At long last, gay men in Ottawa have a festival to call their own, a celebration of their unique culture and sexuality. Even the name is playful: Snowblower.
“I wonder if the gay community isn’t a little bit tired of institutionalised social work-looking affairs,” says Nicholas Little, Gay Men’s Outreach Coordinator at AIDS Committee of Ottawa, and one of the festival’s organizers.
“We wanted to make it a bit more interesting, and reflect the fact that, with the gay community, when it comes to health it’s not just about attending workshops, but there’s parties that you want to go to and have a good time and hopefully bring a sense of humour to it — even if it is a health workshop.”
One of the most important concepts being brought forward in Snowblower is that of sex-positivity.
“Growing up as queer men, we’re often asked to relegate our sexuality to a different side, or to hide it, or to do it in a dark corner,” says ACO’s Adam Graham.
“I think this is an opportunity to talk about gay male sexuality in a sex-positive way and also engage with the larger community because it is an open event.
“I think in terms of gay male sexuality, there’s a lot of things that people really want to talk about,” Graham continues. “I think that even between men, there’s a lot of things that we don’t talk about in terms of our sexuality and the sex that we have. There are a lot of stigmas associated with gay male sex, particularly here in Ottawa where we work through a lot of issues such as park sex and the stigma of going to a bathhouse.”
Kevin Muise agrees.
“We like to approach sex from a more optimistic perspective rather than just ‘you should do this, you shouldn’t do that,'” adds Muise, the co-chair of Gay Men’s Wellness Initiative (GWMI). “There is a role for finding ways to be safer, finding ways to make safer sex fun and to experience our sexuality and enjoy it and be proud of it and not be ashamed of it.”
Snowblower has been in the planning stage for a couple of years. The need for it came through clearly in a community survey done last year by the GMWI.
“When we got the resources out into the community to carry out more of the work in the work plan, this was one of the first things that we wanted to get to,” says Muise.
The survey found local gay men want more holistic programming that addresses issues like loneliness and depression, or the basics of going to the gym. But above all, things had to be fun and social.