by Josey Ross
As a university student I joined the board of Options for Sexual Health—formerly Planned Parenthood of BC. I wanted to be giving my time and energy to a sex-positive organization that provides judgment-free sexual health care to anyone who accesses it. I have also accessed services in a professional capacity as an anti-violence worker and have been blown away by not just the level of knowledge on the Sex Sense line but the warmth, compassion and lack of judgment.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with Jennifer Breakspear since she was named the Executive Director of Opt last May, but I wanted to get to know her a little better, and to highlight the excellent work that both she and the organization are doing.
Can you briefly (or not so briefly) describe your journey to Opt?
It’s been a windy career path that led to my arrival at Opt. My resume includes my early days as a cook, a paramedic, a union organizer, a federal public servant and an academic. Most recently I’ve been working full-time in non-profit management. However, one constant in both my work life and my personal life has been a commitment to making a difference. It was that commitment that led to my start in the non-profit sector.
I was a volunteer member of the Board of Director of Vancouver’s queer community centre when through a series of events the Executive Director position was vacant and I decided to resign from the Board and compete for the position. When I successfully landed the job I stepped into a huge challenge to rebrand the centre (from The Centre to QMUNITY), shift the organization from deficits to financial stability and establish QMUNITY as a central point of engagement for the Vancouver queer communities. The following four years were a roller coaster of growth, learning, successes, and challenges. By the time I learned about the Opt opportunity I had achieved many things that I had set out to at QMUNITY and was ready for my next career challenge.
As a queer young(ish) person myself, I was really excited when you were named the new Executive Director of Opt. One of the immediate changes I noticed you’ve implemented was gender-neutral bathrooms at the AGM. What other changes do you have in the works to make Opt even more queer-friendly?
This past fall we implemented a Dignity and Respect Policy which explicitly states “Options for Sexual Health (Opt) is committed to providing a non-judgmental environment which upholds the dignity and respect of the individual and which supports every individual’s right to work, volunteer, learn and access services free from harassment, intimidation and bullying. Opt recognizes the right of every individual to such an environment and expects all members of the Opt community to fulfill their responsibilities in this regard.” We used the roll-out of the policy to have widespread discussion and education about how we can best serve all British Columbians of all ages, all genders and all orientations. The staff and volunteers at Opt want to be truly inclusive and supportive of the sexual and reproductive health care needs of all our clients and we are working to ensure that all our staff have the education and awareness necessary do so.
Something I have heard from friends of mine who are trans* or gender-nonconforming is that getting healthcare can be a really scary and unsafe experience, sexual healthcare even more so. How do you see making sexual healthcare more accessible for transfolk?
Increasing education and awareness of trans health issues for the health care professionals is one of the best ways to do this. At Opt we do regular continuing education with our staff and volunteers and trans issues have figured into these offerings in the last year and will continue to do so. Another step in making sexual healthcare more safe and less scary is to make sure that trans people know that Opt clinics are trans aware facilities. We now state that our services are available for people of all ages, all genders and all orientations in all our promo material so I am hopeful that the word will spread and more trans people will start visiting our clinics and calling our Sex Sense line.
What is your vision for Opt over the next few years?
My main vision for the future of Opt is that, before too much longer, Opt staff and volunteers will no longer need to follow up the mention of our organization’s name with “you probably know us by our old name, Planned Parenthood”. When we achieve this goal I will know that we have significantly increased brand awareness and name recognition. I would then expect so many other important goals would then flow from this; increased clinic visits, more callers to the Sex Sense line, more Opt educational offerings, increased donations, increased community partnerships, more research collaborations.
What can you tell me about Opt’s upcoming Sexual and Reproductive Health Breakfast?
The 1st Annual Sexual and Reproductive Health Day breakfast will be a very exciting event, a definite must for any and all sex-positive progressive people, people who work within the health care and education sectors and people who enjoy breakfast. On February 12th the place to be will be the Vancouver Marriott Pinnacle Hotel for a delightful meal, entertaining comedy music, fascinating presentations and a keynote address from our Sexual Health Champion, sex columnist Dan Savage. This event will be a stimulating, entertaining, fun, provocative morning and one that you will not want to miss.