New men’s sexual health drop-in clinic set to open in Barrie

Yen Phan (left) and Gerry Croteau (right) pose with a poster for the new George men's sexual health clinic, set to open June 20. Gerry Croteau / Provided

A new men’s sexual health pop-up clinic is set to open in Barrie on June 20.

The new pop-up service, known as the George clinic, is a joint endeavour by the Gilbert Centre and the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, with help from the Canadian Mental Health Association Simcoe County branch.

According to the George website, the program is a sexual health clinic for “guys into guys.” Gerry Croteau, the executive director at the Gilbert Centre, says the idea was to create a safe space for gay men to access health services.

“Gay guys really need to know that they have a space that they can come to that they feel really comfortable enough to disclose sexual encounters and not feel discriminated against or stigmatized or lectured to,” he said.

George is the first clinic of its kind in Simcoe Muskoka.

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The clinic was named George after George Edward Gilbert, the first executive director of the AIDS Community of Simcoe County, which has now been re-branded as the Gilbert Centre. Croteau says the clinic was called George to stick with the family theme, but it also allows men to discuss sexual health privately. Sexually active gay men can say, ‘Have you seen George,’ as a way to reference the clinic.

Croteau says the clinic is being marketed to “guys into guys” because the gay population has a high rate of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

Yet Croteau says the clinic will also provide free, discreet, confidential and nonjudgmental services for gay, bisexual, two-spirit and heteroflexible guys (cis and trans). Trans includes two-spirit, trans-masculine, trans men and all non-binary people.

“There may be men that come to the clinic who don’t necessarily identify as a gay guy, but are having sex with men. We are not turning them away,” he said.

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Croteau says the decision to create the clinic was tri-fold.

“First of all, our research tells us that 40 per cent of guys who are having sex with guys go to the GTA to access healthcare. So four out of 10 guys are going elsewhere for their healthcare needs,” Croteau said.

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He says this is because many men believe sexual health services are more confidential in the Toronto area, which is a misconception. Croteau notes that both the Gilbert Centre and the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit are bound to client confidentiality. Croteau says the clinic will provide a safe and confidential space for men to access resources in the Simcoe Muskoka district.

Next, Croteau says many men are not out to their healthcare practitioner, causing them to stay underground and hesitate to get tested because they don’t know how to navigate the system. “We wanted to create a space where guys who are into guys know that they could come to a space that was for them, about them, and is a safe space for them to discuss their sexual encounters, if they had any issues regarding the type of sex they were having, that they were comfortable enough to be able to come to a clinic that was devoted to their specific needs and concerns in terms of sexual health,” he said.

Additionally, through assistance from the Simcoe County branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, the clinic will provide harm reduction counselling and mental health counselling services. “Guys may want to have some kind of assistance in knowing how to come out, and how to disclose either that they’re gay or that they’re HIV positive, or how to disclose that they have an STI to a possible partner, so those kinds of things are going to be there if necessary,” Croteau said.

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Croteau says ultimately, the clinic is about destigmatizing the idea of getting tested, and accessing services. “We are making testing normal. It’s a normal part of a gay guy’s sexual health.”

The manager of the sexual health program at the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, Yen Phan, says testing should occur every three to four months, depending on how active the individual is. “If somebody is out cruising for anonymous sex every weekend, then it is important for testing to happen more frequently,” she said.

The clinic services will include screening and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, rapid HIV testing, pre-exposure prophylaxis counselling, immunizations for Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Human Papilloma Virus and more.

Phan says while it is a six-month pilot project, if the clinic finds the services are being utilized, a more permanent clinic setup would be considered.

The clinic will be held the third Wednesday of each month beginning June 20 at the Gilbert Centre, located at 80 Bradford St. in Barrie.

The clinic will be open from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and will operate on a drop-in-basis. More information about the clinic, and what services they offer can be found here.

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