There’s a new gay zone in the Village.
Beginning Sep 25, the Centretown Community Health Centre (CCHC) will be operating a new sexual health clinic for guys into guys, running every Thursday from 5pm to 8pm.
GayZoneGaie will offer core services in both English and French, including screening and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia, and both traditional and rapid anonymous HIV testing.
The clinic plans to offer programming for gay and questioning youth as well as other workshops and services focussed on health promotion activities for gay men. HIV-prevention workers from the AIDS Committee of Ottawa will be present during the clinic’s hours to answer questions and provide information, condoms and lube.
Vaccinations for Hepatitis A and B will also be available.
It’s a project that’s been in the works since this winter, when it was decided that funds for a gay men’s coordinator at Pink Triangle Services would be redirected.
Barry Deeprose, co-chair of the Gay Men’s Wellness Initiative says that offering STI and HIV testing exclusively for gay, bi, transmen and other men who have sex with men will help reduce wait times that other clinics are facing, and create a service where gay men will feel more comfortable getting tested.
“We’ve gotten many complaints about the overcrowded sexual health centre on Clarence Street,” says Deeprose.
“In the past five years, there has been a 25 percent increase in request for services, and no new resources provided. This means a barrier to services, and a barrier to gay men taking care of themselves.”
Planning for Gay Zone began about year ago, in the fall of 2007, when Deeprose contacted the City’s (then) chief medical officer of health David Salisbury, about the alarmingly high rates of HIV infection among gay men in Ottawa.
“The HIV rates in Ottawa are very concerning — they are the second highest in Canada and are not going down,” says Deeprose.
Around the same time that Deeprose started talking to the City about a much-needed increase in health services directed towards the gay community, the health centre, located on Cooper St just off Bank, was proposing a partnership with the Ottawa Public Health’s Healthy Sexuality and Risk Reduction Program, in hopes of extending their long-standing outreach to the gay community.
Cathy Collett is the chair of the steering committee for GayZone and CCHC’s manager of primary care.
“While Barry was writing to the city and expressing his concerns about barriers for gay men having access to testing, the CCHC was looking to enhance our youth programming, and creating a sort of drop-in health clinic,” says Collett.
Between January and April of 2008, seven Ottawa agencies — Ottawa Public Health, Pink Triangle Services, AIDS Committee of Ottawa, Youth Services Bureau, Somerset West Community Health Centre, Gay Men’s Wellness Initiative and the Centretown Community Health Centre — got together in support of the clinic, and came up with a vision and mission statement for what they wanted GayZone to be.
“We envision a vibrant community of self-affirming gay men of all ages caring for themselves, caring for each other, and living integrated and abundant lives of complete equality,” the mission statement reads.
“What’s really remarkable about this partnership is that it’s been a completely community-based project, with a bunch of organizations stepping up to the table” says Collett.
“It’s [Centretown’s] space and medical supplies, but there will be someone from YSB doing youth programming, someone from Somerset West to do HIV testing, greeters provided by PTS, an HIV prevention worker from ACO, and so on.”
The clinic will also make sure to keep STI testing very separate from anonymous HIV tests — something that hasn’t been carried out very well at other sexual health clinics in the past. While the anonymity of an HIV test must be guaranteed if you ask for one, STI tests are done nominally, which can cause confusion for people going in for two separate tests on the same day.
“We will have someone during clinic hours who is there specifically to do anonymous HIV tests, so we will be able to streamline the people who come in for that particular service,” says Christiane Bouchard, program co-ordinator for GayZone.
“A lot of confusion lies around the fact that regular STI testing cannot be anonymous, but HIV testing can be, so we’re making sure to keep the tests very separate,” says Deeprose.
The clinic has committed to a grassroots approach, making sure that gay men are involved with all phases of program planning, development, delivery and evaluation.
In fact, an advisory committee has been formed, comprised of an HIV positive man, a trans man, a francophone man, a rep from the gay men’s wellness initiative, and a gay youth. It will meet every two months to review the clinic’s progress and feedback.
Organizers of the project are crossing their fingers that the clinic will be a success, so that services can be extended beyond the one-year pilot project.
“My hopes are that gay men will come and feel very welcomed here, feel good about the services we are providing, and then go out and tell other men about it,” says Collett.
Deeprose goes further.
“Gay men going to get tested shows an act of altruism, and we want to make the process a positive experience for them.”