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July 1, 2023
Pride is not just another month on the calendar. It is a movement, and we’re working with community to keep the momentum going. This July, RHAC proudly unites around the theme of Gather Against! as we join together against harm, violence, and oppression alongside 2SLGBTQIA+ community members, allies, and our chosen families. This summer, we're heading out into community to co-host queer-friendly gatherings. We hope you will join us this July, and beyond, in solidarity and celebration!
Drag Bingo (Hosted by Galaxy Rose)
JULY 22 • 7-9 PM • London Brewing Co-operative (521 Burbrook Pl.)
Celebrate Pride with Sex Toy Bingo, hosted by London drag performer Galaxy Rose with prizes sponsored by The Stag Shop (London's Store 3). Join us for a night of fun as we celebrate queer joy, and maybe you’ll be lucky enough to walk away with a prize of your own! This event is 18+.
Play Your Way Pride Booth
JULY 22, 23 • 11 AM-4 PM • Victoria Park (580 Clarence St.)
Stop by our Play Your Way Pride Booth in Victoria Park. RHAC staff will be on-site providing free sexual health and harm reduction resources, including Naloxone training!
Stronger Together: Exploring Queer Solidarity
JULY 27 • 7-9 PM • Tap Centre for Creativity (203 Dundas St.)
Join us for a conversation dedicated to exploring what queer solidarity can look like in the face of systemic harm. Moderated by local educator Melissa Alder, this discussion will feature 6 panelists from our local community with diverse experiences and perspectives to consider what queer resilience and resistance can look like as we move into the future. Doors open: 6:30 PM. Panel discussion scheduled for 1.5 hours with time for Q&A/Discussion.
June 1, 2023
June marks Indigenous History Month and Pride Month, as well as Indigenous Solidarity Day on June 21, as we join together in celebration of the rich histories and diversity of Indigenous and 2SLGBTQIA+ communities.
For more information about Indigenous Solidarity Day, please visit atlohsa.com.
May 30, 2023
Regional HIV/AIDS Connection (RHAC)’s Director of Harm Reduction, Sonja Burke, has made the decision to start her retirement journey, effective July 28, 2023.
Sonja’s career at RHAC spans 11 years of compassionate and dedicated service. During that time, Sonja has earned the respected recognition of her colleagues and community as a leader, collaborator, and advocate. Her contributions and efforts have been instrumental in the adoption and expansion of life-saving harm reduction programs, including our Counterpoint and Carepoint programs. Sonja’s long-term leadership fostered a Harm Reduction department—which started out in 2012 with 2 staff members and 2 satellite sites—into a frontline of 40+ staff and 29 satellite locations (including hospitals, mobile units, pharmacies, and partner agencies). In building RHAC’s Harm Reduction team, Sonja has remained an ally and advocate for employees and peers with lived/living experience. In 2020, she expanded the Harm Reduction Peer Program, which centres opportunities for people who use(d) substances to support our collective response to the ongoing toxic drug crisis.
Sonja has been a pivotal force in extending access to vital harm reduction supports—namely as a key driver behind the pilots and partnerships which: introduced Ontario’s first sanctioned Temporary Overdose Prevention Site (TOPS), now the permanent Carepoint Consumption and Treatment Service; welcomed Harm Reduction workers and strategies in hospitals; supported the Health Outreach Mobile Engagement (H.O.M.E) program in 2021; rolled out mobile outreach vans in Elgin and Oxford counties; and introduced the Naloxone Program in 2014. In addition to her many responsibilities at RHAC, Sonja has contributed to countless committees and collaborations, including:
- Serving on the Steering Committee for the Middlesex-London Community Drug and Alcohol Strategy (CDAS) as a Harm Reduction Pillar Co-Chair to develop a long-term, locally-developed strategy for London and Middlesex;
- Supporting and participating in approximately 31 harm reduction research studies;
- Sitting on multiple provincial and national working groups to address harm reduction, supervised consumption, splitting and sharing within supervised consumption sites, and safe inhalation; and
- The Provincial Harm Reduction Advisory Committee.
Her work has reflected an unwavering commitment to social justice by centering inclusive, dignified and culturally-safe care for marginalized community members. In 2018, she helped to launch RHAC’s Harm Reduction Services partnership with Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre (SOAHAC) and Chippewa of the Thames Health Centre. That same year, Sonja received the 2018 Atlohsa Peace Award for Bravery in recognition of her work towards Truth and Reconciliation.
In the face of stigma and adversity, Sonja has led fellow change-makers with the courage to do what is right. Her legacy is one of unparalleled courage. Perhaps Sonja’s perseverance is best exemplified by her steering of the 7-year journey to permanently house the Carepoint Consumption and Treatment Service at 446 York Street. Alongside a dedicated team, Sonja worked tirelessly to keep services available and accessible amid a global pandemic and the complex relocation process. Most recently, she welcomed the launch of innovative drug-checking technology at Carepoint, which will allow staff and participants to test the toxicity of substances and prevent drug poisonings.
