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Celebrating Canada's 2SLGBTQI+ Communities

AIDS Coalition of Nova Scotia Is Here To Help

This organization is empowering the LGBTQ2+ community in Halifax and beyond…

For more than 20 years, the AIDS Coalition of Nova Scotia (ACNS) has been supporting and empowering people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. We chatted with Garry Dart, the new gay men’s health coordinator at the ACNS, about how the organization is working to end stigma and discrimination, and reduce new cases of HIV.

Tell us about ACNS. What do you do?
We have offered support services for those affected by and living with HIV/AIDS, as well as HIV/STBBI (sexually transmitted and blood-borne infection) prevention work, since 1995. We provide training and education for front-line health workers about how to work more effectively with high-risk populations and those living with HIV.

Our programs include “Poz Guys,” our peer-directed social and support group, as well as a blended learning Trauma-Informed Care training module for service providers to centre the experiences of 2SLGBTQ+ communities and those experiencing problematic substance use, and online outreach through sexual networking and dating sites.

Finally, since 2017 we have offered Totally OUTright: an annual, week-long sexual health leadership training conference for young 2SGBTQ+ men that is rural-inclusive and province-wide.

Garry, you’re relatively new to ACNS. What has it been like working with the community in Halifax? What are you hoping to accomplish in this role?
It’s very exciting for me to be back home on the East Coast! The community I get to serve is wonderful, warm-hearted, and passionate about the work we do together. Currently, I run social media campaigns, live video chats and webinars, queer sexual health programming and help support many of the other organizations that serve the 2SLGBTQ+ community here.

I look forward to working with the community to share information about U=U, PrEP, PEP and other harm-reduction measures to change the face of HIV in this community to increase prevention, testing, linkage to care, treatment adherence and viral suppression. I also hope to bring in my experience as a queer, gender non-confirming person to shake things up a little.

Why is it important for you to empower the LGBTQ2+ community in Halifax and beyond? How do you embody Pride?
There is no better way to serve a community than to help them feel empowered and that they have a voice. For many marginalized communities, this voice comes from oppression, racism and discrimination; to be empowered is to have pride. Pride is essential in the work we do at ACNS.

At ACNS, we embody pride by using the platform we have to help those who do not have a platform of their own, and help other 2SLGBTQ+ folks have pride in themselves.

A lot of the work you do is in partnership with other community groups across the area. What are some of the ways you collaborate across communities?
At ACNS, collaborating with community is our key to success. We work with groups and individuals throughout the province, including community members, researchers, healthcare workers, youth and non-profits to keep our programming relevant and inclusive.

We are so lucky to work with our amazing partners on social media campaigns, education, workshops, conferences, research projects and national campaigns. One example that stands out is our work with PEERS Alliance in PEI, with whom we run the Totally OUTright program for LGBTQ+2S HIV and sexual health leaders. I’m always happy when we can effect change with communities from across the East Coast!

The Dignity Project has become a cornerstone of ACNS’s work. What is it, and why is it important?
The Dignity Project is a series of programs that help meet some of the most basic needs of our community, in particular those living with HIV, by supporting them with concerns adjacent to treatment.

Thanks to funding from ViiV Healthcare, through the Dignity Project we can offer programs like ‘making ends meet’, Affordable Eats, U=U campaigns, education sessions, Christmas Hampers, and complementary alternative therapies like osteopathy and massage therapy.

With everything going on right now, why is it important for us to find local ways to celebrate Pride? Does ACNS have plans for Pride this year?
Pride is a way for people from all parts of our community to connect. Too often we get stuck in our own groups and fail to celebrate our pride as folks with shared experiences. In the age of COVID-19, it is more important than ever to have this connection, whether online, by phone or in person.

We strive to have weekly Instagram live chats to connect people and empower them to take care of all different aspects of their health (@acnshfx), and will be working with many regional organizations, like Halifax Pride, to make sure that we are there for our community.

Although our local parade has been cancelled, there are plans to have some small in-person and online events. We look forward to sharing our pride!

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