Programming Connection

Totally outRIGHT: The Toronto Experience 

AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT)
Toronto, ON
2014

Since 2012, the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT), an AIDS service organization, has offered Totally outRIGHT, a program for young gay and bisexual men in Toronto. Providing Totally outRIGHT makes sense for ACT because many young people do not receive adequate sexual health education, and gay and bisexual men continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV. The program builds the capacity of a diverse community of young gay and bisexual cisgendered and trans men, some of whom live with HIV, to become knowledgeable leaders in the gay community as a way to reduce HIV stigma and the burden of disease on the community.

ACT used Vancouver’s model as a guide for delivering Totally outRIGHT in Toronto. Although ACT has preserved the essence of Totally outRIGHT as a leadership development program for future community leaders, it continues to adapt the program to suit the needs of young gay and bisexual men in Canada’s largest city. The program has been offered six times in Toronto and 95 participants have graduated.

ACT’s curriculum consists of 22 learning modules that include 14 activities delivered by leaders in the community who all identify as gay or bisexual men; a final group project (which requires groups to identify a problem facing the community and recommend a solution) that participants have to develop on their own time; and 30-minute presentations delivered by ACT staff on different aspects of HIV and sexually transmitted infections, including testing, harm reduction, poz prevention, and negotiating safer sex. The course is 28 hours long and runs on four consecutive Saturdays. Spreading the learning over four weekends instead of delivering it more intensively over two weekends provides more opportunity for teamwork and relationship development among participants.

The program is adapted from one generation of graduates to the next to ensure maximum relevance for participants. Since its inception in Toronto, no two series of Totally outRIGHT have been the same because ACT strives to find the right balance of content and activities for each new generation of men. The program is also adapted in the midst of a series. Ongoing evaluation of presentations and activities provides ACT with immediate feedback that can be considered in real time, and adjustments can be made for the following weekend’s sessions.

One of the key learnings from the adaptation of Totally outRIGHT to Toronto is that participants respond better to and are more likely to engage in sessions that centre on problem-based learning, where participants are presented with concepts and then given a scenario for which they have to develop a solution. One topic that is frequently debated is the effect of negative body image among young gay and bisexual men. Problem-based learning has turned Toronto’s Totally outRIGHT into an interactive learning space, where participants learn as much from each other as they do from their facilitators.

ACT has also added a public speaking session to the curriculum because ACT believes that one of the cornerstones of strong community leadership is the ability to communicate effectively. Participants spend 90 minutes learning the basics of public speaking on the first Saturday of the training, and they are provided opportunities to practise their public speaking skills over the course of the training. They do this by introducing faculty members before each session, and by delivering their group presentation in front of an audience of alumni, faculty, facilitators, advisory committee members, and program volunteers on the final afternoon of the training.

Despite the program’s overall success—evaluations have been very good—ACT is still improving the program’s learning activities on conflict resolution, which ACT feels is crucial to the development of a new generation of young leaders.

As young men graduate from the program, ACT encourages them to get involved in further developing the program. Previous participants are hired as peer recruiters and peer support workers. ACT also encourages graduates to sit on the Totally outRIGHT advisory committee, which provides guidance on the program’s curriculum. By hiring peer workers, not only is ACT able to move the program closer to being completely peer led, but it also enables potential participants to engage with young men of their own age, which may make the program more appealing to them.

Through Totally outRIGHT, ACT is contributing to the leadership development of young gay and bisexual men in Toronto by giving them tools to take on more responsibility for issues affecting gay men’s health, reduce homo/transphobia, and reduce HIV stigma. The successful participation of numerous graduates in various community development projects is testimony to the program’s long-term goal.

Program Materials

Contact information

Rui Pires, Gay Men's Community Education Coordinator
rpires@actoronto.org
416-340-8484 ext. 264