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]