Tag Archives: discrimination

Bullied

Bullying is the use of force or coercion to abuse or intimidate others
Wkipedia

Bullying has become the new social curse, and no one is exempt from its venom. Hardly a week goes by without it rearing its ugly head in the news, or on a current affairs program. Bullying is infecting school yards, work places, committees, sports fields, political arenas . It is anywhere that people, who think it is right to degrade and demean those who can’t or won’t fight back. It is insidious and hateful, performed in dark mould-ridden spaces where it can’t be witnessed by others, it is in a whisper, a slap, a push, a word. The spiteful miscreants delude themselves that they are the strong preying on the weak, when in truth the strength lies with those who bear the brunt of it – at least until pushed too far. This hateful, soul-destroying disease must be wiped out.


As a male who has always been, at least to my way of thinking, obviously gay, I’m surprised I have never encountered much bullying in my lifetime. I was always a popular student in most of the s schools I attended, on deed was often voted in a a class captain or vice-captain. The one time in boarding school when a rather largish – in girth – school bully attempted to take something off me by grabbing and holding onto it, one of the strapping country lads, who fortunately hung out with my circle, took him on and put him in his place. He never harassed me again. The other occasion is outlined below, and was a situation I would not allow to happen again. There is a misconception that bullying only goes on in school yards. Think again! It gies on all around us every day. And adults are not exempt from it. One only has to look at what has been going on in the Australian political landscape in recent times to know that. it is time for it to stop, but that will only happen if good men – and women – step in and say ENOUGH!

This is a brief tale of subtle bullying, revenge of a sorts, and deferred regrets.

As I have often mentioned to friends, as far as being bullied as a gay man goes – and God knows it is obvious enough that I am gay – I have had little more than the occasional ‘poofter’ thrown at me from a passing car’s window over the years. However, when I did encounter the evil beast in its true disguise, it left an indelible mark.

In 1993 I was managing a ‘Liquorland’ store in Darlinghurst. I had started there in 1990 as a senior shop assistant, after managing “Numbers” bookshop for 7 years – just up[stairs from the ‘Liquorland’ store – and badly needing both a change of scenery and a job that was not as monotonous as running a sex shop. It was known when I started at ‘Liquorland’ that I was gay, and HIV+. I made my HIV status known because I worked on a daily basis with glass. Serious accidents are part and parcel of working in that retail environment, and I wanted to ensure workmates were cautious when dealing with severe cuts etc.

The Manager at that time was gay-friendly, as was the Area Manager. In fact, they had a lesbian working as the Assistant Manager, so there were no problems at all…at least at that time. Six months after starting, Diane left and I progressed to Assistant Manager. Then when the Manager was transferred to another store I became Manager. Now, it always seemed an obvious thing to me that the best person to have managing a business in the gay ghetto of Darlinghurst was someone gay, someone who knew the local clientele and could deal with them on a personal basis. Well, obvious to everyone except the new Area Manager who came on board just after my promotion to Manager. I should point out that being a Manager in the Coles/Myer Group at that time held very little in the way of privileges – you were only paid $40 a week more than your Aaistant Manager. Being under contract you lost most of your time off, and were expected to work long, hard hours. Because bonuses were based on store profits you were ridden hard by your Area Manager to get results.

My health was going through one of its tough periods at this time. I was on high levels of what antivirals were available at that time. Not having recovered from a very serious bout of viral pneumonia earlier that year I found myself working long on top of a dreadful diet, and abusing both cigarettes and alcohol. One might say I had the perfect recipe for a health disaster. Add to that a new Area Manager who was not only homophobic but also HIV phobic, and you have real problems. At that time I thought I had about two years of work left in me before departing this mortal coil from something HIV-related – you have to remember that combination therapy was not a option at this time, and wasn’t until 1996. I was seriously starting weighing up my options – did I take a demotion at work back to Assistant Manager – lets face it, the stress would be a lot less – or did I leave and take the Disability Support Pension option. It was a decision that was soon made for me!

