Canada’s Largest Study of Queer Men Hits the Road

Rob Higgins, Sex Now Research Manager, (third from the left) with a team of partners and volunteers during Winnipeg Pride this spring (2018)

Rob Higgins, Sex Now Research Manager, (third from the left) with a team of partners and volunteers during Winnipeg Pride this spring (2018)

By Rob Higgins - Sex Now Research Manager, CBRC

This summer I had the privilege of working with dedicated and passionate community members and organizers to implement the largest biobehavioural study of gay, bi and other men who have sex with men (gbMSM) in Canadian history. The Sex Now Survey is a periodic survey that the Community-Based Research Centre has run since 2002. This year, we embarked on an exciting new path and added collection of blood samples to provide vital biological evidence on HIV and Hepatitis C prevalence, bringing us back to our face to face roots. 

Our community has always known best what we need to thrive. Sex Now grew out of a need to communicate that to decision makers in a language they understand, and on our terms.  Nothing about us without us. It’s this community focused sentiment that guides our organization and our work.  Sex Now is a tool that community groups, not for profits and public health agencies alike have been able to leverage for more healthcare dollars, for better targeting of those dollars, and to influence important policies and documents like those of British Columbia’s Provincial Health Officer (PHO) ReportSex Now was a critical source of data used for the PHO Report that year, which resulted in 6 key priority interventions set for the provincial government to stem the spread of HIV. This year we’ve aimed even higher and are tackling Canada’s discriminatory blood ban on men who have sex with men.  

This was a demanding undertaking, that frankly, would not have been possible without our national network of partners. We visited a total of 15 cities across Canada and received thousands of survey responses and blood samples. The Advance Community Alliance was an instrumental source of support, helping to train and organize community volunteers to support recruitment and extending Sex Now’s reach to diverse communities of gbMSM in Canada.  

Armed with this data, our community and activists will continue the fight for fair and equitable health care access. We can now make strong, evidence-based arguments for a more inclusive blood donor screening process, and shine the spotlight on social and mental health issues our community members face in their daily lives that often go un-noticed and unaddressed. The best part is, all this data will be returned to the communities that helped us collect it. We hope that this allows community organizations coast to coast to capture the attention of local and provincial decision makers, and drive home policy changes they see as being needed most in their communities. Together we can, and will, build a better world for gay, bi, trans, Two-Spirit, and queer men.