This month, we celebrate Pride. June, in particular, was chosen for Pride Month to commemorate the Stonewall riots, which occurred in June 1969. In that year, members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community rioted following a police raid at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City. It was at this moment that the LGBTQ+ rights movement began to grow at a much larger scale. As a result, many pride events are held during this month to serve as an annual reminder and to recognize and celebrate the LGBTQ+ community. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of Stonewall.
Earlier in May, we had our TELUS Days of Giving where we participated in numerous community events. Many of our team members volunteered at the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT) packing nearly 9,000 safer sex kits in efforts to aid in HIV/AIDS and sexual health education, prevention and outreach. This event was also an excellent educational opportunity for our team members to learn more about the LQBTQ+ community, the amazing work that is being done by ACT to support our community, and ways to get involved.
To gain a little more insight and perspective about the impact ACT has on the community as well as TELUS Digital’s own involvement with Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) and LGBTQ+ initiatives, we decided to interview two people: Jordan Tan, Donor Relations & Database Coordinator at ACT and Jon Azzi, a leader with TELUS’ Spectrum Team Resource Group and the Head of Strategy at TELUS Digital.
Jordan Tan, Donor Relations & Database Coordinator, ACT (HE/HIM & THEY/THEM)
ACT develops programs and services that respond to the changing needs of the communities it serves. What are some of the programs/services that have been most impactful and needed?
With the support of donors and the community, ACT has been able to innovate around its programs and services to respond to the changing needs of those we serve. For instance, we have partnered to provide free, on-site, anonymous, rapid HIV testing every Wednesday evening. Everyone getting tested has access to one of our community counsellors, which allows them to speak confidentially about issues, regardless of the results of their tests. Waiting for an HIV test in a crowded reception room can be stressful and uncomfortable. To save time, a text message notification is sent out to let them know their turn is approaching.
We also offer women’s programming such as Women’s Coffee Night and Women’s Zonewhere women living with HIV can come to socialize and be in a supportive environment. This also gives them an opportunity to share their experiences, learn new things and participate in events such as outdoor activities, cooking, craft making, and skill building. Did you know that one in five HIV diagnoses in Ontario is a woman? It’s important for us to highlight these programs and let people know that we have something at ACT to support their emotional, mental, physical and social well-being.
Lastly, we have programs for mental health and harm reduction like SPUNK and programs like Poz Allies, an 8-week education and outreach group for HIV-negative allies. It is an extension of our Positive Youth Outreach (PYO) program where we empower allies of family and friends who are recently diagnosed with HIV and help to combat the stigma that HIV-positive people face and offer them support.
Looking forward, what are you looking to achieve here? Or what kind of future do you envision for ACT?
ACT is very actively involved in an initiative called ‘Toronto to Zero’, which aims to eliminate new HIV transmissions in our city. There are a variety of subgroups that are working to find ways to support priority populations who have an increased risk for HIV.
Through ACT’s current ‘Together Towards Zero’ strategic plan, our main focus has been on leading in gay men’s health. This includes a ‘Health Hub’ in the works to support the sexual, physical and mental health of GBQ men, including anonymous HIV-testing, STI-testing and treatment, access to prevention such as PrEP, and a social space where gay men can build connections.
What has your experience been like having TELUS Digital team members volunteer at these events?
I’ve just stepped into this new role at ACT in mid-February so TELUS team was indeed my first corporate group. I really appreciated the openness and positive vibe TELUS brought into this event. They donated their time helping us assemble safer sex kits. These kits comprised of a note with information about sexual health, a condom and a lube packet. ACT distributes over 2,000,000 condom and lube packs in the community each year and we’re grateful to TELUS for being part of our prevention work.
If you would like to organize your own event to raise funds for ACT, you can contact me at [email protected]. To volunteer or donate, please visit www.actoronto.org for more information. You can make a difference and change lives!
Jonathan Azzi, a leader with TELUS’ Spectrum Team Resource Group and Head of Strategy at TELUS Digital (HE/HIM/HIS)
You’ve been with TELUS for three years and have participated in many of these events. Do you feel you’ve made an impact here, especially in giving back to the community?
Since joining TELUS, I have participated in or organized dozens of similar events focused on giving back to the community. Through these events, whether they have been to support the LGBTQ+ community, women, or a culturally diverse spectrum (among others), I do believe we've been able to make a significant positive impact. This really is more than my contributions though, as every volunteer minute and voice of support helps; we drive an exponential amount of impact when we link arms and support our community in a more intersectional way.
What kind of D&I and LGBTQ+ initiatives does TELUS Digital have and where do you see that going forward?
There are a tremendous number of ways for team members to get involved in supporting both D&I and/or the LGBTQ+ community. As an organization, we have Team Resource Groups (TRGs) which provide ample opportunities to get involved in the community inside of TELUS to support our team. These organizations also do a lot of work that extends our reach into the communities we serve. Some of the ways we can support include volunteering our time, working in the field/in the community on community-focused initiatives, and fundraising. Over my time at TELUS, I've had the privilege of leading and supporting several initiatives, including:
Supporting TELUS’ Global Spectrum (LGBTQ+ Team Member Resource Group) planning
Leading an Ally program for the Ontario Spectrum chapter
Supporting the community on TELUS Days of Giving by cleaning and painting / refinishing a food bank (Fort York Food Bank), stuffing safer sex kits for the AIDS Committee of Toronto, preparing the 519 Community Centre for summer events with the community, cleaning up garbage in High Park, standing up a Diversity and Inclusivity guild at TELUS Digital, and founding Rainbow Nailroads, a fundraising initiative where individuals could get their nails painted in Pride colours in exchange for a small donation for LGBTQ+ youth programs through Sherbourne Health Center.
Over time, we've seen a significant interest on the part of our team to get involved and support the community, perhaps due to the local/provincial/national/global political and social climates, and the increasing needs of marginalized groups for support. I feel that we will continue to see turnout by our TELUS teams to continue to build and support the communities in which we live.
As a leader with TELUS’ Spectrum Team Resource Group, how do you and TELUS create a safe space for these conversations?
Although I am one voice for some of the interests of the community and our team in the conversations, I believe it's everyone's job to ensure that we build an inclusive environment where people on our team feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work every day. For me, this means leading by example (e.g. taking advantage of teaching moments if I see something that is offside), getting involved and being a part of grassroots efforts as well as changing the mindsets and conversations at the leadership level, and focusing on giving back and serving, and this applies to both the people on our team as well as the community. Here at TELUS, we work hard every day to create a safe and inclusive environment for everyone.