We Do Exist! promotes LGBTQ+ social events and conversation about substance abuse

We Do Exist! promotes LGBTQ+ social events and conversation about substance abuse

Event aims to establish more substance-free programming

On Friday, Feb. 2, an event called We Do Exist! took place as part of Guelph’s Winter Pride festivities. Presented on behalf of HIV/AIDS Resources & Community Health (ARCH), the event was focussed on creating a dialogue around substance use as a central part of pride events, and aimed at creating a safe space for those who choose not to partake in drinking alcohol.

The event was a collaborative effort between several members of the community. Emma Callon originally brought the idea forward to Jasper Smith, the education coordinator at ARCH. 

“I started noticing that, in general, there are gaps in [addictions] services for the community,” Callon said.

As ARCH designs programming around LGBTQ+ communities, as well as harm reduction strategies, they decided that they would be the right fit to present the program.

“We know that LGBTQ+ [folks] have elevated rates of substance use, for a variety of reasons. We also know that they are seeking out treatment more often than their heterosexual peers, but are dropping out of these programs because of maltreatment, harassment, or outright violence,” Smith explained.  

 “At ARCH, when we run programs, we try and find people within those specific communities too. When Emma came to us with this idea, we thought it was great, but needed to find people who had done this sort of work before,” Smith said.

In order to reach this goal, the two teamed up with Cory Gillies, the youth outreach coordinator at ARCH, and Jennifer Mackenzie, who runs a youth addictions group, as well as an LGBTQ+ group through Wyndham House downtown.

“A lot of pride programming is also centered around drugs and alcohol, such as bar nights or club nights, and there aren’t a lot of places for people who don’t partake or are trying to partake less in those activities while still being part of the community,” Smith said. “So, this was a way to start that conversation.”

While the event as of now is a one-off occasion, the organizers hope that what they learned from participants will help to shape programming in the future. They intend to evaluate the information gathered from the event in order to create community-driven future initiatives.

“We want to see what is needed, where it’s needed, when it’s needed, and what the participants want to see in their community,” Gillies said.

Those who were unable to attend the event, but wish to become a part of possible future programming, are encouraged to reach out to Cory Gillies at  youth@archguelph.ca

Photo courtesy of ARCH via CC0

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