Programming Connection

Totally Outright 

Health Initiative for Men (HiM)
British Columbia

How Does the Program Work?


HIM hosts Totally Outright in a penthouse-level hotel conference room with dramatic views of the natural surroundings of Vancouver. Although the program can be delivered in any space that can accommodate participants and facilitators in an interactive setting, CBRC recognized from its experience in other programs that venue and space are key factors for success. Participants should feel that GBTQ men’s health is important. Investing in an inspirational and motivating space was an important way to demonstrate that participants, and the topics they discuss, matter.

Recruitment and engagement

Totally Outright hires a recruiter to help engage young men who exhibit leadership qualities. Typically, the recruiter is given three months to find 25 participants. The recruiter may change from year to year.

Where to recruit

The recruiter puts together a recruitment strategy that outlines how and where to find applicants. This ensures that the recruitment process is strategic and systematic. While each recruiter takes a different approach, HIM has found that bars are not the most efficient place to recruit participants for the program. Instead, recruiters typically have greater success engaging potential participants through community organizations, university or college groups, listservs, social media outlets and ads on sites such as Grindr.

As the program has matured, many new participants hear about the program from past participants.

Engagement messaging

Over time, the engagement messaging about Totally Outright has evolved. In the early years, recruitment materials for the program described it as a way of “building relationships and communication skills” and as a way to meet other “young gay guys interested in community leadership.” The approach drew on guys’ interest in forming lasting relationships, providing an alternative setting in which to build relationship skills while meeting other like-minded young men.

The most recent messaging about Totally Outright continues to play on participants’ desire to meet other like-minded queer guys but without using the phrase community leadership. Using the tagline Want to meet other young, fun, smart guys?, HIM is inviting guys who see themselves as fun, smart guys to join the community of others like them, guys who are “interested in being healthy, sex-savvy trendsetters.”

The application process

Each potential participant fills out an application (see Program Materials section), which outlines his level of interest in the program, notes his previous experience, looks at his level of community involvement and asks questions about his ideal relationship. This last piece of information is used to design the Totally Outright workshop related to relationships.

Although HIM favours candidates interested in health in either a professional or volunteer capacity, it accepts young men with a variety of interests. All participants must be 18–26 years old and must identify as gay, bisexual, trans* or queer. In the event that a candidate does not seem to be a good fit for the program (i.e., if he is seeking a support group rather than a leadership-building program), the recruiter suggests another program better suited to his needs, either at HIM or another organization.

A month before the course starts, the 15 top candidates are selected. The remaining 10 are selected just before the program begins, allowing for late applicants to be factored into the selection process.

Retaining participants: The social event

Two weeks before the start of Totally Outright, the program coordinator schedules a social event, which helps to build both relationships among the participants and excitement about the upcoming training.

The Totally Outright course: The four-day training

The bulk of the Totally Outright program is the 40-hour course. The course is spread out over two full weekends with one weekend off in between. The course has grown to 20 sessions or workshops, since its beginning in 2005. The course also includes a fieldwork assignment, which usually involves outreach at local venues, and a team project.

Each of these three components is important, as they offer participants the chance to build and practise different skills. In addition, participants are given a Participants Guide on the first day, which explains the program and offers key information on the core curriculum topics.

For practical tips on developing your own course, see the Totally Outright Facilitators Guide.


The curriculum for Totally Outright was initially developed by a community advisory group, which developed core curriculum on the basis of its knowledge of the local GBTQ community. Each workshop is presented by a different facilitator—some of them community leaders, others past participants. Over time, the scope of the workshops has expanded to reflect HIM’s broad health mandate, but it still includes key topics such as sexually transmitted infections and HIV, coming out and relationships. Other topics sometimes include resilience and assertiveness training, harm reduction, positive prevention, anti-oppression frameworks, gender inclusion, and consent.

Agendas vary from series to series. Generally, the first day of the program is devoted  to sessions that do not require participants to disclose a great deal of personal information. Sessions on topics such as relationships and coming out, which require more disclosure, are better left for the second or third day of the training to allow time for trust to build among participants.

