Wearing a reserved suit, you’d be forgiven for assuming that Nick Toonen is just an average business man, but this quietly spoken Tasmanian is in fact one of the country’s foremost gay rights advocates and new AIDS Trust CEO.

Having just moved to Sydney from New Zealand, Toonen still seems a little nervous, though excited about discovering his new home town and there is the same sense of jittery optimism towards his new role.

Coming from Tasmania where he was general manager of the Tasmanian AIDS Council as well as a former board member of AFAO, working in the HIV/AIDS sector is not new territory, though Toonen is the first to admit that, it’s a challenge, but I’m definitely one who likes a challenge.

Toonen’s commitment to gay rights and ability to take on a seemingly impossible task are undeniable. Along with a group of others he met in his student days, Toonen spent nine years over the late -˜80s and early -˜90s campaigning to have Tasmania’s anti-homosexuality laws overturned.

By filing a complaint with the UN’s Human Rights Committee, in 1994 Toonen managed to achieve the previously unthinkable as the State’s laws were overturned – a feat which was later rewarded with the Order of Australia medal.

That same sense of determination is coming with Toonen as he takes over from Mark Orr as the CEO of the AIDS Trust.

Mark has done an amazing job in the last six to eight months. He, along with the other board members have established a really strong platform for me to come and build on, Toonen said.

There are quite a few new directions, a lot of which are quite clearly set before I start. The bottom line though, is to raise funds to be distributed to HIV programs.

The focus is getting the maximum amount of funds for distribution to HIV programs across the country. That means building on what already exists. But one of the big changes will be to build a much stronger relationship with the AIDS council.

Developing the communication ties and co-operation between the various state AIDS Councils, the AIDS Trust and AFAO is primary on Toonen’s agenda.

There is an amazing amount of goodwill between the AIDS Councils and AFAO and the AIDS Trust. But there’s been less communication than has been ideal in the past, because all the organisations work separately to raise funds, you’ve had gaps and overlaps, he said.

Now everyone’s taking a step back and saying, -˜we want to raise the maximum amount of money in Australia for community HIV initiatives’.

Developing new databases to more effectively target donors, working to encourage people to leave bequests and developing National strategies for raising and distributing funds are all part of Toonen’s extensive plans, though he will be forgiven for spending the next week or so getting set up and revelling in the comparatively balmy Sydney weather before launching into shaking up the HIV/AIDS sector.

For more information on the AIDS Trust visit its website, www.aidstrust.com.au or phone (02) 9285 4400.

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