An elderly woman will take legal action against the Red Cross after she was asked to leave her volunteer position for being the carer of her HIV-positive nephew.
The woman, who asked not to be named, volunteered at the Parramatta Red Cross tea room. Before starting she told a manager she cared for her HIV-positive nephew, Richard Johnson.
Two weeks ago, after arriving for her Friday shift, she was told by a fellow volunteer she would not be working. She was called into a meeting with another manager, who expressed concern that other volunteers and patrons might contract the disease.
“She said she wished Richard hadn’t opened his mouth,” the woman told Sydney Star Observer. “It upset me. I just loved working there, meeting people.”
“My aunt’s been directly discriminated against in her position and I’ve been indirectly discriminated against,” an outraged Johnson said.
“My privacy from us disclosing to someone who’s been pre-charged to act as a supervisor has been breached.”
The Red Cross immediately issued a written apology: “On behalf of the Australian Red Cross, I am sorry that a person to whom you disclosed information about yourself passed that information on to the supervisor of the tea rooms. That should not have occurred.”
Johnson and his aunt will seek financial compensation; have demanded the supervisor be removed; and the Red Cross implement new training procedures for all volunteers.
Red Cross NSW executive director Lewis Kaplan said new training procedures would be in place by the end of the week, but would not comment on the supervisor’s future.
“From our perspective, a particular volunteer was ill-informed about her expectation of communicable diseases,” he said. “What she should have done is seek advice from management. She didn’t do that and, as a result, things happened we acknowledge should not have happened.
“Our task now is to ensure volunteers are appropriately trained and understand what is required under the appropriate legislation.”
ACON CEO Stevie Clayton confirmed the organisation would design a training program for Red Cross volunteers covering  HIV/AIDS awareness and anti-discrimination.
“There is a real lack of awareness and understanding about HIV in the general population, and there are lots of people who still think HIV can be passed on by sharing cutlery, or from mosquitoes,” Clayton said.
“People just don’t understand about HIV at all and they think they don’t know anyone with HIV, so they’re ignorant about how HIV can be transmitted or what people with HIV are like, and that leads to a lot of discrimination.”
The Red Cross has invited Johnson’s aunt to return to work at the tea house, an offer she is keen to accept.
“I am worried about going back. I’m a bit concerned about how they’re going to react, but I will try and soldier on,” she said. “What I want is for other people to come out and stick up for themselves and let their anger out.”
Positive Life CEO Rob Lake also encouraged other victims of discrimination to come forward.
“Two people affected have stood up to the Red Cross and said ‘No, that’s not acceptable’. It took courage and, because of that, we know and can act to support them,” he told Sydney Star Observer.
“We want people who experience [discrimination] and people who discriminate to know that organisations like Positive Life, ACON, the HIV/AIDS Legal Centre, will challenge it where we see it.
“It takes courage to act but it brings change.”

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