Programming Connection

Sexual Health Information Project (SHIP) 

Griffin Centre Mental Health Services
Ontario
2012

Why Was the Program Developed?

In 2005, reachOUT launched Compass, a weekly drop-in group designed to focus on the specific needs of LGBTQ youth labelled with intellectual disabilities, many of whom have unique challenges with adopting safer-sexual behaviours due to experiences facing multiple, intersecting oppressions and barriers to service access. Prior to the creation of Compass, many participants had not been exposed to sex-positive sexual health messages, let alone LGBTQ-specific information, as the sexuality of people labelled with intellectual disabilities (such as developmental disorders, Autism Spectrum Disorder and Asperger’s Syndrome) is routinely overlooked. (For recent research confirming the increased risk of contracting HIV and other STIs faced by LGBTQ youth labelled with intellectual disabilities, see Other Useful Resources.)

In addition to the weekly drop-in group, reachOUT offers community outreach, art, skills exchange, counselling and consultation services to other service providers on working with youth labelled with intellectual difficulties. These supports were designed to increase self-esteem among participants and to encourage people to make informed and healthy choices, including those regarding safer sex.

reachOUT engaged its participants in preparing workshop presentations for various forums to offer service providers who worked with people labelled with intellectual disabilities insight into the specific needs of LGBTQ people among the populations they served. Subsequently, some of reachOUT’s youth participants presented their experiences to other youth labelled with intellectual disabilities at various events. reachOUT values the meaningful involvement of the youth it works with in all aspects of programming and believes that this collaboration is critical to its success.

From 2008 to 2011, reachOUT received funding from the AIDS Prevention Community Investment Program to implement the Sexual Health Information Project (SHIP). This project combined the enhanced facilitation support of sexual health workshops and support groups already taking place at reachOUT with the creation of accessible and accurate sexual health resources for LGBTQ people labelled with intellectual disabilities, co-created by participants and staff. The funding also provided the initiative with the means to support six volunteers and two peer educators to develop resources.

Youth engagement in the developmental sector and in children’s mental health services are relatively new developments in Canada that have emerged out of work on youth participation, youth organizing and self-advocacy movements of people labelled with intellectual disabilities.