Fostering Inclusive Communities

By Jesse Brown, Interim Executive Director

The idea of “inclusiveness” is one of our core values and also figures prominently in our new vision statement: “To foster inclusive communities that empower youth to make informed decisions about their health and put an end to the stigma associated with HIV and Hep C.”  What does this mean in practice?

INCLUSIVE EDUCATION PROGRAMS

YouthCO is a place where all types of youth, regardless of gender, ancestry, socioeconomic background or sexual orientation can come together to be informed about and receive support around HIV, Hep C and general sexual health.  YouthCO is unique in that we operate both a peer support program and a peer education program under the same roof.  Having youth living with HIV and/or Hep C provide input for our education program allows us to deliver workshops inclusive of that reality.   We use inclusive language and attempt to speak to our audience without making assumptions of anyone’s HIV or Hep C status; refraining from scare tactics as a means of prevention. Our program’s primary focus is to reduce stigma around HIV with the understanding that the more we can talk openly about sex, HIV, condoms, testing, and treatment, the better we can protect ourselves and our partners.   Our primary workshop for staff and volunteers, Core Training, is a great example of this, and is explored in an article here by Patrick Morawski.

INCLUSIVE SUPPORT PROGRAMS

Like our peer education program, our confidential peer support program aims to reduce stigma around living with a positive diagnosis. We try our best to provide space for all positive youth to come, relax, talk, and have our lives normalized. Peer support is about fighting the isolation, fear, shame, and oppression placed on HIV-positive people either by society or by themselves. Through shared experience comes greater understanding and acceptance and we hope youth who come to YouthCO feel supported as a result. It’s hard enough to be a young person – let alone a young person feeling isolated with an HIV-positive diagnosis.  We hope our model of inclusive space will encourage youth to be more open (if possible) about their status to friends, family, and loved ones resulting in stronger and healthier communities free of stigma.

ADVOCATING FOR SOCIETAL INCLUSION

Including the voice of youth and positive youth in the community is another function of YouthCO and we’re proud to be speaking out with our campaigns and external communications. The hiring of Michael Reid this year to expand our Development and Communications Program has been a great success with our active social media presence now nationally recognized. Youth are communicating online and that’s where we are, full force, to advocate for our vision of inclusive communities of youth supporting and educating each other.  One way we are doing this is through the promotion of the rights of HIV and Hep C positive youth. Please sign our petition here asking British Columbia’s MLAs to support safety and not stigma. Youth voice is a powerful voice!

I hope you enjoy this second edition of the YouthCO post and please feel free to contact us with any comments, questions, or suggestions.

Sincerely,

Jesse Brown

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