I first heard about this group from PositiveLite.com publisher John McCullagh in a post he wrote, which you can read here, where he interviewed Jody Jollimore, the program manager at the Health Initiative for Men (HIM), a gay men’s health organization in Vancouver, and Rui Pires, Gay Men’s Community Education Coordinator at AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT). Both leaders described it as a leadership program for young gay men where we can learn about love, life, sexuality, sexual health and how we can apply this knowledge in our community.
Intriguing, I thought, so I might as well register. I soon received an email advising me of the program schedule. We were set to meet for four full-day Saturday sessions. I wasn’t too sure about giving up my Saturdays for four consecutive weeks but I figured that I should check it out and see how I felt after the first session.
Not knowing what to expect, I approached the first session with a hint of caution. The lay out of the room was well done and I was greeted warmly by the facilitator Rui Pires. I was overcome with a bout of absolute shyness at first as we went around the table giving brief introductions about ourselves and what we hoped to get out of the group. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that I wasn’t the only one hoping to learn how to connect with other gay guys outside of the bar setting with no pressure to get sexual.
After our intro’s Rui told us a bit about himself and the work he has done with the gay/HIV community. It was safe to assume that we were in good hands. We then launched into an interactive workshop on coming out. We gathered around the room in the order of who was out the longest and we each shared a little about our coming out process. This exercise was enlightening and the stories were amazingly diverse. Rui then gave some tips on coming out and being supportive to others who are coming or thinking of coming out.
Throughout the duration of the program we had the opportunity of hearing from various community leaders ranging from health and mental health professionals to community activists. We also got to learn about the dynamics of different types of gay relationships. And there are quite a few that I wasn’t aware of! We got first hand testimony about the importance of getting involved in different aspects of the community, like the fight against HIV. We even had a crash course on flirting and cursing!
So without giving too much away about the program, I would strongly recommend it to anyone between the ages of 18-26 who wants to learn about the gay community and the issues that affect us, as well as develop great communication and leadership skills. Above all it’s a safe space where guys can come to have fun and engage in conversations on a variety of topics that affect us today.