Welcome to the second edition of the our newsletter. I have been asked to provide an insight into what it means to be a volunteer for the service. In order to do so, I need to tell a little story.
I came out as a gay man in the early 1980’s. Nothing much about that. However, I was a lawyer and at that time the legal profession in Queensland was extremely homophobic – but that is another story. Anyway, it was around 1983, and I was at the Alliance Hotel in Spring Hill, at a bar underneath the hotel, which Bjelke Petersen and his cohorts referred to as a ‘subterranean deviate nightspot’. It was one of the few bars in Brisbane we could gather without too much interference from the authorities. That particular night, I was with a group of friends and at one point looked across the room. In a scene similar to a Bette Davis movie, my eyes locked on a gorgeous man. We continued to glance at each other, until finally he sauntered across the room, came up to me and said ‘hello counsellor’. I was dressed in a three piece suit so he got it right.
That was Jonathan. I fell madly, passionately and hopelessly in love with him – and he with me. We spent 11 years together and our love and adoration for each other grew and grew. Unfortunately, and unbeknown to Jonathan, he had been infected with the HIV virus some time before we met. It didn’t raise its ugly head until about 1988. We had tickets to see Whitney Houston at the Ultimate Event at Sanctuary Cove. However, the afternoon before we were due to leave Jonathan developed shingles, a warning sign of the virus. We didn’t make it to see Whitney.
This was the early days of the AIDS epidemic. Fortunately, we were referred to Dr Richard Kemp at the Infectious Diseases Unit at Royal Brisbane Hospital – an amazing individual. In those days, the medications available were more often than not experimental. Nevertheless, Jonathan continued to receive expert care and our lives continued as normal.
However, around 1992, Jonathan advanced to the AIDS stage of the disease. This was devastating for both of us – obviously more so for Jonathan, but he being the person he was, battled on, particularly with good humour. I remember at one stage we were at Wattlebrae (the Infectious Diseases Ward at the RBH). Jonathan was receiving an intravenous injection. Dr Patterson said to him ‘this will be a little prick’ to which he retorted ‘that’s what got me into this situation doc’.
Jonathan succumbed to AIDs on 18 February 1994. I lost my partner in life and love of my life.
However, during those awful years before his passing, we were supported by amazing people. The doctors and nurses at Wattlebrae, volunteers from the Queensland Aids Council (as it then was), Queensland Positive People, the Blue Nurses and the Sisters of Mercy. Amazing people who gave me strength to cope with the fact that my life partner was going to die, but more importantly gave support to Jonathan to ensure that he could leave his life with courage and dignity. I am forever in debt to all those people who are too numerous to mention.
So, why did I tell this story. Because, after this occurred I had always searched for a way that I could personally give back to the LGBTI Community. So much had be done for me and Jonathan by all these beautiful people.
That was it. That was how I could repay the LGBTI Community. I immediately contacted Julie Howes, the founding coordinator of the Legal Service, and was soon inducted as an Evening Coordinator. Apart from Matilda Alexander, our current President, I have been the longest serving member of the Legal Service. I have become a member of the Management Committee and currently I am Treasurer of the Service.
The service itself has moved from being a totally unfunded organisation, relying totally on private donations, to a Community Legal Service with a budget of around $260,000 (thanks to Queensland Government funding). My involvement with the Service has fulfilled my wish to ‘give back’. My involvement, along with the myriad of other volunteers, has seen the delivery of legal services to the needy and most vulnerable of the LGBTI Community.
It’s been over 10 years now since I started with the Service and I have no intention of stepping back. There is so much more that I want to achieve for the Service. I can thoroughly recommend to anyone who is thinking of volunteering and who wants to advance and protect the rights of members of our LGBTI Community, to do so.
To Jonathan, I continue to love and adore you, and hope that my service does justice to your memory.