Rethinking what we know, part two

Published 18, Dec, 2012

Robert Birch on practicing what we know, the second of his reports from the Gay Men’s Health Summit in Vancouver this past month

Rethinking what we know, part two

From ice cream cone romances to STI testing-vans to throwing parties to find new youth leaders, what follows is a snap shot of three unique projects presented at the 2012 Gay Men’s Health Summit in Vancouver, each addressing the social determinants of health. 

From the plenary session . .

Innovations in Community Engagement

hosted by Stacy Leblanc, PAN 

“Sexy” back in Condom Use: a participatory social marketing campaign for Gay and MSM

presented by Mark Randall, from AIDS Calgary. 

combat condom fatigue by creating a new safer sex campaign for Calgary’s gay and MSM community. 

Rationale: create a product gay men and MSM would embrace as a “fresh long term campaign.” 

“A new framework for HIV prevention encourages us to get to know each gay man where he is at, to hear his silent voice, understand his struggles, and empower him with the tools to make decisions.” 

The Project 

Stage 1: AIDS Calgary hired a consultant to conduct a review of safer sex campaigns. They also struck an advisory committee of gay men and MSM, as well as designed and disseminated a needs assessment survey for gay and MSM. They gathered data over 6 weeks and cross compared in order to define emerging trends and commonalities. 

Stage 2: involved hiring a graphic designer for the project, giving him survey input, comments and themes identified by the respondents. They then recruited volunteer models from the community.   

Stage 3: engaged two volunteer focus groups of 6+ men with one group specifically involving youth. These focus groups met with designers and agency staff to discuss and review design messages. 

Stage 4: required choosing three final safer sexy tips which the graphic designer successfully incorporated as positive messages. They approved the final poster. 

Stage 5: saw the launch of the campaign to community at PRIDE. 

Successes and challenges of the campaign

  • Timelines were tight
  •  ‘Gay’ themes obviously key to the project
  • Volunteers and community members need to be willing to support the project
  • A multi-pronged approach from survey to dissemination to the community works
  • Expensive process from idea to the development of final product
  • Survey translation from hard copy to online format makes data collection difficult
  • Copyright and ownership rights need to be considered and agreed to by all parties through contracts
  • Incentives work to motivate participation (eg. $50 visa cards which could be donated back)
  • Need to ask, include and listen to your target audience
  • The posters resonated beyond gay and MSM communities (they liked the ice cream one most)

For more information Mark can be reached at (403) 508 2500 ext. 129 

Know on the Go: Mobile Sexual Health Clinic

presented by Michael Reid and Geoffrey Ford from YouthCo,

Goals: HIV and STI counselling, testing and treatment; harm reduction supplies, increase visibility; connect poz and neg clients to primary care providers and community service; and cyber outreach  promote a continuum of care based on the premise of ENGAGE: TEST: LINK: RETAIN 


  • Desire for better access to MSM specific health information
  • Lack of knowledge of where to test and misconceptions surrounding cost of testing and medical coverage
  • Support men living outside of Vancouver as well as immigrants and temporary visitors
  • Implement new models for diagnosing HIV infections outside medical settings
  • For clients who guys who test negative direct them to services, from sports teams to addiction services 

The Project 

“Vancouver’s very first Mobile Sexual Health Clinic! YouthC0 and Vancouver Coastal Health are teaming up to provide HIV & STI testing, treatment and referrals in our big yellow van. We’re aiming to normalize testing by making it as easy and accessible as possible. Plus, it’s totally free. Our peer supporter and registered nurse are bringing info, resources, and harm reduction supplies to Vancouver’s parks, beaches and events. Come check us out!” (from

Phase One: registered nurses with a certified practice in sexually transmitted infections offer confidential HIV/STI testing including on site diagnosis and treatment of most symptomatic STI’s as well as counselling and sexual health (including nPEP) information; they can also make referrals to other STI clinics and other MSM specific services and health counselling.  They also offer private bookings at the office for quick follow up. 

Locations and results: 16 clinics held from August 2 to Sept 13th 2012. The community appreciates the presence of the mobile service. On the first day six people got tested. Sites included Sunset Beach following the PRIDE parade; Wreck Beach and Stanley Park.  Sunset beach 48 people tested in five hours (81% male; age across the board; 82% MSM; 19% had never tested for HIV; 6 months 21%; 1-3 years 12.5%; 3-5 years 12.5%; 6% 5 yrs. 8% unknown). Survey showed: 90% satisfaction with the service. 

Phase 2: Pilot project intends to continue to expand mobile health sites with potential new clinic locations at night clubs, University health shows; pride events; Vancouver Sex Trade show; sin city events; theatre and private club sex venues; client recommended venues.  Additional nursing services might include hepatitis immunizations. 

Challenges: include running the service out of 1982 SUV (which broke down on Lions Gate Bridge!); the project needs more time than the funding allows; and bad weather can be a factor. 

The power of community-building in young gay men’s health: Vancouver’s Mpowerment Project

presented by YouthCO’s Michael Reid & Blake Stitilis  

Context: young gay guys represent a quarter of all new HIV cases; their testing rates are lower; they lack sense of community - “gay guys want more gay friends.” 

What is Mpowerment? Rather than a behavioural intervention the program seeks to build a more vital culture amongst younger gay men.  As an evidence-based health promotion program it does so by addressing issues of homophobia, HIV criminalization; social support; geography; social norms; and stress. 

Goals:  to inspire i) healthy relationships; ii) safer sex; iii) routine HIV testing through peer to peer networks. Over the next two years they intend to reach 1,000 young guys! 

What’s involved?  The program breaks down to three levels of participation 

Play: join social events with up to 100 guys to meet and mingle. 

Know: The ‘Unmask’ training involves a three-hour workshop on sex, relationships, homophobia. (see video below)

Lead: From casual volunteer to core group member  to events coordination guys choose their level of participation and community involvement.  

Guiding Principles:

  • Social focus –throw a good party!
  • Community building (social connections, social capitol, networks as buffer against stress)
  • Gay/Sex Positive (“You talk about gay in such a positive way,” says one participant)
  • Peer influence disseminates positive messages in our community
  • Empower participants to have control over what they are doing and take ownership of the project (i.e. learn, succeed and celebrate or fail and improve) 

Results (as of presentation):

  1. 8 social events (from bowling to laser tag) with 300 participants.  The program now has contact information for 100 people.
  2. Unmask: 6 discussion nights with a total of 63 participants; average satisfaction score was 8.4/10 and all would recommend to friends.  Face book has 162 likes; weekly Youtube video updates with 1,874 views.

Future Challenges include accessing people with a well-developed network of gay friends; suburban guys; positive guys; as well as reaching their chosen targets and the ever challenging behaviour change when it comes to healthier lifestyle choices. 

Future Opportunities: the program looks forward to increasing its size and scope as well as partnering with the Health Initiative for Men (HIM) and Totally Outright. 

For more information check out their savvy website: