This campaign has now finished. If you would like to donate to the HIV AIDS Legal Centre please click here
The HIV AIDS Legal Centre (HALC) is a not-for-profit, specialist community legal centre, and the only one of its kind in Australia. As lawyers we tackle the severe stigma and discrimination that remains associated with HIV, and provide specialist support to deal with the particular issues that HIV and the law create.
Last year our hard-working, committed solicitors and an amazing team of volunteers delivered around 17,000 hours of legal support helping over 1,000 clients, and provided specialist legal support to a sister agency in Papua New Guinea
While HIV is now considered a chronic, manageable condition, the social stigma and discrimination associated with the condition remain a fact of life for many with HIV.
Add to this a complex array of social factors – a third of people with HIV live below the poverty line, half have difficulty meeting basic expenses like food, rent and medication. One-half of the population have been diagnosed with a mental health condition, and/ or live with at least one other major health problem.
What happened to Robbie* is a good example of the kind of difficulties that people with HIV can face. Robbie spent most of his working life as a machinist and union organizer. In 2009, the virus crossed the blood-brain barrier and infected his brain. He was also on potent medication, one of whose side effects was mood disorders. He went from being a healthy, integrated member of the community to someone with significant cognitive impairments and real health issues – all the while not knowing what was wrong with him. By the time his doctors worked it out, he had cut himself off from friends and family, had a number of criminal charges relating to his mood disorder and had been banned from most of the services meant to assist him. As Robbie says:
At the time I had no insight into what was happening in my brain which was terrifying and isolating. My health was also terrible. I ended up having a number of altercations with police over that period. The HIV support services weren’t of much use – I was banned from attending a variety of them on the basis that I was too aggressive. I had the same problems with Centrelink.
All the people who were meant to be helping me were attacking me! HALC was the one service that kept their doors open to me throughout.
When I’m on my own two feet, I am very good at dealing with things. I self represented most of the criminal matters and had them all dismissed. HALC helped me out when I needed help, acted for me when I couldn’t do it myself, and also acted for me in a variety of other matters, including in relation to concerns I had about the way a lot of organisations were treating people with mental health issues. Most important of all, they never treated me like I was crazy or dangerous which a lot of other people did. They engaged with me as an individual with rights, entitled to agitate for them.
And It Gets More Difficult
A proportion of the HIV-positive population live, work and contribute to our community on temporary visas – as doctors, nurses, mechanics – but have no certainty of residence and face real danger if they were forced to return to their countries of origin, due to the lack of treatments, stigma and violence against people with HIV in many countries.
All of this is compounded by complex systems that lag when it comes to HIV. Discrimination cases are not lucrative enough for for-profit law firms to take on, insurance cover is next to impossible to obtain, community-based legal-aid centres lack specialist knowledge and the capability to go to court, and the clients lack the finances to fund cases themselves.
Without us, clients often have no alternative but to go without legal representation.
HALC Crowd Funding Video from halc on Vimeo.
We provide legal support to people who are at particular risk of harm, educate the community, and pursue law reform. Our work is not limited to individual casework - last year we ran test cases in the Supreme Court, authored a report for UNAIDS, and were instrumental in the change of a long standing and discriminatory governmental policy.
You can join us
With people with HIV living longer and rising infection rates, demand for our services continually increases. To continue to provide services at their current level, HALC needs to raise $50,000 - which is the gap between our income and expenditure for the next financial year. This translates to about 300 cases. Some 70 of those matters will involve court representation, and 20 of those will be substantial cases.
Help us fight for the rights of people like Sarah, Charles, David, Robbie and Jenella.