ACON has proposed an aggressive plan to better reach GLBT and HIV positive people in regional and rural areas in a new strategy released this week.
The three-year plan includes advertising in mainstream rural press, modifying some HIV prevention campaigns to reflect local cultural factors, and holding workshops and forums in areas without an ACON presence.
It will even participate in the NSW Farmers Association mental health network to ensure gay and lesbian farmers are considered.
Built on a series of statewide forums and interviews conducted in 2005, the aim is to make ACON’s services more relevant and accessible, so people don’t feel they have to travel to Sydney.
Particularly in areas where we don’t have a branch, like Albury, Dubbo, Tamworth, Armidale, ACON regional services director Nic Parkhill said.
The process is often complicated by concerns about confidentiality, homophobia and related discrimination.
Local clubs and councils fund some regional projects, but with so many additional services proposed ACON will seek grants from state and federal governments.
We offer workshops for priority groups that reflect the local community need, Parkhill said. In Lismore we run a treatments by the sea for HIV positive men. In Wollongong they have a group for young people.
Brendan Lloyd, who participated in the Wollongong Young and Proud group, said the group proved popular for an area without a thriving gay community like Sydney.
There isn’t much down here generally, so ACON tends to be a focal point, especially for young people, he said.
Lloyd said the new plans looked good on paper, but would hinge on their ability to tap into local needs.
I’m sure in Sydney it’s much easier to get an appointment at a sexual heath clinic, but down here you can wait up to two weeks, he said.
They have an outreach clinic occasionally at the ACON office, but otherwise you go to your GP and are subject to the raised eyebrows.
Mainstream advertising could also backfire if it wasn’t culturally sensitive, Lloyd said.
I don’t think the frank speaking we might get in the Star Observer about sex venues would be good down here. I know political religious groups would love to stir it up, he said.
It’s a different sort of attitude. In order to get a foot in the door it’s got to be culturally appropriate.
The strategy does not address beats, which Lloyd said were often central to a small town’s gay population.

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