Gay men in Ottawa now have a sexual health clinic to call their own after GayZoneGaie opened its doors at the Centretown Community Health Centre on Thursday.
GayZoneGaie is the first sexual health clinic in Ottawa designed exclusively for “guys into guys;” the term coined by the clinic to describe its patients. The one-year pilot project has been in the works since 2007, when the Ottawa Gay Men’s Health Initiative approached the city about the high rates of HIV-positive gay men in Ottawa, as well as the challenges facing the Ottawa Sexual Health Centre in meeting the high demand for testing for sexually transmitted infections.
According to Cathy Collett, a manager at the clinic, one of the main reasons GayZoneGaie was established was to lessen the backlog at the city’s testing facilities.
“The Ottawa Sexual Health Centre had such difficulty in handling the high demand that they had to turn people away,” Collett said. “That was an alarming possibility for the gay community, so we established the clinic to alleviate this problem and do something special for a population that has had a very bad experience with diseases like syphilis and HIV.”
The first men inside GayZoneGaie were greeted by a bright pink and purple banner with the clinic’s name inscribed in bright white letters.As they walked into the waiting room, they saw a welcome poster trimmed in the bright colours of therainbow gay pride flag, educationalpamphlets with information on safe sex, and posters featuring gay-positive images.
One poster featured two men in tuxedos, fresh from their wedding ceremony. Another image on a pamphlet showed two men in a passionate embrace. Both were of normal events in romantic relationships, but neither is likely to be displayed prominently in “mainstream” areas, said Collett.
“Gay men rarely see themselves reflected in the community,” she said. “That’s what we’re trying to do with the clinic – create an environment that is welcoming and reflective of gay men and tells them it’s okay to be gay and sexually active.”
Seven organizations came together to make the clinic a possibility, with the Centretown Community Health Centre, located in the heart of Centretown, lending its facilities to the clinic every Thursday from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m.
GayZoneGaie is funded by a reallocation of resources from the Ottawa Sexual Health Centre. Despite the lack of new resources, the project will still be successful in taking the strain off the city’s existing facilities by providing a clinic exclusively for gay men, said Christiane Bouchard, the clinic’s program co-ordinator.
“It is really remarkable that we have been able to do this with no new resources,” Bouchard said. “But all the organizations involved have really come up to the plate and everyone is really doing their part.”
The clinic will offer free and confidential treatment and screening for STI’s as well as HIV testing. It will also run a program catered to gay youth as well as those questioning their sexuality. Free condoms, safe sex information, and counseling will be available on site.
The first five weeks at the clinic will also feature free yoga sessions. Collett said these kinds of recreational programs will be a central part of the GayZoneGaie’s services.
“We’re not just about sex,” she said. “We’re about an overall wellness approach to helping improve the lives of gay men living in Ottawa.”