I was due to take a fortnights leave in early November of that year, and had given a months notice of taking it. I had also decided to take a demotion, and the Area Manager had coffee with me at this time, ostensibly to discuss my options. I told him that for health reasons, I wished to go back to the position if Assistant Manager, and could it ge arranged at either Darlinghurst or one of the other Eastern Suburbs stores. His suggestion was that if I was going to start having serious health problems, I should consider leaving the organisation altogether, especially considering that I had an illness with a almost pre-determined end result! Not an suspicious attitude! I suggested that my health issues would be resolved by less stress, thus my request for a voluntary demotion. He appeared displeased, but said he would organise things, again reiterating that it was probably time I left the company. I went back to the store feeling that things were not going to get any easier for me, and as it turned out, I was right.

Let the games begin!!

This particular Area Manager had bullied me in subtle ways ever since he started with the the company. It is a difficult situation, as it is always done out of earshot of other staff, and knowing that their is no way for me to back up complaints to head office, he was free to get away with anything. This is typically how bullies operate in the workplace.

The below scenario was prefaced by an event that was to bring home to me just how demeaning and demoralising the tactics of a bully can be. The sister of a Head Office executive was organising a work function at a restaurant in a back street nearby. The wine order,, address and delivery instructions had been entered up in the shop diary for my attention on the day of the function. The morning of the function started with a nightmare in the shop. Arriving to open, I found that the Assistant Manager, who had locked up the night before, had forgotten to hand the keys over to the staff on with him. This meant I had to ring him, then wait outside the shop until he turned up with the keys. On finally opening the store there were deliveries waiting to be unloaded, the float to be put into the register, the previous days takings to be rung through to Head Office, and customers served. It wasn’t until I received a phone call from the restaurant to say the wine hadn’t been delivered that I realised I hadn’t checked the diary, and the wine delivery had been forgotten! As compensation, we invited the entire party to the store to select the same quantity of wine, but with no restriction on price. They appeared happy with that. I apologised to the woman, rang her brother in Head Office, explained what had happened and apologised to him. That should have been the end of it, but no! The Area Manager had to get involved. He must have rung me a dizen times over the next couple of days to berate and belittle me about the mistake, then made me ring the woman again and apologise a second time, then the following day I had to buy her a bunch of flowers, which gad to ge personally delivered to her at her workplace, then I had to ring her a third time to apologise. I don’t know who was more embarrassed by the whole grovelling scenario – myself, or the poor woman. I have no doubt the Area Manager loved every minute of it. I was reminded of the event on every possible future occasion.

So, to my final month with Liquorland.

The first thing the Area Manager did was bring in to the store another staff member to be trained up to my position. I could never quite work this one out, as I already had a very good Assistant Manager who was more than able to take over from me – and in fact deserved the promotion. Not only was a new guy brought in, he was placed on the same pay level as me, despite not actually being a Manager. This, of course, effectively undermined my authority. Because he was on an equal footing with me, staff were answerable to both of us, but as I was about to be moved to another store I was told that he was to have the managerial authority. So, for the next three weeks while training him to take over as manager, he controlled the store and I was left twiddling my thumbs behind the cash register. This was very demoralising, though as I was to find out shortly, there was a method in the Area Managers vindictiveness..

My holidays eventually rolled around, and off I went, thinking that in two weeks I would be starting in a new store as an Assistant Manager. There was an Assistant Manager position available in the Surry Hills Mall store, and I was informed I would be filling tat position. A week before returning to work I still had not had the position confirmed, so rang the Surry Hills store to find out if they had any confirmation of my appointment, and to find out what roster I would be on. The store Manager knew nothing about my being transferred there. He told me he would look into it, and get back to me. By the Thursday of that week I still had heard nothing, and started leaving messages with the Area Manager to contact me so that I knew what I was doing on the Monday when I was due to return to work. Nothing! The Surry Hills Manager still had not heard from him, and had no idea what was going on. I decided to pay a visit to the Darlinghurst store and see if I could pin the Area Manager down. The new guy who was now Manager asked me to come out the back with him for a chat. He told me he felt really badly about the shabby way I had been treated. He had been told by the Area Manager when he started to make my life as uncomfortable as possible in the hopes that I would resign. This hadn’t happened, though he (the area manager) was sure that in the course of my holidays I would resign. The store Manager, in an about face, told me to hang on, as if I resigned, the Area Manager would get a great amount of satisfaction. Also, if I resigned before I returned to work, he could pay me out in lieu of notice,and get me out of his hair. The plan was for me not to return to work from my holidays.

