What is the Program?
Totally Outright is a 40-hour leadership program for young gay, bisexual, trans and queer (GBTQ) men who show promise as future community leaders and volunteers. The program is conducted as an intensive yet fun and interactive 40-hour course that includes a series of workshops, a fieldwork assignment, a group project and social activities. It offers participants the chance to build communication skills, practice outreach techniques and strategize solutions for challenges faced by GBTQ men.
By investing in training the young men who participate, the program not only forms future leaders but also heightens the self-esteem of participants, reinforcing their resiliency and better equipping them to make healthy decisions about sex, relationships and substance use. Totally Outright is not intended to be a support program; rather, it is a skills-building course. Men who may need more support in their lives are often referred to appropriate programs.
The program’s key objectives are to:
- build a corps of sex-savvy youth leaders who can disseminate the knowledge they’ve learned and lead by example
- strengthen GBTQ men’s health and well-being through trusted, tailored, targeted research-based health promotion services
- train a group of potential volunteers or employees who are interested in improving GBTQ men’s health
- foster meaningful and productive relationships among GBTQ men
- lower rates of HIV in the GBTQ men’s community
The program, which graduates 20–25 men each year, was created and evaluated by the Community Based Research Centre (CBRC) and then further developed by Health Initiative for Men (HIM), a Vancouver-based community organization dedicated to strengthening the health and well-being of GBTQ men through a sex-positive integrated approach to health. Since 2005, when Totally Outright was first offered in Vancouver, the program has been adapted by the AIDS Committee of Toronto and by Rainbow Resource Centre in Winnipeg. Organizations in other cities have also expressed an interest in the program.
Why Was the Program Developed?
The CBRC and HIM see youth as critical to the success of the GBTQ men’s health movement, but not all GBTQ men get the opportunity to make a significant contribution. Further, a number of challenges still face these men. The Sex Now surveys, conducted by the CBRC, identified that several critical gaps exist in the health education of young queer men, including gaps in knowledge about HIV and sexually transmitted infections, how to access gay, bisexual, trans* and queer-friendly services and how to meet other guys outside of bars or clubs.
In addition, Sex Now confirmed that guys are facing these gaps while also facing issues related to stigma, marginalization and mental health concerns. The researchers reported that many young men feel that their need for more mentorship and guidance, and ultimately their desire to be more involved in their community, were not being addressed anywhere.
Totally Outright was originally delivered in 2005 as a sexual health leaders’ course specifically for GBTQ men who were not able to access sexual health information that spoke to their needs in high school. Over the years, the program has evolved and expanded. Totally Outright’s appeal has broadened, and it now attracts young men who also may be interested in issues related to mental health, anti-oppression frameworks, harm reduction and other areas.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
All participants, staff and faculty are GBTQ men. This encourages intergenerational learning and furthers the sense of community and peer mentorship.
- Program coordinator. Coordinates program logistics and recruits facilitators. The coordinator is hired from among past participants and must be a young guy between 18 and 26, with strong communication skills and connections to the community.
- Recruiter. Develops recruitment strategy and recruits new participants. The recruiter is a past participant and must be a young guy between 18 and 26, with strong communication skills and connections to the community.
- Facilitators. Recruited from among past participants, community leaders and other service providers to lead sessions during the program.
- promotional materials (brochures and posters)
- Facilitators and Participants Guides
- presentation materials: flip chart with markers, laptop and projector
- T-shirts for participants (worn during fieldwork assignment)
- certificates of completion (for participants)
- tasty food, and comfortable, inspirational venue
Other than the salary of the two principal staff, the main expenses for Totally Outright are the rental of the meeting space and the cost of food, particularly considering that the quality of these two items are seen as important to the success of the program. The cost of the course can vary depending on the number of participants involved and the cost of the venue and food chosen for the event.
T-shirts, while useful in establishing the credibility of participants during their fieldwork assignment, are an optional element that can be cut from the program if funding does not allow for them.
- Generating initial interest. Generating interest in the program can be a challenge at the start: it can be a challenge to excite young men about a 40-hour program that requires the sacrifice of two weekends, but after the program has been delivered once, interest is spread by word of mouth.
- The development of cliques. Cliques can form among participants, so the program coordinator needs to look for signs of anyone being excluded and should organize groups in a way that includes all participants.
- Funding. At times, it has been challenging to find sufficient funding to cover the cost of the program as it was envisioned.
- Finding an organization that can maintain engagement after the program is completed. There is a need for this program to be attached to an organization that can engage the young men once the course ends. It is not enough to just train these youth; they need a place where they can continue their involvement.
HIM staff assesses the course material, the presentations, structure, group dynamic and environment in three ways:
- Participants fill out evaluation forms that include both close-ended and open-ended questions during the final day of the training.
- Participants and facilitators offer closing reflections about what the course was like for them during the closing debrief.
- Facilitators are invited to attend a dinner to hear the results of the evaluation and discuss their impressions of the program with each other.
Overall, the evaluations of Totally Outright have been very positive. HIM has confirmed that participants truly value the fieldwork as a unique opportunity to engage with other GBTQ men. Further, many noted that they see Totally Outright as a great way to meet other men their age, outside of a bar or club.
The program has also had a positive effect on the professional development of many participants. A number of Totally Outright graduates are now HIM staff, including one program manager, the outreach and online engagement coordinator and the outreach coordinator. Other graduates have found work at YouthCO, Qmunity and the BC Centre for Disease Control.
Some key quotes from participants that show the impact that Totally Outright had on them:
“Totally Outright has reinforced my belief that gay men can be successful, can have fulfilling lives and careers, can be surrounded by a positive group of friends, and can be healthy. It sounds so corny, but I have never felt so strongly that ‘gay is okay’…”
“Totally Outright had a large impact on me. The holistic health approach with a gay perspective—you don’t get it anywhere else.”
“Totally Outright has left me feeling committed, powerful and optimistic. Committed to making a difference in the gay community and seeing how many ways there are to do that. Powerful because I know I can make that difference and I know there are others out there working very hard. Optimistic because while gay might be good, it’s going to get better!”
“Most enjoyable was getting to interact with a great group of people in a gay friendly setting that didn’t relate to looking for sex.”
For some useful information and tips on how to conduct an evaluation of a Totally Outright program, please see the Facilitators Guide.
- Providing space to build relationships. The value of facilitating socially meaningful and productive relationships among some young GBTQ men outside of bars should not be underestimated.
- Providing space for peer learning. Bringing together a group of like-minded GBTQ men to learn from each other is the key to Totally Outright’s success.
- Promoting the program as a way to form relationships. Promoting the course to its audience as a way of forming relationships with other GBTQ men encourages engagement.
- Designing a group project that addresses community challenges. The group project supports the men to think creatively about solutions to their own community’s needs.
- Health Initiative for Men: Theory and Practice
- Totally Outright Agenda 2014
- Totally Outright Application 2014
- Totally Outright Facilitators Guide
- Totally Outright Poster
- Totally Outright T-Shirt
Jody Jollimore, program manager
Health Initiative for Men
310-1033 Davie St.