Housed at a downtown community centre, GayZone was launched in September 2008 as a way of creating a more comfortable environment for gay men to get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia and HIV.
Offering services to a focussed demographic, the clinic provides quick, anonymous and hassle-free services, increasing the likelihood that gay men will come and get tested.
“I think all [the] agencies working as partners in this project are happy. We just have to work together to get things right. Good news is everyone is willing to work together,” says Cory Wong, a coordinator for the Gay Men’s Wellness Initiative.
GayZone organizers are forced to navigate a tricky web of budget constraints since seven local groups are working together to deliver the programming. But so far, so good, says Christiane Bouchard, who shepherded the project through its first year.
“GayZone is going great, and it will continue,” she says.
When GayZone began, stakeholders agreed to work on the project for one year. If it was a success, they said they would happily continue. If not, gay men would go back to waiting in line at the Clarence St clinic.
Luckily, things went well. The clinic hosted over 500 visits from 350 different people — while contending with a bus strike and debilitating construction on nearby Bank St.
Cathy Collett is the manager of the Centretown Community Health Centre, which hosts GayZone every Thursday night. Collett says the program did a survey of 50 clients and all agreed the program should continue.
“It’s important to have gay men getting tested regularly,” she says.
One of the reasons for GayZone’s success this year is that it also offers programming like yoga, sports, trans youth groups, book clubs and movie nights: ways for guys to connect with each other and build community.
Because of the diversity of its offerings, the financing for GayZone is split several ways: Nurses, doctors and project coordination are provided by Ottawa Public Health. Security, space and health promotion are provided by the community centre. The Somerset West Community Health Centre provides staff for testing of STIs. Trans youth groups are facilitated by Youth Services Bureau and Pink Triangle Services. And the AIDS Committee of Ottawa provides education and wellness programs, as well as giving out condoms and lube.
GayZone is located at the Centretown Community Health Centre, 420 Cooper St at Bank. It runs every Thursday, 5-8pm. Info: aco-cso.ca/gayzonegaie.