By Philip Baker
SYDNEY — About 100 activists from the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power (ACT UP) demonstrated at the offices of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board on February 14 to highlight the refusal of the board to hold a public inquiry into AIDS/HIV-related discrimination.
After street theatre portraying the types of discrimination faced by people thought to be suffering from HIV or AIDS, the protesters entered the building to confront the president of the Anti-Discrimination Board, Steve Mark. Mock eviction notices were distributed to symbolise the refusal of goods and services to those perceived to be HIV-positive by government departments and employers.
In 1990, the board held a series of meetings to consider changes to the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act to strengthen its coverage of HIV-related discrimination.
The recommendations were presented to NSW attorney-general John Dowd, who dismissed them. Dowd even refused to accept that discrimination on the grounds of HIV status occurs. The board determined that a public inquiry was the only way to force the government's hand but has now refused to go any further.
After 10 years of the AIDS epidemic, the ADB has been unable to influence or force any legislation which would outlaw discrimination on grounds of HIV status. Extreme "horror files" at the ADB and the AIDS Council of NSW show that HIV/AIDS-related discrimination is rampant.
Institutionalised discrimination is still most prevalent in the health system. Doctors and dentists have refused to treat people who are HIV-positive or have AIDS, hospitals are conducting AIDS tests without patients' consent, there is discrimination in obtaining drug treatment, a major Sydney hospital has been using coloured arm bands to identify AIDS sufferers, and people with AIDS have been left on trolleys in hospital casualty wards for days because of bed shortages for patients with AIDS. There have also been cases of misuse and manipulation of information relating to HIV status by police and within the prison system.
ACT UP is continuing its campaign on the central issue of provision of treatments, and the related issue of discrimination often arising out of that. Further information on ACT UP Sydney can be obtained on (02) 281 0362.