Programming Connection

Sexual Health Information Project (SHIP) 

Griffin Centre Mental Health Services

How Does the Program Work?


SHIP is run within the reachOUT program at Griffin Centre Mental Health Services, a multi-service mental health agency providing flexible and accessible services to youth, adults and their families. The project could be run from any community centre or meeting facility with enough comfortable working space to accommodate participants.

Recruitment and engagement

Because people labelled with intellectual disabilities have often been connected to social services for much of their lives (either by choice or necessity), they frequently interact with agency staff on a regular basis. Consequently, the reachOUT program has found that the easiest way to connect with people labelled with intellectual disabilities is through networking with service providers in the developmental sector. Since Griffin Centre first spread the word about its initiatives for LGBTQ people within this sector, service providers working specifically with this group of people have gone out of their way to contact the Centre to attend trainings and to coordinate participation of members from their local communities.

A secondary means of reaching potential new participants is through peer referrals. Many reachOUT self-advocates attend multiple community events on their own time, travel significant distances to meet others labelled with intellectual disabilities, and contribute an energy and enthusiasm that significantly enhances the program’s ability to engage LGBTQ participants and build community. At the suggestion of reachOUT’s participants, having fun and meeting new people is always stressed as a core component of the program when introducing it to potential new members.

In addition, reachOUT has obtained funding to pay a modest honorarium of $125 per month to each of the four reachOUT self-advocates who have been particularly active in recruiting participants from among their peers. These consultants (as the paid self-advocates are called) meet for two to three hours each week with members of the staff team in order to play an active role in workshop development and facilitation, resource development, outreach activities and community events.

Creation of promotional materials

As a significant part of their work, participants (especially Consultants) are engaged in the creation of promotional materials that they feel will resonate with other LGBTQ youth labelled with intellectual disabilities. It is the creation of these promotional materials and other resources that forms the basis of the SHIP project.

The development of reachOUT’s first resources began with discussions between reachOUT staff and reachOUT consultants. These discussions took place as casual, interactive meetings with refreshments. Art supplies were provided so that Consultants would have a range of tools to express themselves creatively while coming up with messaging. Through their efforts, it was decided that in order to engage LGBTQ youth labelled with intellectual disabilities it was crucial to emphasize:

  • fun community events
  • making new friends
  • taking pride in one’s self and community
  • speaking up for one’s self and community
  • receiving support

Consultants spoke with self-advocates to help frame the content of the resources. The Consultants discovered a desire among the youth to be personally featured in promotional materials as real-life examples of LGBTQ youth living with intellectual disabilities, thereby serving as role models to their peers.

To make this possible, program staff coordinated a photo shoot with the youth who wanted to be featured in resources. Accompanying text was collaboratively written; this text would appear on promotional postcards and other literature bearing the images of these self-advocates. Final copy of this text was presented by Consultants to the drop-in group members for additional feedback. reachOUT staff also engaged experts in critical disability studies, disability activists and other service providers to have materials vetted for accuracy and representation. For examples of some of these materials, see Program Materials.

Given the positive reception of these materials by both peers and service providers, interest in producing additional resources was expressed.

The production of each resource involves a similar consultation process. reachOUT staff  first meet with Consultants to establish an approach, thematic focus and accessible written content. The proposed approach, themes and content are then presented to participants in the drop-in group setting for additional feedback. reachOUT staff then seek additional input from key stakeholders, including people who do critical disability work, activists and sexual health educators in the developmental services sector. 

Materials created for reachOUT’s SHIP project to date have included:

Promotional postcards

Describing the work of reachOUT and its support and advocacy programs, these postcards are designed to solicit the participation of LGBTQ youth and adults living with intellectual disabilities and their allies.

Public presentation and performance templates

Designed to be used in workshops that are co-presented with service providers and LGBTQ youth labelled with intellectual disabilities, these templates serve to help highlight the primary concerns of participants, which are identified through consultations and focus groups. Templates inform a variety of presentations and performances; some include more detailed explorations of personal experiences lived by LGBTQ youth labelled with intellectual disabilities, which are presented through performance. In specific cases, theatre scripts are developed to provide another resource to draw on.

To date, presentations and performances have included the following themes:

  • Creating accessible services for LGBTQ youth labelled with intellectual disabilities
  • Dr. Knows It All: Social model of disability vs. medical model of disability, diagnosis and labelling
  • Responses to homophobia and transphobia
  • Anti-bullying
  • Barriers to employment
  • Disability rights and self-advocacy

Documentary film: Our Compass

Born out of the enthusiastic response to print materials featuring youth standing up as real-life role models for their LGBTQ peers labelled with intellectual disabilities, this short documentary film further showcases the personal testimony of youth involved in reachOUT while serving as an awareness-raising tool (when presented at film festivals, conferences and other events) as well as an educational resource available to educators and social workers.

Articles for Print Publication 

Designed to raise awareness about LGBTQ youth labelled with intellectual disabilities, the reachOUT team developed articles for the Journal on Developmental Disabilities. In addition, the project was highlighted in Empower: Youth, Arts, and HIV, Our Schools / Our Selves (Sex Ed and Youth: Colonization, Sexuality and Communities of Colour) and in an article in the Toronto Star (see Program Materials).

As other agencies have become more aware of reachOUT, the team has been invited to present in cities across Ontario. The reachOUT staff is responsible for liaising with service providers and clarifying the audience and focus for these trainings. Participants in the program are always engaged as self-advocates to participate in the creation of materials (to whatever extent they are comfortable) in order to ensure the content best reflects their concerns. Whenever possible, reachOUT staff ensures that Consultants are available to present or co-present at these events.