HIV discrimination case verdict reflects ingrained prejudice

By Huang Xiangyang (
Updated: 2010-11-14 17:40
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The court ruling on Friday against a HIV-positive job seeker in Anqing, Anhui province, reflects ingrained homophobia in our society. It highlights the harsh reality that there is still a long way to go before discrimination against people suffering from the deadly virus can be lessened or even erased in this country.

All my sympathy goes to Xiao Wu, the plaintiff who struggled to defend his basic right of employment by suing the local education authorities for denying him a teaching job. He is not the first who has suffered discrimination because of his being different, but he chose to be the first to use the law to fight for his rights. In this sense he has not lost. It is justice that has been compromised.

The court based its verdict on the criteria for recruiting civil servants, which stipulates that any applicants tested HIV positive should be deemed disqualified. But it remains questionable whether a teacher should be seen as a civil servant, and whether restrictive rules governing the two professions can be used interchangeably.

Xiao Wu is qualified to teach in accordance with the Teachers Law, which has no explicit prohibition against people with HIV/AIDS taking up the profession. The Employment Promotion Law states clearly that no one should be denied a job because he, or she, has an infectious disease.

It is disappointing that the court’s ruling is based on a legally less important regulation. The verdict not only tramples on the spirit of the two laws mentioned above, but also violates the principle set clearly in the Constitution, which requires the state to “respect and safeguard human rights”.

But the result has come as no surprise. Discrimination, in all forms, has long pervaded our society. Open any newspaper recruitment page, and you see specific requirements of gender (in favor of men), age (less than 35), height and even appearance, something that is unheard of in the civilized world nowadays. Sometimes such blatant discrimination against a certain section of society ends in tragedy. Last year, a young man in Zhejiang province stabbed a recruitment official to death after he was denied a civil service job because he tested hepatitis-B positive.

The Quran says, if someone saves a life, it is as if he has saved the life of all mankind. It is sad that what we see so often is not the benevolent act of saving one’s life, but the brazen and ugly act of “dropping stones on someone who has fallen into a well”, as a Chinese proverb puts it.

So long as the door of employment is closed for Xiao Wu and people like him, so long as the ulcer of HIV/AIDS discrimination is allowed to continue to fester, it is not just the question of social justice and public conscience that remains open, but the question of China’s image in the world community as a more open, caring, civilized and tolerant society.