I decided to dig in my heels – after all, he didn’t know that I now knew what he was up to. I kept ringing the Surry Hills store manager, and late on the Friday he got back to me to say that I was to start work there at 8.30am on the following Monday as Assistant Manager. I now had my position confirmed, and a plan in place. At no time did the Area Manager contact me to confirm any of this. At 8.30am on the Monday morning I turned up for work as confirmed – and gave two weeks notice. I believe the Area Manager was furious, but I can’t confirm that, as he totally ignored me for the next two weeks, despite regular visits to the store, and didn’t even bother to wish me luck on the day I left. At least I felt that I had a hand in my own demise – in the end it hadn’t been determined by him. I was talking to another gay Manager from another store in the area just after this, and found out he was encountering the exact same harrassment from the same Area Manager

After several weeks of tossing backwards and forwards whether I should report his conduct to the company or not, I decided to let it drop. My health wasn’t the best at the time, and I had no witnesses to the discrimination. The Darlinghurst store Manager – despite telling me what was going on – wasn’t going to back me up, as it would have put
his job on the line. He had, in fact, asked me not to divulge the information he had given me, and despite the fact that he had treated me like shit, I sort of felt sorry for him. After all, he was stuck with the Area Manager, and I no longer was.

In retrospect now, I regret that decision. It still plays on my mind from time to time, especially when I hear of others encountering bullying, harassment and discrimination in their workplace. I regret not mentioning it to my other staff members at Darlinghurst – none of whom had any issue with a Manager who was gay and HIV+ – and I especially regret not taking it further with the company and possibly onto the Anti-Discrimination Board. As I have mentioned to others, despite having no witnesses, and being in a his-word-against-mine situation (with the odds being stacked on his side, as he was a ‘company man’), at least there would have been a report about it, and I would have, at least, sewn the seeds of doubt. Even back in those days Coles/Myer had anti-discrimination policies, and he may – or may not- have been dragged over the coals. It is a regret that I now have to live with.

If you are suffering any kind of harrassment or discrimination in your workplace,report it! Your workplace should be somewhere you look forward to going to every day, not somewhere that you sneak to with trepidation, wondering what is in store for you to make your life difficult. Even if you have no witnesses to what is being done to you – the people making life difficult for you will make sure there is none to back up your side of the story (like my being taken out of the store and to a cafe to be told he thought I should get out of the company). It is important both for your confidence and self-respect to ensure that there is at least a report written up about it, and that it goes into the company records, probably through the HR department. There are also community and government organisations who can advise and direct you as to what actions can be taken.

Bullying, harassment, discrimination and prejudice are NEVER to be tolerated – anywhere! By anyone!

ThIs youngster who hit back made headlines. You can only be pushed so far, for so long.

Tim Alderman
Copyright 2013

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Getting On With It! A 33-Year Retrospective of Life with HIV/AIDS

The challenge of writing about 33 years of living with HIV/AIDS isn’t so much to write tomes about what actually was witnessed over that period. That is easy to do, and I could ramble on forever about it. The challenge lies in being objective and succinct, to tone down the schmaltz and sentimentality and cut to the chase. Not as easy as one may think, as these were the most challenging, relentlessly ruthless and heartbreaking period of my life. But if survival is the gauge of ones strength and tenacity, then I have come out at this end of it with flying colours. Indeed, the cup is half full!

