contradicto- ry. The lack of open discussion about the disease has made it very difficult for anyone outside of the foreign or LGBTQ communities to educate themselves about the disease and how it is transmitted or find information about prevention and treatment options. According to the Global Health Observatory Data Repository, Korea is one of the only modernized countries in the world where very little information on HIV or AIDS can be found at all. Lee pointed out that HIV testing is not encouraged in Korea, by the government, parents, teachers or other role models in young people’s lives. If a person does want to get tested, they are often met by judg- ment from doctors or other medical staff. He said the shame is so strong that many people would prefer not to have the test at all. “A lot of people in Korea don’t know (they are positive),” Lee says. “They just live their lives.” Of those who are tested, some refuse treatment or are living in de- nial because they feel they can’t reveal their HIV-positive status, Lee said, which means they are unable to get support, whether financial or emotional. He said he has been lucky to find support because he has revealed his status, but that’s because he is the kind of person who would rather express his feelings than isolate himself. “I’m used to talking honestly about everything I want to say,” he said. “I am really lucky, because I have a lot of people who can help me. If there is a god, this is the biggest blessing he can give us, I think.” buIlDIng communIty to combat stIgma Lee hopes that people who are HIV-positive like himself, as well as members of the queer community, can one day live with as much freedom as he feels he has attained. But first, the stigmas against both groups must be abolished, and Lee is already working to make that happen. His diagnosis inspired him to create an event to bring people living with HIV in Korea together to share their experiences, and to provide those people with access to medical information about HIV. The 4+HIV party (4 is part of Lee’s nickname), held in January at a café in the Seongbuk district of Seoul, was the first of its kind in the country. He is also working on a film that documents his HIV/AIDS activism and his journey over the last year. While Lee is currently single, he said he would get married if Korea allowed it. For now, he is happiest on his bike or while writing. As for the party, which was originally a “private, personal party” be- fore news of the event spread and more than 200 people showed up, Lee said it was a success. “I received a lot of emails,” he said. “They said, ‘I’m so proud of you because you can tell the newspaper that you’re gay. I feel stuck be- cause I can’t tell people I’m gay.’ They were happy for me.” ‘I received a lot of emails, mostly from koreans, from people who couldn’t come (to the party). they said, “I’m so proud of you because you can tell the newspaper that you’re gay. I feel stuck because I can’t tell people I’m gay.” they were happy for me.’ lee Jeong-sik