The Bobby Goldsmith Foundation provides financial, emotional and direct practical assistance to people living with HIV in New South Wales and South Australia. The foundation was established in 1984 by the friends of Bobby Goldsmith, after the champion swimmer lost his battle with AIDS at the age of 38.

I spoke to Sue Wood, Elvis Caus and Angelo Laios of Bobby Goldsmith Foundation on Devonshire Street about what the virus looks like today. The HIV demographic has changed, and there are more people living with HIV than ever before. BGF provides holistic support ranging from helping out with grocery shopping to operating programs that promote healthy living.

What might people not know about HIV?

Sue: It’s classed as a chronic condition, the same as diabetes.

Elvis: If someone is diagnosed and on treatment they’re just going to live a normal life, whereas before they were given a year or two. Also, that people can be safe in discordant relationships – that’s an HIV positive and negative person.

A common misconception is that you can get it from kissing or drinking from the same glass. There’s a lot of fear about HIV because the general population really isn’t educated about the conditions, so understandably they have a fear of the unknown.

Are there instances where stigma still exists?

Sue: We still receive reports of stigma in the health sector. We held a panel of people positive from all different areas, and they reported a lot of stigma within the health professionals. There’s also a bit of internalised stigma within the HIV community itself.

Angelo: Using language like “are you clean,” indicating that if you have HIV you are unclean. We’ve gotten to a stage where HIV is one of the illnesses that can be managed by medication, like diabetes, but it isn’t – there’s a completely different psychology behind it.

What still needs to be done?

Angelo: In Australia today HIV is still a taboo. We live and work it, but anywhere else it isn’t talked about widely. So I hope that in future it is talked about more and normalised, like it is in America.

Elvis: I think the reason it hasn’t been normalised is that it’s all about politics. Not just government politics, but the politics of people. In the modern world there is a lot of promotion of fear to promote agendas.

Sue: What we need are more champions who are going to be out there as spokespeople, people that can really be open and talk about it.

What do you hope for in the future?

Elvis: Funding is vital for us to survive. We have started to support people living with HIV throughout Australia, so in the longer term we’d like to do more outreach.

Sue: HIV is not the disease it was in the 80s and 90s. People aren’t supporting it as heavily as they used to, but people are still doing it tough. Around Darlinghurst and Surry Hills there are heaps of services, but it’s reaching out to other areas and receiving the funding to do it properly. In the Northern Territory there is a danger of HIV and other health issues in indigenous populations. So yes, being able to expand our services is definitely what we hope to do.

The Bobby Goldsmith Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation. For more information head to www.bgf.org.au.