So what was it really like in 1982 to be reading snippets in our local gay press about this mysterious illness in The States that seemed to be targeting gay men who frequented the saunas, and quickly killing them? Well, cynicism and disbelief to start with, and the surety that within a short period of time they would find an antibiotic to clear up yet another STD. Soon the snippets were to become columns, then pages as the mysterious and deadly illness leapt from the shores of America and found its way here.

Our response was mixed. The first recorded case of HIV at home was 1982, and the first death in 1983. We had our usual ratbags who yelled and screamed about God’s vengeance on the evil, sick and perverted gay lifestyle (obviously a different God to the compassionate, all-forgiving one that I had heard about), the advocates of hate who demanded quarantine for all infected persons, and those who either quietly or vocally wished that we would all die or just go away. Not that easy folks! Thankfully, common sense prevailed and both the government and the grassroots gay community combined to put both AIDS Councils and NGO programs in place. Our quick response was instrumental in Australia always being at the forefront of HIV/AIDS care. Within 2 years every state had an AIDS Council under the national umbrella of NAPWA (National Association of People with AIDS), and the formation of support organisations such as The Bobby Goldsmith Foundation, Community Support Network (CSN) and Ankali. Without these organisations life would have been grim for those infected. In 1985 testing was introduced. It was a bit of a strange affair in the early days. Due to hysteria and discrimination no one wanted their personal details on a database, so you chose a name, and Albion Street Centre issued you with a number that then became your ID. You had a blood test, and waited for two weeks – talk about high anxiety – to get your result. I had a mystery illness in 1982, a flu-type illness that wasn’t the flu, and already suspected that I had sero-converted and was going to come up HIV+. I was right. Counseling? Oh yeah, we had a lot of that back then. “You’ve got about 2 years to live”. Shrug shoulders “Okay”. And off we went knowing the inevitable was rapidly approaching, and it was time to PARTY!!! What else could you do? However there were horror stories. The disgusting treatment of young Eve Van Grafhorst is something for all Australians to be ashamed of. Born in 1982, she was infected with HIV via a blood transfusion. When she attempted to enrol in her Kincumber pre-school in 1985, parents threatened to withdraw their children due to the (supposed) risk of infection. The family was literally hunted out of town, and forced to leave the country and go to NZ. I will never forget the sight of this poor, frail girl on her way to the airport. I, like many others, was horrified that this could happen in Australia. Thankfully, her NZ experience was quite the opposite, and she lived a relatively normal life until her death in 1993 at 11 years of age. Her parents received a letter from Lady Di praising her courage.

Meanwhile, the Australian nightmare was well and truly hitting home. My first close friend, Andrew Todd, died in 1986. At that time there was no dedicated AIDS ward, and Andrew was shifted between wards as beds were needed for other cases. He died on Boxing Day in A&E at St, Vincent’s. I had the sad duty of ringing all my friends at a party to tell them the sad news. Party pooper recognition acknowledged! Ward 17 at St Vincent’s eventually became the dedicated AIDS ward, and for the next 10 years was never empty. Palliative care was through The Sacred Heart Hospice. Hospitals such as Westmead hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons; full contamination clothing for those working with HIV people, rooms not being cleaned, meals left outside doors. Even the poor old mosquito copped a hiding as a means of contamination, along with toothbrushes, glasses, cutlery and crockery. An advertising campaign featuring the Grim Reaper bowling down poor people created an apocalyptic vision of HIV that scared the life out of everyone. It was quickly withdrawn. In the interim, my 2 years became 4, which became 6 followed by 8. My life became a haze of alcohol and cigarettes, not shared alone.

