Being queer in rural NSW can be lonely at the best of times, and being HIV-positive adds a whole new dimension of isolation.

The stigma attached to HIV/ AIDS in many country areas is a lot worse than in the city, as is the stigma attached to being lesbian or gay. It’s often difficult to find many -“ if any -“ gay, lesbian or HIV-positive people to socialise with, plus there’s also the problem of getting access to appropriate health services.

The gay and lesbian people of Albury in southern NSW, however, have a queer social group which also offers support and care to people with HIV/ AIDS.

Hume Phoenix has around 400 members in Albury and the surrounding district, and last week it celebrated its 10th anniversary.

The organisation was formed in 1995 when a number of small groups joined forces in association with Albury Community Health to bring the community together. The aim was to provide a social outlet while also distributing important health information the community wasn’t otherwise receiving.

The group was formed to give the gay and lesbian community a stronger voice in regional NSW, coordinator of the group’s HIV/ AIDS carers Ian Sutherland said.

Sutherland said the Hume Phoenix members are hungry for health information and snap up any material sent to them by ACON’s Sydney office.

At a recent meeting a collection of show bags containing safe sex info were all quickly snapped up, and even the safe-sex posters on the walls were all taken home by the eager crowd.

Considering there are very few medical practitioners in Albury who know very much about HIV/ AIDS or even STIs, Sutherland said, it’s little wonder the community is so eager for help.

Alison Kincaide works at the Albury Community Health Service and was one of the people who helped form Hume Phoenix. She said most city folk forget there are people living with HIV/ AIDS in rural areas.

Most people with HIV probably do live in major centres, but they certainly live here in Albury as well, Kincaide said. The majority of people with HIV in rural areas are not out about their status due to discrimination and lack of understanding.

It’s really important that all members of the gay community are supported at some level.

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