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At MAX Ottawa, we pride ourselves on having a holistic approach to health and wellness. In our mission to champion improved health outcomes we have always tried to take an intersectional approach to the social determinants of health; however, we acknowledge that we haven’t always accomplished the goals of this approach when it comes to serving the full scope of our community and its evolving needs.
This issue stems back to the development of our organization. MAX Ottawa, as it exists now, was preceded by the Ottawa Gay Men’s Wellness Initiative, founded by a group of community advocates. These founders largely identified as white, cis men with an interest in developing interventions and community support for and by gay men. Therefore the initial scope of MAX included a fundamental lack of representation and inclusion which did not communicate to all members of our community that they had a place in our organization.
MAX Ottawa has worked to better ourselves over the years, including officially changing our name to MAX to be more inclusive to all of our community members and expanding program offerings through community engagement opportunities. However, this in no way means that we do not have considerable room to grow as we move forward.
Now, as part of our recognition of the opportunity presented by engaging in an accountability process, we’re excited to share our involvement with OUTtawa, a SafetyLabs project. This project will endeavor to embed a transformative justice approach as we learn to address the harm caused and rebuild relationships and trust with Ottawa’s 2SLGBTQ+ community.
We know that it is important for us to address the perception of MAX as being a space that only supports the experiences of cis, white, able-bodied, gay men. Especially when that comprises significant portions of the current staff and board.
We also know that as we have grown, we have lost touch with some of the elements which connected us to the grassroots movements of our community including active engagement and advocacy on the front lines of this work. This has contributed to a perception of MAX as an organization that has prevented the members of the community from seeing themselves represented and supported by MAX’s ongoing programming.
So what is MAX planning to do to address these issues?
Our goal is to use the narratives gathered and knowledge gained, to inform our future policies and practices in pursuit of an organization that better reflects the needs and diversity of our community at all levels.
Additionally, it is important to us to create an organization that is more accountable to our community in an ongoing and transparent way. Whether that evolves through a supported restructuring of our policy and/or developing improvement criteria through our Community Engagement Committee, or implementing new processes that will allow us to evaluate our work and make changes to our methods of operation, we are committed to the process of accountability.
This, however, is not a journey we can take alone, as that will only lead to a cycle of the same perspectives thus recreating the same harm. To that end, we’re hoping some of you might share your stories with the consultants who independently oversee the OUTtawa project with MAX.
MAX is also committed to meeting members of our community where they are at, therefore there will be an opportunity to engage in facilitated mediation, with the OUTtawa team for individuals who wish to address the direct harm done to them by MAX and make recommendations directly. These interviews and all stories collected by the consultants will be anonymous and held in confidence outside of MAX for the purposes of this project.
As we learn to address our faults and gaps in service and repair harm did, we promise is, to be honest with the 2SLGBTQ+ community about those mistakes, and transparent about how we are going to improve. We’re eager to learn and to grow through this process and to truly live up to our vision of a community that has the resources and support to take care of themselves and each other. We hope you’ll join us along this journey.