In the 80’s I held a lot of parties with anywhere from 40- 60 friends attending. By 1996, if I had tried to hold a party I would have been lucky to have dug up 10 friends to attend. In the blink of an eye my social circle was effectively wiped off the face of the earth. Hospitals, hospices, funerals and wakes became the dreaded regular events. It was death on a relentless and unforgiving scale. The Quilt Project became the focus of our sorrow, and it’s regular unfoldings and name readings were tear-filled times of remembrance and reminiscence, along with the yearly Candlelight Rally. I attended until I became so empty that I could no longer bear it. I submitted my names but no longer attended. In the early 90’s four friends died close together – two from AIDS, one a heart attack and one cancer. This was a particularly heavy blow as two of these friends had been regular “gutter drag” partners, and that part of my life effectively ended. In a perverse way, it seemed strange that the Big A wasn’t the only thing stalking our lives.

Despite its reputation for being human Ratsac (the Concorde Study in France named it such, after conducting an unethical trial; turns out they were correct!) I started taking AZT when my CD4 count started to take a dive. Hard work, long hours, heavy drinking, chain smoking, a shit diet and emotional turmoil didn’t help. Pub culture became lifestyle. Did several drug trials – D4T, which was sort of successful, though the same class of drug as AZT. Also p24 VLP (Very Light Protein) which proposed that stimulating the p24 antigen may help control HIV. Total waste of my time. It did nothing. We started alternating drugs – 6 months on AZT, 6 on D4T, 6 on DDI, 6 on DDC. Perversely it seemed to keep the wolf from the door. Dosage was huge. Everyone on it ended up with kidney problems and peripheral neuropathy. Prophylactics added to the drug burden. In the meantime there was no HIV dental service and our teeth rotted or fell out due to bouts of candida. I left work in 1993 after being seriously knocked around by viral pneumonia which should have killed me…but didn’t. I was shuffled onto the pension, and given rent subsidised housing by DOH. The subsidy seemed like a good idea at the time. After all, weren’t we all eventually going to be killed by the Big H, so no one would be on it for that long? Famous last words! My alcohol consumption and chain smoking increased, if that was possible! Was losing weight at an alarming rate, and naturally no one noticed because I took to wearing baggy clothes to disguise it. Nothing quite like being delusional. Moved from Darlinghurst to Bondi. Nothing like moving away from the scene to help your health…not! Collapsed in the street, and admitted to St Vincent’s not with PCP as suspected but a collapsed lung. Two weeks later and a change of female GP’s saw me back in the doctor’s rooms while she read my hospital discharge report. Had they tested me for CMV retinitis? No! Was I having trouble with my vision? Yes, but I do wear glasses. Guess what? We’re sending you for a little holiday at Prince Henry Hospital (now closed). I was a little bit sick. Chronic CMV retinitis, chronic candida, chronic anemia, had 10 CD4 cells and weighed 48 kgs. Mmm, prognosis was not good. Well, it had been a good life. I was certainly joining a band of party people. But no! Life hadn’t finished with me yet. Protease Inhibitors had come along at an auspicious time, and within a fortnight I had been stolen from the arms of death. Mind you, that fortnight had been no picnic. Ganciclovir injections into the eye, Deca-Durabolin injections to help put weight back on, blood transfusions, and enough finger prick blood readings to last me the rest of my life. And the problems had just started for this return-to-lifer. Not dying when you are supposed to really fucks up your head space.

So started the next round of therapies. Peer Support groups; counselors; Caleo (a treatment management group who help you maintain the impetus to take the billion pills a day we were taking); clinics; dental care (now up and running); volunteer work (to keep one sane). What started out as volunteer work at the then PLWHA (NSW) Inc (now Positive Life) turned into paid employment as a research assistant. I started writing for “Talkabout” magazine, joined the Positive Speakers. Bureau, and learnt to use a computer. A couple of stints back in full-time employment made me realise that big changes needed to be made with my life. By this time my health was pretty well back together. A couple of nights out pushed home just how few people I knew, however did lead to meeting my current (now ex) partner. A brief encounter with Indinivir sludge in my kidneys (which involved having a stent inserted then removed) also made me aware that for HIV+ people the unexpected can happen at any time. Yet another change of doctor. Self-empowerment had become an important issue, and I wanted a say in my health management, as distinct from being dictated to. Big changes were about to happen.

