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Celebrating Canada’s LGBTQ2+ Community

My HQ, My Health

A conversation about STI and HIV testing, and the new community health hub for cis guys who are into guys, and all trans and nonbinary people in Toronto…
 
HQ is a new community health hub for cis guys who are into guys, and all transgender and nonbinary people, which is coming to downtown Toronto early in 2022. We spoke with John McCullagh, one of the people behind HQ, to talk about the hub and some of the services it will offer.
 
Why do we need a health hub such as HQ?
Toronto is Canada’s most populous city, and home to the country’s largest population of gay, bi and queer guys, as well as a vibrant trans and nonbinary community. Yet, it’s also one of the only major cities in North America without a centre of excellence dedicated to providing integrated health services for cis guys who are into guys, and all trans and nonbinary people. For those of us in these communities, one bad experience in a healthcare setting can discourage us from accessing the care and supports we need, when we need them. We all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. We should be welcomed with a smile and immediate access to competent, caring support. No judgment. No lecture. This is exactly what HQ provides.
 
How will HQ be different?
We are bringing clinical and community partners together to offer services in an inclusive, warm and accessible environment that will offer a culturally competent approach that truly puts first the needs of cis guys who are into guys, and all trans and nonbinary people. Located in the heart of Toronto at the corner of College and Bay, it will be a welcoming, sex-positive, shame-free, stigma-free space; a one-stop shop where people can get their sexual, mental and social health needs met holistically. This includes express HIV and STBBI [sexually transmitted and blood-borne infection] testing with same-day results and treatment, mental health assessments, social programs, and more. We are taking care and making our best efforts to ensure that people visiting HQ see themselves reflected in the staff and volunteers providing and facilitating our programs and services.
 
Tell us about some of those programs and services.
One of the most innovative, and we believe transformative, services will be our express testing program that facilitates faster diagnosis of STIs and HIV, and immediate initiation of treatment if needed. This rapid, drop-in program will offer our clients control, convenience and choice in when and how to get tested, in accordance with their own sexual practices and sexual health needs.
 
Innovation will empower people to conduct self-swabs for certain STIs, if they are comfortable doing so. TV screens embedded into single-stall washroom mirrors will play a short video on how to safely perform self-swabs, place them in a sterile specimen cup, and hand to staff for assessment at HQ’s state-of-the-art on-site lab. This lab is a vital component of the HQ express testing care model, allowing people to get their results by text message, email or phone within a few short hours. Those who test positive for HIV or an STI will be immediately linked to a physician for compassionate care and treatment. Those who are at risk for HIV infection will be offered PrEP, a medication that helps to protect them and their sexual partners. Those not using PrEP and who are concerned about a possible HIV infection will be able to get immediate access to PEP, pills that can help to prevent HIV if taken within 72 hours of exposure.
 
You mentioned that HQ will be offering mental health care. Tell me more about that.
Integrating mental health care alongside sexual health services will reduce the stigma associated with seeking care for mental health, and make access easier. We know that many cis guys who are into guys, and trans and nonbinary people, experience loneliness, anxiety, depression and challenging substance use. We also know that these individuals may have experienced childhood trauma and intimate partner violence.
 
Supported by partner clinicians and agencies, HQ will offer free access to safe, reliable, culturally competent, and evidence-based counselling support for the diverse community of individuals we will serve. Using a stepped-care approach to matching people with the intensity of care they need, we aim to provide the right care at the right time for each individual, with the goal of reducing waitlists.
 
What about social and spiritual wellness?
HQ aims to be a place where our clients build community, share knowledge, and connect. We and our partner agencies will provide programming to meet the community’s social and spiritual needs. Programs like yoga, meditation, poetry readings and book clubs, and ceremonies for Indigenous and two-spirited peoples, are just some examples.
 
For more information, visit to.ca” rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>hqtoronto.ca or follow HQ social media on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @MyHQToronto.
 
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Comments

1 Comment

    Vince / 10 January 2022

    This is for sure one of those initiatives that literally saves lives! I’ve seen so many LGBTQIA+ people who simply don’t go to the doctor or spend years suffering with a health condition because of a trauma suffered inside a doctor’s office.
    It is very important to provide a safe and non-judgmental environment for queer people to be able to take care of their health, especially when it comes to their sexual health, which is where most of the stigma is.
    I found it super valid and humane to introduce spiritual wellness as well, since in that area too LGBTQIA+ people are still often so harassed.

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