Meet 10 Canadians who are working to make a difference – and be inspired to join the club…
HIV activism in Toronto continues to be strong, but increased attention to the issue and resources to community-based groups will be crucial to ending the epidemic. In the spirit of Pride, we celebrate people working in HIV activism who continue to make a difference in our communities every day. There are so many ways to make a difference, and there is no better time to get involved than during this important Pride season.
Executive Director, Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention (ASAAP)
HIV is a chronic manageable illness in Canada; people are living longer and healthier lives with HIV. This is great news! But, sadly, many in the LGBTQ+ community still stigmatize the disease and those living with HIV. You can end the stigma and discrimination through your volunteer engagement with the many AIDS service organizations in Toronto – and if you are someone who is of South Asian or Middle Eastern background, please consider volunteering with ASAAP! The more visibility of our folks in the work, the more conversations happen within our families and communities. When conversations happen, education happens. Through education we can chip away at stigma and discrimination while creating safer spaces for those living with HIV, and can reduce the number of new infections through raising awareness!
Matt Hyams, Brandon Hamilton and Barrett Morrison
Co-Founders, The Red Dress Ball
We saw an opportunity and really wanted to make a big bang by raising some significant funds. Together we combined our efforts and the skills that we already had in organizing events, volunteer management and engaging our networks. Over the course of many months of hard work, The Red Dress Ball was born.
Getting into volunteering in the HIV sector is easy, and it can certainly be a ball! If you’re looking for something different, reach out to a local HIV/AIDS charity or service provider and ask whether your professional skills could be of benefit to them. Alternatively, ask them if there’s another way to show your support. Even condom packing parties make a difference, and they’re a great activity to bring a group of friends to. Volunteering with people you love is great motivation to get into the spirit of giving back, and to meet new people too!
Manager, Community Relations and Communications, ViiV Healthcare Canada
I began volunteering in the HIV sector when I was 16 and I haven’t looked back since. My role at ViiV allows me to help foster grassroots programs and services as well as policy that helps folks living with HIV get on treatment and, hopefully, thrive.
To end HIV in Canada, we need more voices at the table driving a multifaceted response to an ongoing epidemic: diverse people living with HIV, LGBT groups, Indigenous groups, folks who use drugs, governments, funders, pharmaceutical companies and youth. Only then can we tackle the root causes of HIV, which continue to impact health, access to information, well-being, and access to services. The nature of HIV is shifting as people are aging, as funding erodes, and as an opiate crisis continues without an adequate response. We need people like you to join our cause and volunteer for one of the many agencies in Toronto providing crucial front-line services!
MPP Toronto–St. Paul’s, Ontario NDP Official Opposition Culture Critic
As a Black queer woman, I know first-hand the impact anti-Black racism, sexism and homophobia can have on our individual and collective health. For community members and loved ones living with HIV/AIDS, these social determinants of health – among others like access to equitable housing and health services, poverty, immigration status and violence against women – have a tenfold effect. We must all do our part to support our communities. Supporting community can take many forms: volunteering with and/or donating to local HIV/AIDS organizations; joining their education, arts/culture and awareness campaigns; or even committing on a daily basis to doing your part engaged in any work that helps to end social stigma and systemic discrimination still associated with HIV/AIDS.
I support organizations like Black CAP (Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention) and ACT (AIDS Committee of Toronto) because of their long-standing compassion, advocacy and wholehearted devotion to families of and community members living with HIV/AIDS, especially African, Black and Caribbean communities in Toronto, Indigenous communities and Trans communities. Trans communities are especially vulnerable since there is reportedly a lack of consistent and accurate data collection in Ontario about trans people and HIV. If you are interested in volunteering or donating, go for it! Attend volunteer or information sessions, learn about programs and services offered, make many new friends along the way and sign up to support. There is no help you can offer that will ever be too little or too late. We are community, and the best thing we can ever do is show up with love for each other however we can.
Peer Program Manager, Casey House
I started volunteering in the HIV sector because when I needed help and support from AIDS service organizations, they were there for me. Volunteering was my way to say thank you and give back to the community. What I did not know was that I was going to get so much more than I thought I was giving. I learned so much about HIV/AIDS, about sexual health, about the LGBT community and, most importantly, about myself. I also had the opportunity to meet wonderful, skilled, compassionate and resilient people who were my inspiration to keep moving forward and to be where I am today.
Working in volunteer management, I have learned that people decide to get involved for different reasons: maybe they are personally affected or know someone who is, or are connected to an organization, its values and mission. The common denominator is they feel good because they are having a positive impact and helping others.
Working in peer engagement, I notice the reasons for becoming involved are deeply personal and have stronger bonds, and that being able to give back not only gives peers satisfaction but is part of their empowerment and healing process. It is also a way to stay connected, learn and grow.
Executive Director, ACT
I’m currently co-chair of the Gay Men’s Health Hub task group of Toronto to Zero – an ambitious city-wide drive to make new HIV transmissions rare and ensure people with HIV lead long healthy lives, free from stigma and discrimination. While numerous task groups have been formed, I am very excited about our plan to develop a space where gay, bi and other guys into guys can receive sexual health services – services like HIV and STI testing, access to PrEP, linkages to doctors if they test HIV positive, and mental health and substance use supports such as one-on-one and group counselling sessions and workshops – all in a warm and inviting space that celebrates us in all of our diversity, and is a place for community programming and connections. Other cities in Canada and across the world have developed these hubs, and Toronto is long overdue.
Tammy C. Yates
Executive Director, Realize
I wasn’t born in Canada. I don’t self-identify as a member of the LGBTQ2S+ community. I’m not living with HIV. Now that I’ve told you who I’m not, let me share with you who I AM! I am a Black heterosexual Roman Catholic woman, originally from the Caribbean, who immigrated to Toronto seven years ago, who has worked in the HIV/AIDS sector for over 13 years and who is a staunch LGBTQ2S+ ally.
Why is this important to share? Because many would expect that due to several of the labels that I wear, I would not be the ‘typical’ volunteer in this area – but quite to the contrary. When it comes to giving of your time, experience, wisdom and energy in a voluntary capacity, we need all hands on deck! Long before I started working in the HIV/AIDS sector, I volunteered in it and to this day, some of the closest people in the world to me and some of the richest pearls of wisdom I’ve learned in life have come from the countless volunteers in this sector who give back in order to make a difference. Now, we’d like to welcome you to the fold! Believe me, you’ll gain immeasurably more than you can imagine.
Kistsipawakasi (Blackfoot name: “Striped Deer”)
HIV/AIDS Educator, 2-Spirited People of the 1st Nations
What would make someone get involved in supporting those living with HIV/AIDS is the knowledge that great strides are being made in medical research on HIV/AIDS and that HIV+ people are living longer, healthier and more productive lives as a result.
I believe that a cure will be found in the near future and while we wait for that cure we need to include in our personal and work lives our HIV+ brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, relatives, friends and neighbours. By including them in our lives, we will help get rid of the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
As an HIV/AIDS educator, I am grateful and thankful to the HIV+ people I am dealing with for the education they are providing me. They are strong, intelligent, resilient and precious. I believe they will survive. To them, I say, “Thank you! Meegwetch!”
Meet 10 Canadians who are working to make a difference – and be inspired to join the club…