Health-care hub for gay men and trans community set to open in downtown Toronto
HQ slated to open at Bay and College streets in February of next year
Steven Winkelman is all-too familiar with the barriers that gay and bisexual men face when getting health care in Toronto.
He says he's seen the need for more specialized services in the city, both as a gay man himself and as a coordinator with the Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN).
"A lot of doctors aren't well versed in queer health needs," Winkelman told CBC News.
"I often have to educate my family doctors on specific health-care needs like sexual health or PrEP, which is pre-exposure prophylaxis [a drug used to prevent people from contracting HIV]."
Explaining sexual experiences to a doctor can feel uncomfortable for a lot of LGBT patients, he said. They often experience stigma or discrimination.
"It drives a lot of people out of the health-care system," Winkelman said.
A new clinic called HQ, set to open in early 2022, hopes to address this problem. The health-care hub for men who sleep with men and trans people will offer easy testing for sexually transmitted diseases. Results, which typically take days or weeks to come back, will be returned the same day, according to Dr. Kevin Woodward, the clinic's medical director.
After some minor setbacks caused by the pandemic and supply chain delays, HQ is set to open to the public at Bay and College streets in February of next year. In addition to sexual health, HQ is holistic in its approach, also offering on-site mental health services and social programming. It's all part of an effort to provide an integrated space to serve the city's gay community, Woodward said.
Funding for the clinic was provided by the Ontario Ministry of Health, which has made an on-going annual commitment of $600,000, as well as a network of partner agencies including Ontario Public Health, OHTN, the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT), the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention (ASAAP) and the 2-Spirit People of the First Nations.
A range of health services all under one roof
Woodward told CBC News he's happy the clinic will be able to provide such a range of services.
"We really find that sexual health, mental health and some of the social needs of the community all go hand-in-hand," he said. "We may have people who are coming here just for sexual health care, who in the course of talking to them, you uncover that they have significant mental health needs."
In these situations, HQ's model will allow patients to receive additional care more quickly, without having to wait for a traditional referral, Woodward said.
HQ is meant to offer a space for gay men and trans individuals to receive care from people who understand them and share their experiences, he said.
"If you're going to see a provider who doesn't really have an understanding of LGBTQ issues … it can be a very difficult experience," Woodward said.
A healthy space for trans people
The need for health care tailored to their first-hand experiences is especially important for transgender people, said Max Denley.
He's a trans man himself and also works as a coordinator at a non-profit that fights LGBTQ discrimination.
"Sometimes these spaces can be very gendered," he told CBC News. "I think a lot of people avoid going to see a doctor because of these things."
Denley said he once told a nurse that he was scheduled to have a hysterectomy. He said she laughed and didn't believe him.
Though Denley chalks this up to an awkward situation, he said it's indicative of some of the discomfort that trans patients can face.
"Part of me was sitting there going, 'What if she's not cool with this? What if she's transphobic and now she's got a needle stuck in me?'" he said.
That's why Denley is glad to see a space like HQ open up.
"Ideally, we'd love for all doctors and health-care practitioners to just be trained and knowledgeable and accepting," he said. "But in the meantime, when we know that's not the case, it is good to have a place where that is possible."
Clinic is for 'folks who are from every walk of life'
Aside from health care services, HQ's directors are driven by a desire to create an inclusive space for gay men and trans people of all backgrounds.
"We have folks who are from every walk of life who [will come] through these halls," said Osmel Maynes, HQ's social director. "We need to ensure that we are providing space ... We want to be the centre that provides a voice to these folks within our communities."
Winkelman said it's exciting to see a new kind of health-care space that is dedicated to creating this inclusive environment.
"I'm really excited to see what happens at HQ," he said. "We need more of these queer spaces in the city, and I'm happy to see this one coming soon."