The Positive Side

Winter 2012 

From the Front Lines: In Your Gay-bourhood

CATIE’s Melissa Egan visits the organizations that are meeting the health needs of poz (and neg) gay and bi men.

For many years AIDS service organizations (ASOs) have strived to be everything to everyone, offering services that range from treatment support to social groups to food banks. And they have done an admirable job at it. However, these demands stretch an ASO’s capacity, and new groups that serve specific communities are emerging.

Gay men’s health organizations have been the first to open their doors, and in this issue, we’re going to visit them. We’ll also stop by a few ASOs that offer programs for positive and negative gay and bisexual men.


In response to rising rates of HIV and syphilis in the Ottawa area, diverse community organizations formed a coalition in 2007 to develop supportive and creative programming that would meet the health and wellness needs of gay men. And Gay ZONE was born.

This program is the “new kid” when it comes to taking a more holistic approach to gay men’s health—and it’s doing it very well. On Thursday nights, Gay ZONE offers an array of activities. Get a jump-start on the weekend by stretching out your muscles doing “Yoga with Loren” and then relax with a cup of coffee and chat with the charming outreach worker from the AIDS Committee of Ottawa. Give your brain a workout with the boisterous book club or take part in one of the youth-led evenings where young men discuss everything from flirting to disclosure to favourite brands of lube.

On the Gay ZONE website you’ll find links to sexual health resources, trans and youth services, and an online tool you can use to notify partners if you’ve been exposed to a sexually transmitted infection. Pretty impressive for the “new kid.”

HEAT – HIV Education and Awareness Today

Still going strong after more than a decade, AIDS Calgary’s HEAT program provides enthusiastic outreach, interactive education and information on condoms, lube and sexual health. While it still regularly hits the city’s bars and bathhouses, the program has also expanded its activities to include the Alberta Rockies Gay Rodeo, Calgary’s Pride festivities and the Fairy Tales Film Festival.

Putting the reach in outreach, the HEAT outreach worker has regular hours at the local bathhouse Goliath’s. There, he teams up with the Safeworks harm reduction group to offer info on HIV/STIs and safer sex, referrals to support, along with confidential testing, vaccinations and other health services.

With a list of over 200 Facebook friends and friendly status updates that tell folks when and where to find him, the HEAT worker uses every means at his disposal to keep the community healthy, informed and connected.

GUYZ – Gay Urban Youth Zone

GUYZ in St. John’s, Newfoundland, offers integrated health services for gay and bi men between the ages of 19 and 29.

Organized by the AIDS Committee of Newfoundland and Labrador, GUYZ aims to build community among young gay and bi men in the city while empowering them to actively address their own health issues. There is a lot of talk about preventing HIV and hepatitis C. But the project also works to raise awareness of the prevalence of the two viruses and to provide info on living with HIV and hep C.

The guys at GUYZ are smart: They know they need to package all that important info with the other stuff that young gay men need to know about sex, sexuality and staying healthy. Cruising through their website reveals links to pages on masturbation, queer history, PFLAG and tips on how to make sure a piercing or tattoo studio is following safe procedures.

Poz Prevention Program – Toronto People With AIDS Foundation

“For us, by us” is how gay and bisexual poz men in Toronto describe this holistic sexual health program—HIV-­positive guys draw inspiration and power from connecting with other poz guys.

The Poz Prevention program does outreach in local bathhouses, where program workers are open about their HIV status. Raising the issue of HIV in a sexually charged environment can lead to some intense conversations, so the program connects with TowelTalk, a local bathhouse-based counselling program hosted by the AIDS Committee of Toronto.

The Poz Prevention workers also connect with poz (and neg) guys on, a website for men looking for unprotected sex. The outreach workers provide information and a space to talk about sexual health on a site where it can be difficult to do so.

Finally, the program’s monthly dinner and discussion attracts a crowd that is young, social and HIV positive. This is the place to go for people in Toronto who are looking for an alternative to some of the more established discussion groups.

HiM – Health Initiative for Men

Health Initiative for Men (HiM) is at the front of the pack when it comes to taking a holistic and strength-based approach to gay men’s health in Canada. HiM operates a lively community clinic in Vancouver, where men can get tested for STIs, join a fitness group, go for counselling and more.

One unique service is the Personal Strategic Advisor program. Over six sessions, an advisor works with individual clients to alleviate stress and develop strategies to help them reach their goals.

This thriving organization started out as a program of AIDS Vancouver and has grown into a bustling urban health centre. Recognizing that gay men—poz and neg—face unique health challenges and providing a comprehensive and compassionate response has positioned HiM as a leader in the field.

This active agency has also made research a priority and has partnered with provincial and national research organizations.

Visit the HiM website for great blog posts, community connections, insights and updates on how to get involved.


It’s hard to miss the REZO crew—smiling volunteers sporting stylish T-shirts with vibrant green logos—when they’re out and about in Montreal. This energetic and engaging organization (it won the jury prize for most crowd-­pleasing float at Montreal’s 2011 pride parade) has been around for 20 years and has now taken on the task of promoting holistic health for HIV-positive and -negative gay and bi men.

REZO takes community building seriously and hopes to break down some of the barriers that isolate gay and bi men in the city. It focuses on offering support and encouraging gay guys to create connections that result in vital and satisfying social networks, which, in turn, promote health and well-being.

REZO’s programs and services include a ’zine for male sex workers, coming-out discussion groups and workshops on topics ranging from serodiscordant relationships to quitting smoking. They also offer STI testing, and hepatitis A and B vaccination at local venues, such as bars and saunas. Keep your eyes open—these guys are everywhere!