Day 11 – Steve

Day 11 – Steve

I am 51 years old.

 

It is polite to keep things simple and just say that I am “homeless”.  My name is Steve.

 

It was not always this way. I was diagnosed with HIV many years ago. I have been in trouble with the law before, but have managed to keep out of trouble for a while. Until recently I had opportunities. I worked. I had strong ties with the community and my people. I was just like everyone else, trying to get on with my life the best way I knew how. That all changed when my doctor told me that I have developed HIV dementia. These days all I seem to do is misplace things and become easily confused.

 

On the day I was arrested by the police, I was hungry and had walked into someone’s house to make a sandwich. I meant no harm. It was a very strange day. But when the police arrived I was apparently eating a sandwich and had cracked an egg in a pan that I had forgotten to turn on. Like I said, I get really confused sometimes.

 

HALC represented me in court. A lawyer came and visited me when I was in prison and they explained everything to me (probably more than once). They even connected me with a social worker and somewhere to live when I got out of prison.

 

[all names and information that might identify any individual have been changed for confidentiality purposes]

Photo: Free Picture: Two Slices ID: 275392 © Robert Lerich | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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Day 10 – Jason

Day 10 – Jason

 My name is Jason Turner and I have served in the armed forces for 12 years. My family were in it before me, and it just seemed natural that I join too. I was proud to be serving my country. I was deployed in 2004 and then again in 2008 and was promoted to the commissioned officer rank of lieutenant in 2013.

 

But last year I was diagnosed with HIV as part of a routine medical assessment. What followed was a dull roar of bureaucracy – medical checks, questions, blood tests, doctors, forms, questions, more blood tests, and so it goes on. They didn’t care about my health, or whether I could still do my job (which I certainly could). All they cared about was that I had HIV.

 

It was not as if there was a risk of transmission of HIV. Before my HIV diagnosis I had already been transferred to an administrative role. But the dangers of sitting behind a desk with HIV seem to outweigh the years of dedication I have given to the force. Now I find myself in in my mid-30s entering the private job-market with limited non-military experience to offer my future employers. All manner of benefits and allowances have been denied or restricted to me because I was discharged on medical grounds.

 

But more harmful than my uncertain financial situation or lack of work opportunities is the loss of a huge part of my life – just because of my blood. The service is full of wonderful brave and hardworking people, but at some point the defence force failed to protect those that serve them most. That’s why I went to HALC. HALC are representing me in a discrimination complaint. I was wrongly treated, and I would like justice for it.

[all names and information that might identify any individual have been changed for confidentiality purposes]

Photo: Australian Flag – freeaussiestock

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Day 9 – Daniel & Mikayla

Day 9 – Daniel & Mikayla

Mikayla: I first met Daniel when he visited Bali six years ago.

Daniel: It was love at first sight…

Mikayla: (laughing) He’s always been a smooth talker!

 

Daniel and Mikayla have been in a long distance relationship ever since meeting back in 2009. Mikayla came to Australia on a tourist visa in 2011 and the couple married in Australia and had a small and intimate wedding.

 

Mikayla is HIV-positive. Daniel is not.

 

HALC is helping us with Mikayla’s partner visa, because the Department of Immigration requires extra legal submissions due to Mikayla’s HIV status before they will make a decision on the visa. We miss each other so much, but I cannot spend much time overseas as I take care of my elderly parents who live near me in Byron. I can’t wait until the day that I wake up and see Mikayla sleeping next to me. That will be a surreal and amazing feeling.

 

[all names and information that might identify any individual have been changed for confidentiality purposes]

 

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Day 8 – Debbie

Day 8 – Debbie

Everyone has secrets. But some of you may even have a secret. It is that singular shard of your character that you feel you need to keep buried and hidden from all others.

 

Mine was HIV.

 

I was diagnosed with HIV 25 years ago. The only person I told was my husband. He knew the pain and distress it caused me when I first confided in him. But we were happy. We lived in a small country town in NSW. It is a beautiful place. Imagine a tiny hamlet half hugged by a melancholy stream nestled in a green valley beneath a cerulean sky vault. I have lived here for almost my entire adult life. For all the pleasures of its natural solitude, I also had to experience the sting of my community’s insular temperament.

Earlier this year I went to my local pathology clinic for a routine blood test. I sat there in the small waiting room, with old trashy magazines, coughing, and a couple of fidgeting children. I suddenly heard my name mentioned. I looked up. The receptionist was talking loudly with the nurse at the front of the cramped waiting room pointing to a file. Then she declared with a loud voice

 

“Debbie’s here to have her HIV viral load tests done”.

