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A veteran of the 'Love Army', Greg Kelly tells his stories in a powerful and empowering digital story-telling project.
G’day, my name is Greg Kelly and I have lived with HIV for … oh shit, soon to be 20 years! I've been asked to share my thoughts about the process of making a digital story. The end result: a couple of three-minute video clips, sharing stories relevant to me. In other words, me talking about me, what’s not to like?
The process of formulating a story and being able to write it, refine it, get images that go with the text and then to tell it, record it and have music put to my voice, I have to admit makes me feel a little bit of a star in my own lunchbox! Essentially it has made me laugh and I hope others will too.
I believe the importance of telling my story is that I have lived through an experience that for one moment in time was one of the key topics in the news, was happening everywhere (or so it seemed) and I was a soldier in what I call the Love Army. The people who came from 'nowhere', who were mothers, fathers, nuns (defying Melbourne’s bishop), some priests, they were brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles, friends, they were gay, lesbian, bisexual, tri-anything people. Or just people who saw that there was suffering and offered a hand.
At the same time as this, an HIV-positive five year old girl was deported out of Australia and forced to live in New Zealand (could such a thing happen today?) The days when the blood bank didn’t want to test all the blood they were given because of cost (discrimination still exists against gay men), Salvos weren’t so friendly and had issues accommodating or offering proper services to PLWHA (as we became known). In those days, of course, we were known as 'AIDS victims' and were to be feared, pitied and in many cases judged as filth by the mainstream of society. “Worse than lower forms of life because they either did unspeakable acts with each other or stuck needles in their arms. They deserve it – God’s wrath!”
The opposite side became a fire in the belly of men and women who became ACT-UP and similar organisations, where an almost revolutionary politics swept into the gay world. My perception is that HIV/AIDS was the impetus which triggered a lot of reforms on equality and same-sex relationship status that are demanded today.
Some images of the war will stay with me – always those of my dear friends with horrific conditions – and yet at the same time I witnessed the best that humanity has to offer. These people raged against this crushing virus that took so many from us. These caring people assisted those in need in so many ways and in many cases took the place of family during the last months or years up until and at the time and place of death.
HIV certainly doesn’t define me but I have to admit, like a returned serviceman, it takes up a part of and always will be a part of my story.
And now in 2011, HIV/AIDS-related issues are not making headlines or not in the public eye as it was way back then.
Who is to blame for increases in infections? Who is at fault? Is there anyone or anything to blame? Where is the system failing? Is there any part of bureaucracy that has failed? Could it be the religious right hijacking the argument by not permitting proper health education to happen in many religious-based and government schools? Where is the line in the sand on personal responsibility and negligence by others?
I am responsible for every single thing that I do and (if I want to get a bit Louise Hay on you) I am responsible for everything that happens to me as well. Random acts can be just that, but it is how I react to the act that is the most important thing. Life truly has sucked in many ways for me. If it hadn’t sucked, I probably wouldn’t know or be able to appreciate the fabulous people and things that have come my way during my life. I hasten to add I am saying this at the old-man age of 46 and with a bit of hindsight.
I have a quote by Epictetus on my front door. I see it every time I enter and leave, as does everyone who comes into my house. “People are disturbed not by things, but by the views they take of them”.
My two stories
Greg’s Sermon is something I am really proud of, never having had any training in any of these mediums. The message I want to portray is that guilt and shame can make you do and be the reason allowing other people to do things to you that you may not want to happen.
No matter what anyone says to you, when the person you are going to have an intimate connection with doesn’t want to protect you and them, remember one thing – do you want to be undeniably connected to a drug company for the rest of your life? Long-term multiple medication use has major effects on the quality of your life. Some deal with it better than others, but do you really need to deal with it?
Me Mum and Dad is a testament to my parents, who had their number four child come out to them as a 17 year old and a month or two later, 'Gay plague hits Melbourne' was the headline of The Sun newspaper. Margaret and Vincent got involved in volunteer work with HIV-positive people at a place called St Francis House, the first of its kind in Australia. It accommodated HIV-positive people, mainly with drug and alcohol issues. Mum and Dad mixed with effeminate gay men, masculine gay men, transgenders, people just out of prison and people who used intravenously, all colours.
Mum starred in a Channel 7 documentary, the opening scene showing a man injecting heroin. She was interviewed on commercial radio several times and has authored articles published in Australian Catholic newspapers telling of hers and Dad’s experiences with HIV-positive people.
Mum and Dad keep telling me they are just normal people (whatever that is). I know from my experiences of friends and the wider GLBTIQ communities they are far from 'normal' and this is the least I can do to pay homage to them for their courage, support and strength.
I’ve lived in four states now and feel I have seen the 'HIV industry' change and adapt as the needs of positive people have changed. Some good changes, some not so. This digital project was funded by the AIDS Council of SA and Feast (SA’s Queer Festival). I got involved from the start as it seemed I would get a few new skills. This is possibly one of the few projects I've been involved with, put on by an AIDS council, where I've finished the project feeling empowered, as opposed to sad or sort of feeling like a victim. I also really enjoyed having a space to tell my story. I appreciate the acknowledgment that I actually have a story to tell.
This empowerment is similar to the feeling when leaving one of those fabulous Northern Rivers retreats! It’s a sense of having gone on a wonderful journey. I have a tangible thing that I can do something with. I have actually learnt something that I can apply in other parts of my life. I’ve had an interesting walk around some things that even my old computer can do and learnt about what some other programs not on my computer can do.
Please check out Rainbow Family Tree website set up by Sonja Vivienne and if you have a story or want to tell a story in this format, then I urge you to try. You’ll be surprised who is interested in something you have to say. I believe that it is a really therapeutic thing to do, to tell your story. You’ve got nothing to lose.
Rainbow Family Tree's site has several video stories from HIV+ people: http://rainbowfamilytree.com/
Greg's Sermon: http://rainbowfamilytree.com/video/greg-s-sermon
Me Mum and Dad: http://rainbowfamilytree.com/video/me-mum-and-dad