Volunteers are wonderful people — they help keep the wheels of our community turning!

I’m always in awe whenever I attend a community event where volunteers feature as those who put in the hard yards, quite often behind the scenes, out of the l

imelight, rolling up their sleeves and getting on with it.

The kind of folk I’m thinking of are the volunteers with the Gay and Lesbian Switchboard, the on-air presenters and background people at JOY 94.9 and the wide variety of men and women who volunteer in various areas of the Victorian AIDS Council/ Gay Men’s Health Centre. Some of these folk volunteer to drive positive people to medical appointments, provide massage services and run support groups.

The outreach volunteers I work with are also in my mind: these are the same-sex attracted guys who chat with other gay and bisexual men in sex-on-premises venues (SOPVs) and online about sexual health and a whole host of other topics.

We’re not talking ‘body beautiful’ (though there are a few of these) or ‘tall dark and handsome’(though indeed there are a few like this). Rather, they are pretty down-to-earth, dare I say, ordinary guys very much like you and me, who volunteer their time for a few hours a month to be there in person or online to answer questions and perhaps to dispel a few myths or assumptions about sex, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

The next training sessions for potential outreach volunteers is happening on two Saturdays in July (July 7 and 14) in South Yarra. A pre-training interview is essential and interested guys must be able to attend both days of training.

The training involves both large and small group discussions with guest presenters who talk about a variety of topics. These include a Victoria Police Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officer, the manager of the South East Centre Against Sexual Assault, a man living with HIV who talks about stigma and discrimination when seeking casual sex, and two current outreach volunteers who chat about doing the work the trainees are learning about.

Whether outreach volunteers are working online or in SOPVs there are a number of frequently asked questions of topics that are popular and perhaps are questions you have wondered about yourself. The most popular question — is oral sex safe? — has been a popular question since we first learnt about HIV close to 30 years ago. A more recent question is an explanation of what PEP is all about.

These questions and more are answered in the training — as they are by a volunteer if you encounter one in an SOPV or on Gaydar. Just ask.

INFO: [email protected] or call 03 9865 6700

By TEX MCKENZIE

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