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Living well is the best revenge

Website helps queers make better health choices

HEALTHY MESSAGE. Health Canada funded the series of posters for the Outlive Homophobia Campaign.

Homophobia makes us sick. And the new Outlive Homophobia campaign aims to change that.

The campaign was recently unveiled by the Canadian Rainbow Health Coalition (CRHC) at its second annual conference, held in Halifax this month. Amidst the cruising and the sightseeing, 230 people from across the country listened as keynote speakers and workshop presenters addressed how the stress of dealing with homophobia negatively affects our health.

The CRHC, which receives funding from the Primary Health Care Transition Fund of Health Canada, developed the Outlive Homophobia campaign to get this message out to a wider audience and to encourage queer and trans people to take care of ourselves.

This past summer, the organization was approached by the Public Health Agency Of Canada (PHAC) about reproducing a Quebec sexual health campaign for a national English audience. CRHC executive director Gens Hellquist wanted to go beyond a single-issue message and suggested that they create a broader wellness initiative.

The PHAC agreed to help fund the campaign and handed over $10,000 in August. Despite this funding, the PHAC logo does not appear on the materials.

PHAC spokesperson Julian Beltrane says it’s not unusual for third party campaigns to not carry PHAC’s logo.

“Signoff approval was required on short notice and we were not able to accommodate that request,” Beltrane says. “We think that this is a worthwhile campaign. We recognize that homophobia contributes to high rates of substance abuse, depression and suicide and there is a public health component to this campaign.”

Hellquist says he’s not surprised that the PHAC’s logo does not appear on the campaign materials, but he draws a different conclusion.

“That’s an indication that the system is still uncomfortable with us. It is a demonstration of all of the work that still needs to be done.”

Once the funding was in place, Hellquist quickly brought in Duncan Campbell, a graphic designer and Brita Lind, creative director of Verb Communications, to work on the project. Together they produced the new campaign which consists of six free posters, those now ubiquitous silicone bracelets (thanks, Lance Armstrong) and a website. The bilingual posters are printed in the six different colours of the rainbow flag, and feature images of queer people with the message that the best way to fight homophobia is to outlive it by taking care of ourselves.

“We didn’t want to be a fear-based campaign. We wanted to give people ways to feel good about themselves,” says Campbell. “We needed to create a series of posters that would look good in a bathhouse as well as a classroom.”

The website goes live at the end of November, providing information about the effects of homophobia, how to choose a healthcare provider and the Outlive Challenge which offers 10 steps on how to outlive homophobia. The CRHC hopes that one-million queers will sign up for the challenge on-line.

The Outlive Homophobia campaign is the first of its kindin Canada and many conference attendees were thrilled by the presentation. Kathy DaSilva, president of the board of directors of the Pride Centre of Edmonton, says she was particularly touched and plans to distribute the posters in the school system.

“I think it was incredibly moving and fabulous. It made me think of the youth in Edmonton who have been asking for more visibility for a long time. It’s long overdue.”

Beth Jackson, a coordinator at the Ontario Rainbow Health Partnership Project, was pleased by the development of the campaign but saw some limitations.

“I do think it’s important that there are health promotion messages that are targeted to our communities, where people can see themselves reflected,” says Jackson, “but I’m disappointed and concerned that the primary focus of the campaign is on changing individual behaviours.

“That’s done at the expense of a more systemic analysis of homophobia and heterosexism. I think it’s also important to recognize trans and biphobia as sources of oppression in our communities. But this is the first step and they’re open to feedback and I’m optimistic that they will address these issues.”

Hellquist says they needed to keep the message simple.

“It’s not that we don’t think these [biphobia and transphobia] are important things. As the campaign continues, we hope to have the resources to broaden the message.”

The next steps for the campaign involve e-mail outreach and distribution of the posters and silicone bracelets to groups that request them. The second phase consists of a poster campaign for doctors’ offices. Posters and stickers will be developed to give physicians and healthcare providers a way to publicly declare their offices safe places for queer and trans people.

Hellquist hopes to secure additional funding to expand the campaign by advertising in queer publications and other venues. It is not clear whether more funds will be forthcoming from PHAC.