Bruce Kilmister is stepping down from his long-term role at Body Positive after over 20 years working for the organisation. Levi Joule looks back at his remarkable career.
Bruce says his time has gone in a flash. Over the 20 years, things have changed a lot at Body Positive. “Back in those days, there were only two or three of us working five hours a day.” Now the organisation employs 10 staff (five full time) across Auckland and Wellington.
Bruce started off as a volunteer, before being elected to the board and then ultimately CEO.
He has spent most of his adult life working for the GLBT community, beginning with his work with Fran Wilde to get through the homosexual law reform bill in 1986. He says while he enjoyed the campaign, but would never want to go back to it. “Those were very ugly times,” he says, noting that the culture of acceptance towards the GLBT community has grown over the last 30 years, to something that would never have been dreamt of three decades ago.
Body Positive has served HIV+ New Zealander’s for 22 years. It was incorporated in 1992 serving as one of only two of New Zealand’s national HIV+ peer support organizations. The other organization of course is the NZ AIDS Foundation (NZAF).
Bruce was on the founding board of the NZAF. He says the main difference between both organisations is how the two deal with the issue of HIV/AIDS. “Their main focus is to provide prevention education. Once somebody becomes positive, they are referred onto us. We provide counselling only to positive people. Whereas the NZAF provide counselling to anybody impacted by HIV.” He notes the importance that both organisations have to the community. “Fortunately most members get on with their lives, comfortable knowing that we are here to support them.”
During Bruce’s time at Body Positive HIV treatment methods have rapidly changed. “Certainly science and medicine have made incredible advancements.” He notes, but concludes the virus has never been easy to deal with. “Giving somebody a positive diagnosis is always a challenge. It grounds you in the reality of HIV.” But no problem has been greater than that of the issue of stigma. “Sadly however we have made little progress on issues of stigma and discrimination. Stigma I think is the big issue now. It’s the last major hurdle.” He explains that there is no funding for HIV education, something the ministry of health has now recognised.
The discrimination those with HIV/AIDS face is even present within the GLBT community. “Even the gay male community will discriminate against those with HIV,” Bruce tells us. He hopes one day everyone will realise, “We are more than HIV, it is part of our lives, but we don’t need to change because of it.”
The biggest trial for Body Positive as an organisation has been the issue of funding, which has been, “a constant struggle.” Bruce expects there to be a greater demand on services going forward, “because we were are keeping more people alive through the antiretroviral medicines.”
Reflecting on the wider issues facing the GLBT community, Bruce thinks more focus should be made on supporting rural New Zealanders. “There is still a lot of work beyond the gay ghettos of Auckland and Wellington.”
Bruce says he has no regrets of his time, except having to watch so many of his friends pass away. Despite his retirement Bruce promises to remain involved in Body Positive and the wider community. His work and support will not be forgotten.
Article | Levi Joule. Photo l Tux Hika