MAX Ottawa, ViiV Healthcare unite to provide education on safe partying for “guys who are into guys”
August 23, 2018 marked the first event of a yearlong campaign called Spill the Tea, organized and hosted by MAX with support from ViiV Healthcare Canada. The campaign’s goal is to raise awareness and provide education and resources on safer party and play for “guys who are into guys,” cisgender and transgender people, in the Ottawa area.
MAX works on the frontlines, meetings guys in the places they meet each other. This campaign is no different. After trying traditional avenues of providing resources such as formal workshops, MAX decided to take a fresh, and what they believe to be a less judgmental approach to connecting with the community. Spill the Tea events happen in social venues such as clubs and bars, where education and good times coexist.
This group faces health-related stigma, even within their own communities. MAX executive director, Roberto Ortiz, says this is because for over 30 years the HIV epidemic has monopolized the community. He says the majority of health-related projects and funding goes towards reducing HIV numbers. But there is more to health than HIV, and Ortiz says that even if the community wants to effectively reduce HIV numbers the approach has to change. That’s why MAX takes a holistic approach to health which encompasses sexual, physical, social, mental and spiritual health. Spill the Tea provides safe sex and harm reduction kits to event attendees and hopes the open dialogue at community events will strengthen mental and social wellbeing.
The idea for Spill the Tea comes from an event in Berlin, Germany, called Let’s Talk and Test. The campaign is overseen by MAX’s Safer Partying Advisory Committee, made up of guys who are either presently or have in the past used drugs before or during sex.
According to committee members, drug use is “a major concern in the GBTQ2+ community,” saying in an email to the Fulcrum that, “it needs to be addressed with courage, compassion and reliable information. Drug use is often more than just a question of pleasure and party; we need the right resources to empower individuals to understand and deal with our own patterns and/or issues surrounding drug use.”
This approach of experience-based education is not unique to the Spill the Tea campaign. The entirety of MAX embodies the approach of “nothing about us without us.” All staff and board members are guys who are into guys, and Ortiz believes that this makes MAX a non-judgemental member of the community that can provide more effective support and education.
The stigma faced by the gay community is not unique to Ottawa, but Ortiz does mention that the region is a bit late compared to Toronto or Montreal when it comes to specific campaigns, interventions, and resources for party and play.
When the campaign comes to an end, Ortiz hopes that Ottawa sees a decrease in stigma around party and play. “Maybe this will be harder to see in the larger general public but I mean in our communities as well. We are not talking to each other about party and play and some of us might be judging (too) much so the idea is to just be open because that’s the first step to being able to get the right information and resources where needed.”
Future events can be found on the MAX website here.