12 July 1983 – With the successful decriminalisation of homosexuality a couple years earlier, we were only just starting to see the fruits of gay and lesbian liberation when the storm clouds of an emerging health crisis started to gather.
During a community meeting at the Laird Hotel, a brave cohort of individuals put their hand up to be part of the creation of the Victorian AIDS Action Committee. Their foresight, courage, and sense of justice set the foundation of what is now Australia’s oldest HIV/AIDS organisation and one of the largest LGBTI health organisations in the country.
Last year we entered the next stage in our evolution. We’ve gone from the Victorian AIDS Action Committee to Victorian AIDS Council/Gay Men’s Community Health Centre to VicAIDS to VAC. Drawing inspiration from community activists like Alison Thorne and Keith Harbour, we are now Thorne Harbour Health – committed to advocating for the health and wellbeing of our gender, sex, and sexually diverse communities.
One year on, we’re still telling our origin story to stakeholders who may not understand the transition, and that’s ok. In fact, it is a great opportunity. As the recent Stonewall anniversary reminds us, it is paramount that we not forget our past. It offers a fundamental lesson about the importance of community mobilisation and activism.
Our history also teaches us about the importance of unwavering commitment:
Following the lifesaving introduction of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) in 1996, a collective sigh of relief swept through our community. After years of caring for and supporting our communities in the face of a deadly epidemic, many were in desperate need of respite, but there was still so much work to be done.
We have come a long way, but there is still so much work to be done:
While some in our community are still catching our breath after a divisive and vitriolic public debate about marriage equality, the current dialogue around religious discrimination threatens our progress toward equality, respect and inclusion.
In 1975, the inaugural National Homosexual Conference asked ‘can gay men and lesbian women work together?’ here in Melbourne. Today, we continue to work through issues of cooperation and intersectionality with a far more diverse collection of communities. Our priorities and paths often vary, but we share a collective vision – to advance our communities toward a society of shared dignity and equality.
Thirty-six years later, the values to get us there are much the same – leadership, diversity, inclusion, justice, courage, and optimism. Optimism can often be the most evasive in the face of the seemingly endless array of battles our communities face. It is a vital ingredient though, without it we lose the fuel to keep moving toward a better future.
For more information about Thorne Harbour Health, visit: www.thorneharbour.org for details.
Image: Victorian AIDS Council (now Thorne Harbour Health) 35th Anniversary at State Library Victoria in 2018
Source: Thorne Harbour Health