The Positive Side

Winter 2008 

From the Front Lines: Socialize v. [so·cial·ize] 1. to interact with others…

Sometimes it’s nice just to hang out, but meeting other HIV-positive folks to socialize with can be like finding a needle in a haystack. Alex McClelland highlights five unique and creative programs to satisfy social butterflies from coast to coast.


The PHA Learning Club

School’s in for people with HIV in Halifax, and they don’t mind one bit. The PHA Learning Club is less like math class, with its smell of chalk dust and agony of mind-twisting algebra equations, and more like everyone’s favourite period — lunch. There’s talking and eating and eating and talking, but hopefully no talking with a full mouth!

The PHA Learning Club was started in 2006 as a public-speaking training program for people living with HIV in and around Halifax. Initially the club was set up to help speakers prepare for presenting their personal stories to public health professionals and medical students across the province. However, it quickly grew beyond the traditional sense of a speakers’ bureau and became a sort of social network for participants.

The group meets regularly in downtown Halifax for a potluck supper followed by a meeting and training activities. Mealtime is a great chance to make connections, learn about upcoming events and share practical advice about living with HIV. During the meeting portion, members practise public speaking and build confidence. A recent session included training from Toastmasters, the famed public-speaking program. Don’t fret, there’s no need to be an aspiring orator — quieter folk from the back of the class are more than welcome to join.

Looking ahead, the club sees plenty more courses in its calendar. “We are planning on expanding and doing more. This is just the beginning,” says club member Marg. “Meeting, sharing food and supporting each other is empowering, as it can be very isolating being positive.”

For directions to the cafeteria, contact Larry Baxter at or call 902.454.5158.



Toronto’s Pozitive Hetero Socials

In the HIV community of Canada’s largest city, it can be hard to be straight. Toronto has a flourishing gay community, which, after facing the epidemic for more than 20 years, has a well-established HIV/AIDS support network. Not so much for the heteros.

Karl Jennrich knows from experience how hard it can be to connect with other HIV-positive heteros. In 2002, he took matters into his own hands and started Toronto’s Pozitive Hetero Socials. As its name suggests, the group aims to bring HIV-positive hetero people together to hang out in a relaxed social setting, share food, gossip and make new friends. Along the way Karl met Angela (on a poz dating site), and the two newlyweds now host the group together.

About 10 to 20 people show up to each event, and there are always a few new faces each time the group meets (every six to eight weeks). These socials take it well beyond the standard venues of coffee shops and bars — there’s a summer BBQ at Centre Island and a Halloween house party (extra points awarded for not losing your Sarah Palin wig while bobbing for apples!).

Though most of the members are already connected to the multiple services available in the city, Pozitive Hetero Socials fills a void by creating a place to meet socially. “Many laughs are shared and a good time is had by all,” Jennrich says. “And although the group’s basis isn’t support, it does give people a chance to talk about health, meds, personal issues and, most importantly, life.”

For a good time contact!



Jeunes Adultes Séropositifs Ensemble (JASE)

In French jaser means to chat, and once a month HIV-positive youth in Montreal get together to do just that. While there’s a lot of talk of the movie they watched last weekend or who was seen bumpin’ and grindin’ on the dance floor, there’s also a serious side to the group. “The youth get to meet other people in their situation and share how they feel, create a social network and understand what HIV is and what the treatment options are,” says Pascal, who has facilitated the group for the past five years.

Discussions revolve around important questions like relationships (and heartbreak), sex (however you like it) and HIV treatment information (now there’s a sexy topic!). The get-togethers are led by an HIV-positive youth so that participants are as comfortable as possible, and the information is always geared spe­cifically toward young people. This is particularly important, says Pascal, given the lack of HIV resources for this demographic. The evenings often include guest doctors and experts, giving participants a chance to get the 411 about the latest hot topics.

If you’re under 30 and you wanna jaser, contact



AIDS Calgary Nutrition Program: Positive Living Lunches

“People always bond better when breaking bread,” says Capri Rasmussen, an AIDS Calgary staffer. That might explain why the agency’s nutrition program, which started as a way to help people with HIV get a healthy meal, has become much more. “The program addresses nutritional needs and also builds peer and social connections.”

The program’s cornerstone is its Positive Living Lunches. “We have two Friday lunches per month, during which people with HIV get together to visit and share a meal. They also volunteer as cooks or kitchen helpers if they like,” Rasmussen says. “It’s an empowering experience for them and helps build a community.” So get out your apron, make some friends and fill your belly with something nutritious.

AIDS Calgary’s nutrition program also includes an annual Calgary Stampede BBQ (don your Stetson hat!) and Coffee Connection, a relaxed social event where people meet over snacks and coffee.

Jacket and tie not required. Call 403.508.2500 or e-mail to make a reservation.



Average Joes

Bar scene not for you? Prefer an invigorating hike or a friendly game of bowling? (Or not so friendly if you’re playing with my friend Mark — he’s cutthroat and has the shoes to match!)

If so, you might want to check out Average Joes, a group for gay and bisexual men living with HIV in Vancouver and area. “Average Joes started as a way to meet and socialize in an atmosphere where being HIV positive is not an issue,” says Richard Harrison of the Positive Living Society of British Columbia (Positive Living BC), which supports the group.

Every Wednesday, members gather to play pool and eat pizza. If that isn’t enough to draw you out, there are weekly prizes. When you feel you’ve had one more slice than perhaps necessary, sign up for one of the many physical activities on the roster. Last September about 30 members hiked North Vancouver’s Lynn Canyon and took in the spectacular views from the suspension bridge. Afraid of heights? Average Joes also puts on a bowling tournament, a Christmas party and a summer event.

Think you’re up to being an Average Joe? Contact or call 604.893.2200.