September 30, 2020

By LINDSAY TESSIER
The AIDS Committee of Guelph and Wellington County has released a free mobile app to help combat homophobia and raise awareness about HIV transmission.
The new app, titled H3: Halt Homophobia & HIV, provides users with witty comebacks to homophobic slurs, answers questions about HIV transmission, and even has a quiz which can rate your level of homophobia.
The agency developed the app with the help of a local developer and with funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada.
“Utilizing technology such as this iPhone app allows us to address homophobia and HIV stigma which we know are key factors in reducing HIV transmission,” says Tom Hammond, executive director of the AIDS Committee of Guelph and Wellington County.
Olivia Kijewski, the AIDS committee’s positive prevention co-ordinator, said she hopes the app will promote a positive discussion about homophobia and HIV transmission in a fun and accessible way.
“Our aim is to provide accurate information that youth may feel too uncomfortable to find elsewhere, as well as to open up discussion and help build capacity to challenge homophobia,” said Kijewski.
She said agencies are starting to recognize the connection between experiencing homophobia and transmission of HIV.
According to Kijewski, experiencing homophobia has been linked to homelessness and depression, as well as the transmission of HIV.
“Research is now showing that those who experience homophobia in forms such as isolation, bullying, exclusion and violence, may have experienced ‘shame-based’ trauma, which can lead to an increase in ‘risky behaviours,’ which can ultimately lead to an increased risk of HIV transmission,” she said.
Recognizing that connection, the AIDS committee wanted to develop a resource targeting youth that would educate them about HIV transmission and encourage them to challenge homophobia.
“Knowing that something like 90 per cent of youth use cellphones, 60 per cent of which use smartphones, what better way to disseminate this info but through an iPhone app?” said Kijewski.
“It is a fabulous way to allow youth to access information in a confidential and fast way, using a tool that they spend the majority of their day on anyway.”
Kijewski called Guelph a progressive and accepting town, but added that homophobia still exists in the city.
She said people often don’t recognize that more subtle forms of homophobia, such as using expressions like “that’s so gay,” or making assumptions about someone’s sexuality can have an impact.
“It’s important to recognize the harmful effect all these different forms of homophobia can have on our lives and be able to challenge them together.”
The app is currently only available for the iPhone and iPad but Kijewski said the AIDS committee would consider adapting the app to other platforms if it became popular.
You can download the app at aidsguelph.org/app