“Owning My Crown” is a city-wide campaign launched by The PrEP Clinic for Pride Month, with the goal of both celebrating diverse voices within the 2SLGBTQ+ community and promoting education about sexual health.
“Gay and bisexual BIPOC communities are disproportionately impacted by HIV in Toronto and this campaign aims to engage and raise awareness with people often left out of the conversation,” reads a release about the campaign.
The campaign features the stories of six gay Toronto men from different places around the world, covering themes like coming out to family, growing up queer, racism, the power of diversity, sexual education, and tips for practicing safer sex. Organizers describe it as a response to many newcomers and people of color who feel unheard.
Throughout June, the campaign has been featured on the TTC, BikeShare, and Dundas Square, as well as through a series of online videos.
Now Toronto spoke with one of the participants of “Owning My Crown,” Ali Raza, about his story as a young gay man from a small village in Qatar.
‘OWNING MY CROWN’: ALI RAZA
Ali Raza grew up in Dukhan, Qatar, where he explained that he was forced to hide his sexuality due to fears for his safety. Ten years ago, Raza moved to Canada in hopes of living authentically.
“I was very lucky because my older brother had already moved to Toronto. So, when I did come out to him, he was like ‘You need to get over here’,” Raza explained, adding that queer people in Qatar have been killed for their sexuality.
Raza said the challenge of not being able to be himself while living in Qatar weighed heavily on him. He believes it’s essential to show that while people in the 2SLGBTQ+ community come from many different backgrounds, they often share a common struggle.
“It’s important to show different people and different experiences. But we all come from a common ground of challenges and stigma and rejection that we face [and share] with each other. It’s important to make everyone feel that they’re not alone,” Raza explained.
THE PREP CLINIC
Based in Ontario, the clinic offers services both online and in-person, with clinics in Toronto, Brampton, and Ottawa. Claiming to be the province’s largest HIV prevention service, the clinic is 2SLGBTQ+ owned and operated, with a focus on filling gaps in access to this care for marginalized communities and supporting the reduction of new cases of HIV.
“Since opening, we’ve helped over 5,000 Ontarians, and with how we provide care, we offer a lot of low-barrier access. So, you know, we certainly are online, which helps people, we also have very flexible hours. We also don’t require health card for services,” Drew Schonbe, founder of The PrEP Clinic, explained.
Schonbe also shared why it was so important for his clinic to run this campaign.
“Working as a pharmacist and clinic founder, we certainly are very aware of the disproportionate impact of HIV on diverse communities. So, to have that focus shifted a little bit to really meet the needs of folks and give them a voice was super important.”
The in-person clinics offer free PrEP services, including assessments, complete lab tests, STI treatment, and sexual health vaccines.
Additionally, the clinic employs healthcare providers who speak Portuguese, Spanish, Mandarin, Farsi, Gujarati, Hindi, Edo, French, Arabic, Tamil, Twi/Akan, and English.