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As Latin Nations Treat Gays Better, Asylum Is Elusive

As the gay rights movement progresses in Latin American countries, homosexual Mexicans struggle to prove asylum in the United States is warranted.

Six months after beginning a coveted medical residency slot with the Mexican Navy in 2002, he tested positive for HIV.

"They told me I had two options: fire me immediately, or finish the year but don't touch another patient," said Torres, 29.

Navy Capt. Arturo Lopez said Torres was ordered to stop seeing patients under a policy curtailing the work of anyone with a contagious disease. The policy does not distinguish between illnesses such as influenza that are transmitted through casual contact and HIV, which is spread through sexual contact, shared needles or blood transfusions.

For the rest of his internship, Torres filled out paperwork and endured efforts by Navy superiors to "cure" his homosexuality by lining up dates with female nurses. He tried working in Puerto Vallarta and Mexico City, both home to large gay communities.

Even in the capital, Torres said, he was harassed. One night, police rounded up Torres and his friends as they emerged from a gay bar in the Zona Rosa. His bosses would not let him counsel patients about HIV protection. He was shuttling to San Diego for treatment.

"The doctors in Mexico don't have training to deal with HIV patients," he said. His condition deteriorated, and he lost 15 pounds in two weeks. Finally, his doctor urged him to move to the United States for good.

"He said the stress of being in Mexico and making the trip for care every two or three months made my immune system fall down," Torres said. "I was going to live in Tijuana and just drive across for my treatment, but I realized if something terrible happened and I went to the hospital there, they wouldn't be able to care for me."

Torres has spent $8,000 on attorney fees and has worked odd jobs in construction, plumbing and at a local clinic. When an immigration officer first heard his case, Torres was told that his life was not in imminent danger and was turned down.

"If you're expecting me to wait until somebody kills me or the police beat me up, I'm not going to do that," he said.

His appeal is set for February 2009.

Reporting for this article was supported by the Project for International Health Journalism Fellowship, a part of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation's Media Fellowships Program.

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