In 2000 David and I did a big (and expensive) holiday to the Red Centre. It was an amazing experience. Before leaving Sydney I had applied to the University of Technology in Sydney to do my degree in writing. Shortly after arriving back home I was informed that I had been accepted. Ah, the advantages of mature age AND disability. So spent three years doing my Graduate Certificate in Writing, was office- bearer for the Special Needs Collective…in fact I WAS the Special Needs Collective, and discovered I hated having to deal with the moronic “radicals” who called themselves the Student Association and did nothing except rant and rave, and waste student money. I was glad to leave uni. Towards the end of 2004 I decided to get my chef’s credentials from East Sydney TAFE, and crammed a 12-month course into 6 months. As much as I hated uni, I really loved TAFE and found it more grassroots and honest. David and I started Alderman Catering, a top-end catering business though it only lasted about 2 years as I found it very exhausting. I then sort of returned to my retail roots by opening a web site called Alderman Providore to sell Australian made gourmet grocery items. The site proved successful, and within 4 years I was opening my second site, this time specialising in tea, coffee and chocolate products. I got involved in a trial using Goat’s Serum to treat HIV, but again another waste of time. I did manage to get a skin rash from it, and managed to score a $1,000 for participating. In late 2009 the GFC hit, and online shopping took a major hit. After a disastrous Christmas that left me severely out if pocket, I decided to sell the business and put it behind me.

More eye problems followed, this time involving my blind eye. Back to the regular rounds at the Sydney Eye Hospital, and an injection of Avastin into the blind eye to stop it creating new blood supplies to an eye that couldn’t see. By this time, the interior of the bad eye was collapsing, and it took on an unnatural colour. Before this I hadn’t looked blind. Now I did!

The next step, which sort of brings us up to date, was a major move. Plans to move north had been on the agenda for 10 years – in 2011 it finally happened, though we did jump the border which wasn’t in the original plan. Recently my retina detached in my one seeing eye…or rather was pushed off by all the scar tissue present from my original CMV infection. An emergency operation to scrape down the scar tissue, and replace the retina and fluid (called a vitrectomy) has seen my sight degenerate even further and I am now the proud owner of a white cane curtesy of Guide Dogs Queensland. It has become obvious that our two Jack Russell’s are not, despite their best of intentions, good seeing-eye dogs. I can see, though very poorly. A lot of life is a blur these days.

However, I am not going to complain. I have always enjoyed a challenge, and this presents yet another one. I gave up smoking 15 years ago, and drink only lightly and socially these days. My partner and I both adopted a healthy diet and exercise program 8 years ago when we both started getting unattractively over-weight and inactive. We have both turned our lives around by adopting this course of action. In 2013, I obtained my Certificate III in Fitness from Southbank TAFE. It proved both a challenge for me, and for the TAFE, as they had never had a student with severe visual impairment do the course before. And finally, at the beginning if this year, I had my troublesome blind eye removed. I now have a very life-like prosthetic that I dan do drunken party tricks with.

33 years eh! OMG where have those years gone? Despite all the discrimination, stress, anxiety, illness, deaths, survivor guilt and despair, there have been moments of great introspection, illumination, strength and enlightenment. That over-used word “empowerment” springs to mind and that is perhaps the one word that sums all those years up. Victim? No way! Survivor? Not in my words! And I have never been one to wallow in self pity. You just need to grab life by the balls, and get on with it. I trust that is what I have done.

Tim Alderman

Copyright 2012, 2015

AIDS Quilt unfolding in Government Pavilion, Sydney Showground circa 1988. L-R Peter McCarthy, Peter Gilmore, Bevan, Steve Thompson, Tim Alderman
AIDS Quilt unfolding in Government Pavilion, Sydney Showground circa 1988. L-R Peter McCarthy, Peter Gilmore, Bevan, Steve Thompson, Tim Alderman