Sonja’s impassioned voice and vision have informed the cutting-edge and compassionate quality of care that RHAC’s Harm Reduction programs offer our community. Her lasting impact is nothing short of life-saving and barrier-breaking. Please join us in extending our greatest gratitude to Sonja as we wish her the very best in her retirement!
In the coming months, RHAC will be conducting a search for RHAC’s next Director of Harm Reduction.
May 7, 2023
May 7 is #InternationalHarmReductionDay, which aims to promote evidence-based policies, practices and programs to reduce the social, legal and health-related harms associated with substance use.
Today is an opportunity for us to acknowledge the incredible dedication and compassion of RHAC’s harm reduction workers who are driving positive change in solidarity and collaboration with people who use(d) drugs. Thank you to the community members who trust us and our partners to provide compassionate care and support through RHAC’s harm reduction programs.
Today, and every day, we celebrate all of the #HarmReduction heroes working on the frontlines to save lives and affirm the rights and dignities of people who use drugs.
May 4, 2023
We are writing this letter to ask you to reconsider two recent decisions.
The decision to ban Pride flags in the township of Norwich.
The decision to not recognize Pride Month during the month of June in the township of Norwich.
The Board of Directors of Regional HIV/AIDS Connection (RHAC) serves individuals and diverse communities living with, at-risk for, or affected by HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C in Perth, Huron, Lambton, Elgin, Middlesex and Oxford Counties. We are proud to provide all communities within our regional boundaries, including the township of Norwich, with education, programming and client services.
Like many across our region, we were alarmed by the comments made by many members of your town council as you were deciding to restrict the types of flags permitted to fly on municipal properties and downtown lamp posts and to not recognize the month of June as Pride Month. These decisions effectively ban Pride flags and other meaningful flags for so many communities (i.e. flags representing Every Child Matters, etc.). Pride flags and Pride Month are more than just symbolic gestures. They represent the continuing legacies of hope, pride and love, which are so important to 2SLGBTQIA+ communities.
As elected representatives of the township of Norwich, you have previously stated your commitment to community safety via the Community Safety and Wellbeing Plan to address mental and physical health, housing and addiction; yet, your recent actions do not align with these goals. Removing these symbols of love and acceptance for 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals contributes to a culture where violence and hate is tolerated. Unfortunately, your actions are not isolated and contribute to an alarming increase in homophobic and transphobic discrimination and violence in our region and across Canada.
Members of Norwich Township Council, we urge you to reconsider and reverse these exclusionary bylaws and realign yourself to your stated commitment to a safe community for all, especially those at increased risk of violence.
Chair of the RHAC Board of Directors
P.S.: Attention Mayor and Clerk, please include this letter on the public agenda of the next meeting.
March 30, 2023
Following 16 years of dedicated service, Brian Lester is retiring as Executive Director of Regional HIV/AIDS Connection (RHAC). As a friend of RHAC, we invite you to join us on the evening of March 30 at Civic Garden Complex (625 Springbank Drive, London, ON) virtually or in-person to celebrate Brian's legacy of leadership in our community:
- 4-5 PM: Virtual Reception (Online Only)
- 5-6 PM: Ceremony (Online and In-Person)
- 6-7 PM: Reception (In-Person Only)
If you are able to celebrate with us, please RSVP below by following the instructions in Step 1. Unable to join us? You can still participate by sharing your well wishes with Brian by following Steps 2 through 4.
STEP 1: RSVP
The celebration will take place in-person with virtual portions live-streamed. We ask that you please register to attend the virtual reception and/or ceremony (4-6 PM), or the in-person ceremony and/or reception (5-7 PM).
STEP 2: Sign the digital guestbook
Wish Brian well in his retirement by signing a virtual guestbook ahead of the event. The signed guestbook will be sent to Brian as a digital greeting card on March 30. Please sign the guestbook, before March 30: here.
STEP 3: Submit a word for Brian's retirement 'word cloud'
Submit 1 word or phrase you associate with Brian's leadership and legacy. Your submission will be part of a special 'word cloud' art piece gifted to Brian during the event. Please make your submission before March 14: here.
STEP 4: Share a photo
Do you have a photo of Brian from back-in-the-day that you would like to share with us? Photo submissions will be included in a public presentation at the event to celebrate Brian's longstanding history with RHAC! Send it to us before March 14 at: email@example.com.