 

I was mortified. The whole room had heard, and within days the whole town.

 

My home became a place I feared to be in. I worried about what my friends, my family and the neighbours were thinking and saying about me. Suddenly going for a walk or performing a simple errand became an agonising task of shame. I was so furious with the receptionist for having divulged the greatest secret I had to a waiting room full of people. I complained. I wrote letters. I was angry. But I was also ignored. It was at this point I told my doctor what had happened and he referred me to HALC. They helped me to make a complaint about the pathology clinic. I received a letter of apology and a promise from the management that they would ensure that their staff underwent training so that an incident like this would not happen to anyone else. I also received reimbursement for the counselling I had undergone.

 

It felt wonderful knowing there are people out there who cared about how I was feeling and wanted to assist me in making my voice heard so that this type of disclosure did not happen to anyone else.

[all names and information that might identify any individual have been changed for confidentiality purposes]

 

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Day 7 – Jack

Day 7 – Jack

My first words to HALC were in whispers.

 

When I called I was crouched low in the corner of my room, murmuring into the phone as strips of masking tape and a spare mattress lined my locked door in an amateurish attempt to sound-proof the apartment. My neighbour had discovered I was HIV-positive and I was afraid.

 

It all began several days earlier. I was walking to the grocery store on a Saturday morning when I encountered Phil, my neighbour. As I said hello, his face contorted with obvious disgust and anger. He responded in a furious tone “Ya f**king gay c**t”. I was shocked. I had always had a pleasant and friendly relationship with Phil. We had known each other for 6 years after all.

 

A few days later I awoke to violent banging on my front door. It was Phil again. In between the aggressive blows against my door, he issued a tirade of verbal abuse. This probably only lasted for 10 minutes, but it felt much longer. I was terrified he would break through and hurt me. It is a terrible feeling to be under siege in your own apartment. The fear and panic you feel is real, as real as my splintered door. But so is the resulting shame of that fear, for rendering you nothing but some scared man shaking silently in his home.

 

A couple of days later I was on the street outside my apartment with some friends, they were helping me move a sofa into my apartment. It was at this point that my neighbour leaned out of the window and yelled as loud as his lungs would allow “You HIV infected faggot!” I was afraid again. But this time my shame was as palpable as my fear. My friends had just been told the deepest details of my private life in the filthiest way imaginable. I have no idea how my neighbour discovered my HIV status, I can only guess he saw some empty medicine bottles in the rubbish bin or heard me on the phone talking to my GP.

 

I was scared and felt powerless. At this point a friend recommended a place called ‘HALC’. It didn’t seem like my kind of thing, the idea of lawyers and courts sounded messy, and I even thought might make things worse. But the services they offered were lifesaving. They linked me up with a ‘GLO’ police officer – a gay and lesbian liaison officer, who was really supportive and understanding. They helped me to file an accurate police report and they contacted the tenancy management and explained my situation. With an Apprehended Violence Order in place, suddenly my pursuer was the one that was afraid and then he was quiet and then he was silent. After this I started to get my life back.

[all names and information that might identify any individual have been changed for confidentiality purposes]

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Day 6 – Rana (Part II)

Day 6 – Rana (Part II)

You can read Part I of Rana’s story here: Rana, Part I

We moved to Melbourne and were married in the spring. However my new husband changed after we arrived in Australia. He did not treat me like a wife. He beat me harshly and locked me inside the house. I was not allowed to make new friends in this new country nor contact my old friends back in Syria. I was trapped. He didn’t even allow my son, now 5, to enrol in school.

I left, and now my son and I live in a women’s refuge in Melbourne. My husband then sent a letter to immigration withdrawing sponsorship of my visa. The government wanted to deport Jarl and I back to Syria. I have no money, or support, or connections in my country. I will surely be homeless where the likelihood sexual assault is high and access to government funded antiretroviral medicines is notoriously precarious. I fear that I will be unable to care for my son and that he will become an orphan – I don’t want to die –  I don’t know what will happen to Jarl if I’m not around. HALC helped me with applying for a protection visa on the basis of my fears of returning to Syria. They also made sure that Jarl could enrol in school whilst we await the outcome of our application. I am still waiting for an outcome, but at least for now we are safe.

[all names and information that might identify any individual have been changed for confidentiality purposes]

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