Success Story: Asian Community AIDS Services’ Rainbow GPS Project

This week, we’re highlighting 2020 Rainbow Grant recipient Asian Community AIDS Services (ACAS) and their Rainbow GPS Project! ACAS is a charitable, non-profit, community-based organization located in Toronto, Canada. They provide safer sex education and services to the East and Southeast Asian communities and support services to persons living with HIV/AIDS and members of the LGBTQ communities. They also offer a variety of programs, projects and services to the East and Southeast Asian communities they serve. Check out our interview with project lead Bryan Quinones below!

Could you tell us a little about the initiative your 2020 Rainbow Grant has supported?

Rainbow GPS Project is an orientation project for East/Southeast Asian LGBTQ Newcomers and International Students who are transitioning to live in Toronto and in Canada. Through weekly drop-in sessions, the Rainbow GPS project is a learning space for people to explore themes around sexuality, gender identity, coming out, consent, dating and relationships, and body image. 

Was there a particular thing that sparked this idea/initiative?

The inspiration for this project came from a collective need and first-hand experience of East Asian and Southeast Asian LGBTQ+ newcomers.

As someone who is a queer Filipino immigrant in Canada, I had a difficult time adjusting to my new home. The first city I moved into was Ottawa. As beautiful and vibrant the city was, I struggled with trying to figure out what it means to be Filipino in a predominantly white community. All I had known growing up is to be Filipino, but being Filipino felt weird when I realized that I was extracted from my community of origin and essentially losing my support system. I needed to find community. On my search to finding a community, I was also exploring my gender and sexuality. Questions like: who am I? what am I? am I supposed to be this way? what am I supposed to do? am I doing the right thing? and thousands of other questions, made me realize that what I want to find is a community that truly understands me and not just a community that is convenient for me.

In this realization, I had to integrate myself with a queer community. It was a struggle finding such a community. I was 18 at that time when I googled “gay in Ottawa” as what one does. I discovered a few groups including one that was essentially LGBTQ+ training for students. I so badly wanted to have my questions answered, but it was not enough. It was never enough. It seemed like my Filipino community did not understand the queer side of me, and it seemed like my queer community did not understand the Filipino side of me. I had to learn new ideas about sexuality, gender, desire and safer spaces, while also unlearning colonized parts of me. I had (and still have) so many questions about myself, and I felt lonely on my search.

As much as I have learned and grown since the beginning of my soul-searching journey, I found that there’s comfort in the company of folks who are on the same or similar journey. The Rainbow GPS Project is truly a community space for East/Southeast Asian LGBTQ Newcomers and International Students who are looking to explore their gender and sexuality through a newfound community.

What is your goal with making this initiative happen?

The goals are to LEARN different concepts and themes, APPLY key learning outcomes, and SHARE personal or lived experiences. Through these goals (learning, applying, and sharing), the Rainbow GPS Project aims to explore various LGBTQ+ identities that are specific to East Asian and Southeast Asian cultures and how those LGBTQ+ identities are being translated to Western society.

Many organizations have been faced with a set of new challenges, due to COVID-19. How is your team adapting?

The COVID-19 pandemic absolutely affected our program. We originally planned on having a small in-person group, but because of the lockdowns, restrictions, and unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have adapted the Rainbow GPS Project to become virtual on Zoom.

The main challenges were that we found were that:

  1. It was difficult to establish and strengthen (new) relationships with other East Asian and Southeast Asian newcomers and International students virtually.
  2. Adjusting the entire project to become virtual limited our options for activities and other engagements.
  3. It is difficult to figure out the appropriate schedule that works for people with work, classes, other community programs that they want to attend, other virtual activities, etc.

However, I see this program as a recurring project that happens every 4 months, following the university/college semester schedule. I also see this program having more mental health and health navigation supports to further help participants with their needs in relation to their social determinants of health.

Stay tuned for more Community One Foundation Success Story interviews coming soon!