Free sexual health workshop offers support to 2SLGBTQIA+ international students

A photo of hands holding a red ribbon CREDIT: MAURICIO PRADO
Students are welcome to attend a free hybrid sexual health workshop, catered to the needs of 2SLGBTQIA+ international students.

On Feb. 6, from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., the Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN) will host a free hybrid sexual health workshop for all 2SLGBTQIA+ international students in Ontario. The in-person workshop will be hosted in Toronto, but students from across Ontario can register online to attend virtually.

“This workshop plans to help 2SLGBTQIA+ international students who are often under-supported in academic environments,” said Maria Sunil, OHTN’s policy and systems initiatives lead.

The idea of this initiative came through the participation of a broad range of community representatives, organizations, and networks dedicated to the sexual and mental health needs of international students. This event is a collaboration with the Centre for International Experience of the University of Toronto, the Sexual and Gender Diversity Office, the Sexual Education Centre, and Health and Wellness.

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“Nowadays, HIV is just an afterthought. A lot of us do not think about the fact that a lot of people do live with HIV, and there is still a lot of stigma that surrounds HIV and being HIV positive,” Sunil said.

She added that with the proper knowledge and medication, someone living with HIV will have an undetectable viral load, making them unable to transmit the disease to others.

Sunil said they wanted to ensure a space where 2SLGBTQIA+ international students could feel comfortable sharing their questions and concerns, and find a place to connect with other students.

“This is to show these international students know that they are not alone,” Sunil said. “Other students are potentially facing similar challenges.”

Sunil said that they are trying to reduce the stigma around some sexual health topics.

“For a lot of international students, it might have been difficult to speak about topics such as sexual health or even gender identity in their countries,” Sunil said. “This workshop is to learn to be able to dispel the stigma and talk more openly about how we can have safer sex, healthy boundaries and others.”

After researching with an organization in Toronto, the OHTN focused this initiative on 2SLGBTQIA+ international students. Through their research, they found that 2SLGBTQIA+ international students specifically were more likely to experience increased rates of mental health challenges, substance use, and difficulty connecting with the community.

“We wanted to target this population because there are not as many resources for them, and there is not as much specific information towards them,” Sunil said.

Sunil added that this workshop is open to 2SLGBTQIA+ and non- 2SLGBTQIA+ students interested in these topics who want to learn more.

“In person, we do have a capacity of 50 students. This is one of our first in-person events. Since the pandemic, we are just trying to see how it goes regarding registration,” Sunil said. “With the post-Zoom burnout, many students are maybe a little more hesitant to attend.”

Sunil said they want to ensure that as many interested students as possible can attend and learn more at the workshop. She hopes that everybody attending can openly talk about this and not be ashamed about having a sexually transmitted infection or HIV.

“Undetectable equals un-transmittable. Knowing and understanding that premise is a massive step in moving forward,” Sunil said. “You do belong here. That is the critical message we want to get across.”