When the coronavirus pandemic hit Australia’s shores, Victorians who’d already lived through the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s anguished at the idea of enduring another deadly disease.
Although antiretroviral drugs greatly improved the health of people living with HIV or AIDS, LGBTI+ people over 60 living with infections such as HIV or hepatitis C were more at risk of serious illness if infected with COVID-19 and were told to limit contact with others for their own safety.
In Australia, over 11,000 people aged over 50 live with HIV.
Thorne Harbour Health volunteer Bruce Weston witnessed the anxiety created for many in the community who were doing it tough.
“I didn’t grow up watching my partners and friends basically just die in front of me horribly, whereas a lot of these people did,” Bruce said.
“They’re quite rightly a bit wary of interaction with the greater world at the moment because of, potentially, their own health risk.”
But the Victorian Government’s $1.14 million funding to support LGBTI+ communities during the pandemic has meant organisations such as Thorne Harbour could continue to support their clients during the isolating time.
Thorne Harbour Health volunteers. (supplied)
With help from the new funding, Bruce Weston has been able to spend every Friday delivering meals to isolated community members across Melbourne’s south-east.
“It’s more than the delivery of pantry items and frozen meals. There’s a bit of a social connection thing that happens,” Bruce said.
“For me, it’s been a really positive and healthy way to interact with the older gay and lesbian community who’ve had a pretty shitty run in their lives.”
Thorne Harbour Health community support leader Campbell Smith agreed the organisation’s assistance went beyond the food and housing to creating social connection for the clients.
“Just having regular contact with a volunteer who rings them to talk about how they’re going, what sort of food order they want this week - and then the volunteer driver who delivers it - it's actually given them a lot of reassurance and connection,” Campbell said.
In a statement, Victorian Minister for Equality Martin Foley said the funding would help those on the “frontlines” guide LGBTI+ Victorians through the pandemic.
“We know the effects of this pandemic are being felt in complex and difficult ways among our LGBTIQ communities - so we’re supporting the organisations on the frontlines to ramp up their efforts and support more Victorians,” Foley said.
Bruce said he saw the help he’s been giving as his duty to the older LGBTI+ community.
“What’s the point of not connecting to a community that basically built the world that all of us live in?”