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Honouring innovative outreach in bathhouses

ACT's Marco Posadas to get Ontario Association of Social Workers award

ACT's Marco Posadas is being honoured by the Ontario Association of Social Workers for TowelTalk. Credit: Andrea Houston (file photo)

The AIDS Committee of Toronto’s (ACT) Marco Posadas is being honoured for his groundbreaking outreach work counselling men in Toronto bathhouses.

The Ontario Association of Social Workers (OASW) will present Posadas with the 2013 Inspirational Leader Award at the group’s next annual meeting, in May.

The gay psychoanalyst has been bringing mental health to gay men in three Toronto bathhouses since 2009. He developed TowelTalk to support men who might not otherwise seek professional counselling or who have fallen through the cracks.

“Marco is doing such innovative work,” says OASW’s Tracey Nesbitt. “He has been speaking at conferences all over the world, and people are really looking at TowelTalk as a model for reducing the transmission of HIV and STI.”

Nesbitt says also that Posadas is a wonderful and affable advocate for the profession of social work.

“His students are fascinated and engaged in what he talks about, and he clearly has such a passion for what he does,” she says. “He has found a great way to connect with people at a point when they are about to make a decision, and it’s about helping them make a decision that is best for them.”

The peer-nominated award is presented once a year in March, which is Social Work Month in Canada.

OASW is also recognizing Posadas for his private-practice work with queer newcomers and people in underserved communities.

Posadas says he is humbled by and grateful for the honour. “It’s wonderful to be recognized for the work that I do, which is about carving a space to focus on the mental health of LGBT people and opening up spaces for people to start talking about their own experiences,” he says.

When he works in bathhouses, Posadas wears a shirt with the words “Wanna Talk?” and greets guests with a welcoming smile. “It’s a time where men can talk about anything they need support in — relationships, depression, being married to a man or a woman, HIV disclosure, substance abuse, housing, immigration, anything,” he told Xtra in 2011 before presenting his work at the International Psychoanalytical Studies Organization conference in his home country of Mexico.

And his idea is catching on. Local HIV groups in cities across Canada have contacted ACT for information on starting their own version of TowelTalk. “There is a TowelTalk in Winnipeg, and we have been speaking to people in Vancouver, who are very interested in the program,” Posadas says, noting it’s important to keep finding ways to bring mental health to marginalized groups.

“These type of interventions can address an anti-oppressive perspective in terms of mental health for LGBT and work within the intersection of psychoanalysis and homosexuality,” he says. “It’s bridging the gaps.”