March 1, 2023
In honour of Women’s History Month, RHAC celebrates the incredible contributions women have made to our history, and our future. As an organization, we are always honouring the history and current realties of the HIV/AIDS movement. Since the earliest days of the AIDS crisis, women have been at the centre of community responses to HIV/AIDS. Today, women continue to make HIV history as activists, organizers, scientists, health professionals, and more. This month is an opportunity to remember that women make history everyday as pioneers of movements and storytellers. Women are building better futures for all of us in no shortage of small, large, quiet, loud, and caring ways. Happy Women’s History Month!
February 27, 2023
A Final Executive Message from Brian Lester
With this being my final offering in our agency newsletter, I can’t help but reflect on the past 16 years with profound appreciation for how this experience impacted my professional and personal life. I came to the AIDS Committee of London, affectionately known as ACOL, in October 2006 and could never have imagined the journey ahead of me. At the time of joining this small but mighty social justice organization we had a staff of approximately 12 individuals. With this group of people, I found a team deeply committed to and courageously advancing social justice efforts for those living with and affected by HIV/HCV and related issues. Further, as a queer man entering this space, I remember thinking how affirming the environment left me feeling. I felt I was able to be my “whole self” in the space. While I felt mostly comfortable as a gay man in other work environments throughout my career, ACOL offered me the gift of a deeper sense of belonging. I hold immense gratitude for this gift!
Present-day RHAC has over 70 employees and a range of programs across three locations. Even with such growth, RHAC is still about people! Connecting to people, supporting people, and aligning with other people who are fighting for a better world for those impacted by the issues we exist to address. There are so many people who have touched my life in profound ways while doing this work. I know if I try to list you all, I will inadvertently miss someone. I simply want to offer my sincerest thank you to the many RHAC team members, community partners, supporters and volunteers, people living with HIV or HCV and those who are impacted by addiction. I have learned from you, grown from your wisdom, and laughed with you. I have also cried with you in the tragic loss and injustice associated with this work. I believe that throughout this journey, in service to the RHAC mission, we have truly actualized “The Courage to Do what Is Right." In this experience, I strived to serve the RHAC mission to the best of my ability. Throughout, I was surrounded by remarkable people that found their way to this organization!
I honour all the amazing people who have supported me throughout my RHAC journey - I will miss you.
February 24, 2023
On behalf of the Board of Directors, RHAC is thrilled to announce the appointment of Martin McIntosh as Executive Director of Regional HIV/AIDS Connection (RHAC) commencing March 27, 2023.
Since joining the Community Relations team in 2013, Martin has been a familiar face at RHAC for the past decade. Throughout his tenure, he has overseen many key functions at RHAC, including program development and evaluation; community development and outreach; fund development; community-based research collaborations; volunteer management; communications; staff/leadership development; and strategic planning. Along the way, he has developed authentic trust relationships within the organization and our local community, as well as the broader HIV/HCV sector while holding seats in service to people living with HIV at the Ontario AIDS Network (OAN), the Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN), and the AIDS Bereavement and Resiliency Program of Ontario (ABRPO).
“It is an honour to be transitioning to the role of Executive Director at Regional HIV/AIDS Connection. The staff, volunteers and service users of this incredible organization have given me so much over the past decade,” says Martin. “What brought me to RHAC in 2013 was my lived and living experiences, which are directly linked to the mission we serve. What I have found is an amazing sense of direction and belonging within an organization that strongly aligns with my personal values as envisioned by our value statement: The courage to do what is right. I look forward to serving the organization and our community with passion and dedication.”
RHAC has seen incredible growth and many successes in delivering our mission to positively impact the lives of individuals and diverse communities living with, at-risk for, or affected by HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C (HCV). Through this appointment, our Board believes that Martin’s extensive leadership experience at RHAC and his commitment to our guiding principles and values will position him for success in contributing positively to organizational health and community impact.
Read the full announcement from Board Chair Chris Moss here.
February 22, 2023
London, ON - In February, RHAC staff and clients participated in #HIVIsNotACrime: a special info session with Ryan Peck, Executive Director of HALCO (HIV/AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario), to learn more about the ongoing criminalization of HIV and the fight to change the law. Currently, HIV non-disclosure is a legal risk for criminalization in Canada. Non-disclosure can lead to an aggravated sexual assault charge, the most severe of assault charges in Canada, leading to jailtime and sex offender registration for life. No other medical condition has been criminalized in this way.
Over the past two decades, there have been almost 200 HIV-related criminal convictions in Canada, including convictions where there has been no HIV transmission. Canada’s long history of criminalizing PLHIV is rooted in stigma and outdated science. Research from the global community shows that criminalization is discriminatory, contributes to the stigmatization of PLHIV, and deters people from seeking out HIV testing and treatment, making HIV criminalization both a public health issue and a human rights violation.
People living with HIV (PLHIV) are not criminals. It’s time for HIV laws to catch up with science. HIV criminalization stops people from getting tested. It stops people from disclosing their status. It perpetuates institutional stigma. We cannot end the HIV epidemic without decriminalization.