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Feature Agency of the Week: Asian Community AIDS Services

 

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The history of Asian Community AIDS Services (ACAS) is about social justice and preserving people's dignity. This organization was formed by a group of Asian gay men, lesbian women and straight allies who realized that the only way to fight marginalization and discrimination faced by Asians living with HIV/AIDS and LGBTQs is to work together and form an organization to address such service gap. ACAS is committed to creating a safe environment for our community, and ensuring service users feel safe and dignified.

ACAS values a peer-to-peer based approach and all their staff are community members who may share similar lived experience with clients and volunteers. Accommodating and respecting confidentiality is an essential value in their work. 

At an agency level, ACAS has an anti-oppression policy and a process of informal and formal complaint for those who feel discriminated, mistreated, or biased against. Equity and Diversity training is encouraged for staff and volunteers. In March 2012, PSI did training with staff and volunteers. ACAS staff challenge themselves to understand and embrace differences. ACAS also encourages volunteers and service users to do the same: to be open-minded, to refrain from judgment, to respect, and to grow.

From people living with HIV who access support services to Trans sex workers who visit the agency to pick up condoms and lube to practice safer sex, ACAS makes sure everybody feel safe and welcomed as part of the community.

The following is the experience of an ACAS Youth Program volunteer:

“Everyone has their own definition of what safer space is. For me, I’ve found my own definition of what safer space is at QAY. The space that QAY creates in their events and meetings, whether it is an actual physical space or an invisible psychological space, describes what I want a safer space to look like: an open-minded atmosphere where everyone respects everyone’s own identity, and a place where everyone has opportunities to grow and learn. QAY is eager to learn new things, accept challenges, make a difference in the community, and help each other all the time. This place is where I find peace and comfort of expressing who I truly am without thinking about how others will judge me. This place is where I feel a sense of belonging and appreciation. This place is where I polish old skills and learn new skills so I can return them to the community. This is why I go back to QAY all the time.”

Because of ACAS’s diverse programming, each specific program may have its own way of ensuring the space is safe and welcoming for its service users. However, all their programs actively seek peers to provide feedback so they can improve their practices continuously. 

“We strongly believe our service users and volunteers are the backbone of our organization, and we at ACAS are committed to work collaboratively to building a stronger community.”

To find out more about ACAS, please visit www.acas.org or follow us on Facebook (Asian Community AIDS Services) or Twitter (@ACAStoronto).

 

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