Investigaytors! A Health Empowerment Leadership Program

Investigaytors! A Health Empowerment Leadership Program

Calling all gay nerds and curious queers alike! The EMHC is launching “The Investigaytors” this Spring, a data-driven journey into the basics of community-based research. This 6-month program is designed to teach you all about queer men’s health and give you hands-on research experience – enabling you to answer those burning questions in your heart and become actively-involved researchers in Edmonton’s queer community.

Are you curious about the experiences of other gay, bi, queer and trans guys in your city? Frustrated by the current state-of-affairs in queer men’s health? Are you super passionate about issues in queer health and want to find out more? Come “investigayte”! You’ll get the opportunity to meet other like-minded queer folk and work towards conducting your own original research using quantitative methods. No expensive degree or fancy experience required. Oh and we feed you tasty treats at every meeting!

While this one-of-a-kind program may be new to Edmonton, it’s been operating in Vancouver since 2011 and Toronto since 20 16. In order to shed some light on the Investigaytors and answer any questions you may have, we are joined by Jeffrey Morgan, long-time Investigaytor and current program coordinator for the Vancouver squad. Hi Jeff!

The Investigaytors started in Vancouver back in 2011 and you have been a big part of its success. Can you tell me when and how you first became involved in the Investigaytors program?

I joined the Investigaytors as a participant back in 2014. I found out about the program through the Health Initiative for Men (HIM), where I was volunteering as a receptionist. I later ended up attending the Gay Men’s Health Summit and was introduced to Olivier Ferlatte, who was doing some really interesting work around the topic of intersectionality. At the time he was coordinating the Investigaytors program. He got me to come to a session and I loved it immediately! It definitely felt like I was connecting with like-minded folks, so I kept attending. Olivier left in 2016 and I have been coordinating the program ever since.

One of the major priorities of the Investigaytors program is to create a safe, inclusive and non-sexualized space for queer and trans men to connect. In what ways has the program helped you connect with your community in Vancouver?

Well, when we ask our program participants why they join, time and time again, we get the response of “we just really love the community” and that it’s fun, which I believe is an essential part of the program. It’s a really fun space to connect. I feel like we’ve done a good job creating that sense of community here in Vancouver. I’ve seen first-hand how a lot of the guys, who started out not knowing each other at all, have quickly become great friends.

I think that comes from the fact that we meet pretty much every week for 2 hours, which is a lot of face-to-face time with folks. It’s a great opportunity to connect with other queer people outside of the bar or the club. There’s no expectation other than to have fun and to engage in topics and issues that are important to us. It does feel like a really safe space. The Investigaytors has helped to create that sense of community for me. Seeing the same people week after week has been really special.

The purpose of the Investigaytors is to learn and conduct research in order to shed light on some of the strengths, challenges and diversities of gay and masculine-identifying folks. Can you tell me a bit about community-based research and queer health?

So, community-based research is a big term. I think some people confuse it with a set of methodologies. It’s not really a method to apply but, instead, it’s more like a theoretical framework. For me, community-based research is all about power, weirdly enough. It’s about subverting the power dynamic between researchers and participants, between academia and community. It’s about getting power into the hands of communities to allow us to explore topics that are of importance to us.

Part of that is building capacity among community members to allow us to think about these issues and research questions. I think, in queer men’s health, community-based research is particularly important because of the history of research done in our communities, which has often been exploitative. Instead of research that was done with us, it was research that was done on us. There’s a long and rich history of social advocacy and community involvement here. Essentially, community-based research is about bringing the power back to the community and letting us ask the questions that are meaningful and important to us.

Garrett Gooch, Edmonton Investigaytors Coordinator

The Investigaytors is designed to be a 6-month program that instills participants with the knowledge and skills needed to be critically-thinking and actively involved researchers. Is it necessary to have an academic or research background to join and benefit from the program? What makes this program for everybody?

It is definitely not required to have any form of research experience whatsoever. In the program here in Vancouver, we have folks from all over the spectrum and from all different backgrounds. We have folks who are not in school or just beginning school, as well as those who are in grad school and those completing a PhD. It’s really nice to have a little bit of a mix, but definitely not required to have any prior experience. The whole point of the program is to build research capacity. Being able to have a perspective that is a little removed from academic research training has value and it’s important. It makes us all think about things in a different way. Having people come to the Investigaytors with different backgrounds, training and perspectives is a huge strength of the program. What makes the program for everybody is that we shape the program. You don’t have to fit into program, the program has to fit to you. It’s about the community members deciding what they wanna learn. As long as you have an appetite for research and critical thinking, the program can be whatever you want it to be.

Probably the coolest thing about the Investigaytors is the focus on producing original research on topics within gay/queer men’s health that the group is interested in. With access to the data from 2018’s Sex Now survey, are there any areas or topics that you are particularly eager to dig into?

Yeah! When I was a participant I did my analysis on PrEP – PrEP awareness, interest in prep as well as the ability to pay for it. Taking sort of an equity lens on that, we looked at how the cost of prep may actually perpetuate health inequities among queer guys. So, it will be interesting to see an update on how that has changed since issues around access and coverage have changed. When the 2014 Sex Now survey was launched PrEP wasn’t even approved in Canada, so that will be huge.

But another thing I am interested in is asset-based analysis. Instead of looking at how queer men are doing poorly compared to our heterosexual counterparts, it will be interesting to see what we are doing well at and areas where we are resilient. For instance, looking at how we have created community in the face of marginalization and stigma. I’m really excited to see what that looks like. There’s so much to “investigayte”! It’s overwhelming and exciting.

There is somebody reading this right now who is interested in Edmonton’s Investigaytors program yet hesitant on clicking the registration form below. What would you tell them? How would you convince them to join?

I would tell them to run to that registration page! Click that shit!! I say this because, if anything, the Investigaytors is a good time. We have fun. We socialize. If you’re interested in research or if you’re a critical thinker then you will be welcome here. It’s a great opportunity to get to know folks who you might not otherwise meet. It’s such a refreshing evening, being able to meet once a week and discuss topics and issues that are important to us, whatever that may be. It’s just so fun to engage with these topics outside of an academic setting. It doesn’t feel academic at all. We’re eating pizza, we’re sitting in a circle, we’ve got the arts and crafts out. It’s really cool to be creating and producing knowledge. Being able to participate in that research process every step of the way is amazing. It also looks great on a resume and you get to meet some cool researchers!

Finn St. Dennis, Edmonton Investigaytors Community Trainee

There you have it Edmonton! If you were tickled by any of the above then proceed to the registration page and tell us who you are. The first component of the Investigaytors is the Health Empowerment Leadership Program (H.E.L.P.) initiative weekend, which will take place March 23rd and 24th. While there, you can learn more about the Investigaytors and other EMHC community health leadership programs, Totally Outright and Pivot. Beginning in April, the Investigaytors will meet once per week over the course of a 6-month period, culminating in participants developing and executing their own self-directed research projects (supported by program funding). So, if you’re interested, click on the link below to sign up. And remember, this program is open to anyone with an interest in being involved in queer health research. No previous research experience is needed! See you later, “gaytor”!