Director, Mental Health, HQ Toronto
PhD Student, School of Gender, Sexuality & Women’s Studies, York University
The upcoming opening of HQ Toronto, an integrated health care centre, harkens a new era of comprehensive support for Toronto’s multifaceted 2SLGBTQ+ community.
There’s a definite connection between our sexual, mental, and physical health — especially so for queer folks, marginalized communities, and those with intersecting identities, which leads to more complex needs for services — but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the scattered distribution of Toronto’s health care services. Sexual, mental, and physical health are typically viewed in an isolated manner and services are provided separately. This approach creates gaps, barriers, and suboptimal outcomes.
Fortunately, a transformational new health centre that evolved through sector partnerships to fill this recognized gap is coming soon to downtown Toronto to provide a more holistic approach to sexual and mental health care.
Why holistic care is needed
Toronto has excellent mental and sexual health services, but they exist independently. This can present challenges for service users, including queer and transgender folk, newcomers to Canada, and others who experience barriers to care or have complex, intersecting needs. Studies show, for example, that cisgender gay, bisexual, and queer guys as well as transgender people experience higher rates of mental health issues and substance use challenges such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, suicidality, and self-harm. In addition, stigma, homophobia, transphobia, and social isolation often create additional barriers to care — not to mention the challenging logistics involved in visiting multiple care providers.
Also, despite being Canada’s most populous city and home to the country’s largest population of gay, bi, and queer guys, as well as to a vibrant trans and non-binary community, Toronto is one of the only major cities in North America without a centre of excellence dedicated to providing integrated health services to empower this population.
An integrated approach is needed that erases barriers to care, empowering service users with comprehensive programs that promote their physical, sexual, mental, social, and spiritual well-being all at once.
We believe by joining together as medical and mental health professionals, we’ll be able to share our knowledge and ultimately be able to better serve people.
The struggles of fragmented care
Asya, a transgender woman originally from Turkey, is an example of one of the Toronto residents who would benefit from a more integrated approach to sexual, mental, and physical health care services. “When I arrived in Toronto, I started therapy,” she says. “I came to terms with my true identity and started transitioning.”
Despite the availability of sexual health and mental health services in the city, Asya was frustrated with the fragmented care. “Mental health services need to be integrated with sexual health services because anxiety, worry, or depression often come with talking about sexual health,” she says. “Going around the city to separate places for different services is exhausting. The other challenge is the fear of discrimination.”
The solution for integrated care
HQ Toronto at 790 Bay St, centrally located in downtown Toronto and officially launching later this summer, will provide multifaceted support to cisgender guys who are into guys and all transgender and non-binary people. HQ will be a safe, accessible, and welcoming space servicing diverse users regardless of age, race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, HIV status, socioeconomic status, immigration status, or ability. Services will be provided in multiple languages and administered by staff that reflect the diversity of the community. HQ will reduce barriers for people like Asya and offer integrated, person-centred holistic health care services.
“Decades of research tell us that sexual health, mental health, and substance use are all interconnected,” says Tim Guimond, Director of Mental Health at HQ Toronto. “Guys who are using methamphetamine face higher rates of contracting HIV, and depression and post-traumatic stress disorder are also linked with higher rates of other sexually transmitted infections. However, for many years the services for these issues have been offered separately. We believe by joining together as medical and mental health professionals, we’ll be able to share our knowledge and ultimately be able to better serve people.”
Services at HQ will include sexual health services (including express HIV and sexually-transmitted and blood-borne infections testing and treatment, and a clinic offering pre- and post-exposure prophylaxes for HIV), mental health assessments, in-person counselling and referrals, physical health services, social and wellness programs (and spiritual offerings, including a room specifically designed for Indigenous smudging ceremonies), community space, and referrals to primary care, all with walk-in availability in a discreet, welcoming space.
Working together to create change
Executive Director, Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention (ASAAP)
Men’s Prevention Specialist,
Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention (Black C.A.P.)
HQ Toronto came about through the collaboration of many partners, including community clinicians with competence in serving cisgender guys into guys and transgender and non-binary people, alongside well-established AIDS Service Organizations (ASOs) and other organizations that offer social support and health services to Toronto’s Black, Asian, Indigenous, Latinx, and francophone communities.
“With HQ, it was really important that this centre remains relevant for all people who are non-English speaking and non-white,” says Praney Anand, Executive Director at Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention (ASAAP). “There’s a significant and growing population of racialized queer people in Toronto. We worked to ensure that HQ doesn’t forget the minority communities and the intersections of identities.”
“Guys into guys remain disproportionally affected by HIV in Toronto,” says Garfield Durrant, Men’s Prevention Specialist at Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention (Black C.A.P.), Canada’s largest Black-specific AIDS service organization. “With the creation of HQ Toronto, we’ve been working to create the building blocks for a more coordinated and systematic response to these men’s sexual health needs.”
Through its collaboration and commitment to offering integrated care, HQ Toronto is redefining the status quo.