The annual Snowblower festival will be adding new programming this year — a full day of activities relating to the well-being of African, Caribbean and black men who sleep with men (MSM).
Hosted by the AIDS Committee of Ottawa (ACO), Snowblower is an annual festival dedicated to the health and wellness of gay, bi and queer men and MSM. This week-long event includes a range of workshops, panels, presentations and parties. Established in 2007, the festival is open to all men, no matter their HIV status.
Clive Carter, The ACO’s MSM ethno-cultural resource coordinator, is helping to organize the African Caribbean Black MSM health forum. “What we wanted to do with the day was touch on a few topics — relative concerns in the black MSM community here in Ottawa,” he says. “The focus this year will be on gender expression, healthy relationships, disclosure of one’s HIV [status], as well as the implications of the law around sexual assault.”
He highlights a panel discussion called Sexuality and Spirituality that will include activists Francis Kiromero and Duane Morrisseau Beck. He also makes note of a presentation called Gender Expression, which will be given by Jeard Strachan, MSM outreach coordinator at the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention (Black CAP) in Toronto. There’s also Harm Reduction and Mental Health, given by Garfield Durrant, MSM prevention coordinator at Black CAP.
This year’s Snowblower includes another new addition, a catered dinner for transgender people and their allies. Called Chomp!, it debuted at Capital Pride 2015, and organizers hope to host several more of these dinners over the course of the coming year. This is one of the few events at the festival that isn’t only for male-identified folks — people of all trans identities are welcome.
“It’s more of a social thing than talking about health and wellness explicitly,” says Derek Cassidy, ACO’s men’s outreach coordinator. “It’s about creating a sense of community — bringing people together who might feel isolated.”
The week’s closing dance party, Cabaret Volupte, won’t include a Miss Snowblower pageant this year. Volupte is the more performance-focused counterpart of Magne+ Party, which takes place earlier in the festival. Volupte will include performances by a variety of drag queens and kings including David Copafeel, Cameron Eric Leon and Cyril Cinder.
“The point of Ms Snowblower pageant was to appoint an ambassador that would represent ACO throughout the year,” Cassidy says. “We’ve found that we have been able to do that more organically without the competition.”