Group project: Developing innovative frontline programs

On the first day of training, facilitators break up participants into teams of five. Each group is tasked with identifying a need in the community (e.g., racialization of some gay men, effects of the criminalization of HIV transmission on queer men) and asked to develop an idea for a frontline program with an unlimited budget to address this need. Projects are presented to the larger group on the last day.

During the most recent series, groups were asked to come up with a social marketing campaign rather than develop a frontline program for the group project. This idea was first used by Totally Outright Winnipeg in 2013. As part of the course, participants were led through a workshop by a graphic designer. During the session, participants learned how to develop a concept and presented their campaign ideas to the other groups for feedback. The graphic designer also developed mock-ups of each group’s campaign. The results of participants’ evaluation of this course component indicated a high level of satisfaction and it may be used in the future.

Group projects encourage the continued development of relationships among participants. They are also an interesting way to encourage participants to think about solutions to the needs they see in their own communities. Some teams have gone on to make their idea a reality. For an example of this, see the Our City of Colours project, which originally began as a Totally Outright team project.

When participants are placed into teams, care is taken to break up any cliques, ensuring that all participants have a chance to make new connections. During lunch on the first day, each group must come up with a group name, discuss common problems faced by GBTQ men, and identify one such problem they might want to address in their group project.

On the remaining days of the training, groups are given time to work on their project. During the weekend off between the two Totally Outright weekends, participants have access to the HIM office at least one day to work on their group projects. Offering the HIM office provides participants with a space to work in, a chance to get feedback and direction from facilitators, and access to computers and other resources they may not otherwise have.

There is usually an additional presentation given on the weekend. Attendance for the middle weekend is optional but strongly encouraged. For Totally Outright 2014, participants were asked to have at least half of their group members attend this day. This gave them a chance to refine and share their concepts with the graphic designer, who would spend the next week developing and designing campaign materials. Groups present their projects to the larger group on the final day. Presenters from the previous workshops are invited to attend, along with other HIM and CBRC stakeholders. Each group may present their ideas by whatever medium they choose, for example, as a video, a play or a lecture. In the past, proposed programs presented by groups have included:

  • the dissemination of a public awareness campaign on racism in the community
  • the creation of queer-friendly schools to support youth who come out and face discrimination
  • the establishment of a GBTQ men’s professional association/network
  • the creation of shelters for runaway queer youth
  • the creation of a queer history project
  • the development of a social networking site promoting GBTQ men’s health               

Fieldwork: Community outreach

Typically, at the end of the third day of the workshop, participants are broken into new groups of five and prepared for outreach activities through a workshop session that teaches practical outreach skills useful in queer settings. Depending on the year, participants may be asked to administer surveys, ask specific questions in the community or distribute information.

Groups are given Totally Outright T-shirts, which give them an official group identity, making it easier to engage strangers in a public setting, and sent out into the community to conduct outreach to other queer men.

For the 2014 fieldwork component of Totally Outright, participants remained in their project groups and rather than doing traditional outreach, took mock-ups of their campaign materials into the community and asked for feedback. This feedback was incorporated into their final group presentations. Regardless of the fieldwork assigned, participants return to discuss and debrief their experiences.

Volunteer opportunities

As a leadership development course, Totally Outright is also a great opportunity to engage young men in volunteer opportunities at HIM. Toward the end of the four-day training, HIM presents the work that the organization does, citing volunteer opportunities. Past participants are invited back to talk about their experiences after the program and how they got involved at HIM or at other organizations such as the CBRC and the BC Centre for Disease Control.

Closing activities

The two-weekend program wraps up with:

  • a debrief, typically in the form of a sharing circle
  • the completion of evaluation forms
  • the presentation of group projects
  • the presentation of certificates of completion to participants

Follow-up dinner

One week later, at a dinner to which all facilitators are invited, HIM reports back on feedback from the participants and solicits additional feedback from the facilitators.