Carving a path to community, one MALE at a time

Carving a path to community, one MALE at a time

By Nicole McGovern

Once a month, gay men from Boston gather to discuss the intertwining of religious life with sexual orientation. A recent event, called “Crosses to Bear: Gay/Bi Men in the Christian Tradition,” was an open discussion forum that touched on questions like: “What does it mean to be a gay/bi Christian?” or “How do I merge my religious life with my sexuality?” Participants explored these questions and many more that gay men must struggle with regarding their spirituality and sexuality.

But the organizers of these nights aren’t looking for any converts. They’re looking to build community.

“We’re open to gay men of all ages and races,” said Benjamin Perkins, the Men’s Action Life Empowerment (MALE) Center’s executive director. “It’s a place for guys to come and hang out.”

The MALE Center, located on Columbus Avenue, looks to blend the openness of a support group with the health emphasis of a clinic, several employees said.

“Community is the answer; what is the question?” is the mantra of the center.

“We felt a strong need to build a community between gay and bisexual men and promote health and wellness in Boston,” said Jason Wright, program manager at the MALE Center.

But the social feel of the center has an underlying purpose.

Once the program’s participants feel comfortable with the center, they are introduced to the center’s peer AIDS prevention program.

The program looks to pass on information about the center to members of the community through the use of stories about HIV.

Several members of the community that the MALE center is in contact with offer their stories to some of the center’s regulars. At the end of their presentation, they hand out cards with their stories, and the messages written on them.

The goal is that the participants will then continue to pass those cards on, and, with them, the messages that can help prevent HIV, center employees said.

The center also offers HIV testing twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Males are more susceptible to acquire the AIDS virus between the ages 20 to 29 because that is when they are most sexually active, while the majority of men who are infected are those from 30 to 39, according to the Center for Disease Control.

“We’re funded to focus on high-risk sexual behavior that can lead to HIV,” said Joe Morin, a counselor at the MALE Center who focuses on “individualized intensive cases.”

“Usually, if they are practicing high-risk sexual behavior, there are other things going on in their lives – there are issues behind it,” Morin said.

Other issues include self image, depression, anxiety and substance abuse.

Morin said bringing together gay males in a community is the best way to address these problems.

Once they can recognize a problem in each other, it helps each individual change, Morin said.

“The exposure to HIV [prevention] can lead to safer sex,” Morin said. “It takes a lot to warm up – it might take up to a month before someone opens up.”

This is why Morin feels the monthly events at the center are important. When people come in for an event, they may feel more comfortable coming back for counseling.

The idea for something called “Monthly at MALE,” came out of a conversation within a focus group, Perkins said. It’s a monthly series that covers four main topics: professional development, entertainment, wellness, and a workshop focused on religion called “spirituality roundabout.”

Last week, the professional development section included a career seminar titled, “What’s Next? Awakening to your own calling.” Here, a career consultant and a “life coach” teamed up to assist those who were unsure of what path they wanted to take in life.

The wellness workshop recently featured a seminar on energy healing. They learned how to improve their wellness by using the energy within their environment and surroundings.

In the past, the center hosted an event called “The Gay Guy’s Guide to Boston.” Wright said the small group who attended discussed things like safety and where to get “cheap eats.”

Morin hopes those that take part in the events will ask questions and be compelled to attend another event, which in turn will bring them into the center so they can receive the educational message about AIDS prevention.

The MALE Center is also simply a community center. When there are no events going on, anyone is welcome to come in a use the computers downstairs or just hang out during open hours. People can host events there as well, Wright said.

Despite its many services, freshman architecture major Michael Casey said the center was a sign of people trying too hard to meet each other.

He said he would only go if he was “really bored and desperate for some gay company.”

Being fairly new, the center is trying to reach out to its community. They want to be seen as a community resource, Wright said.

They offer opportunities for people to volunteer and take part in outreach programs, including the MALE Corps, which is like the Peace Corps.

“We wanted to create an environment not so much like a public health facility, but more user friendly, and with a sense of community,” Wright said.

Freshman political science major Danny Najaf, a gay student, said he knows a lot of students who utilize the center.

While he hasn’t been to the community center programming, he said he took advantage of some of the center’s other services.

“My friend goes there a lot to get lube and condoms free of charge,” said Danny Najaf, a freshman political science major who is gay. “I went there once just for the purpose of getting free condoms. It’s a horrible reason, but at least they offer that service and because of that I think it’s a great center.”

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