Focus will be on relationships rather than individuals
“One of the things that makes this program unique is the fact that it focuses on couples in relationships,” said Kristofer Fegenbush, Deputy Director of Pride Center at Equality Park of South Florida
Fegenbush was talking about the recently launched Couples Speak, a program offered through the Pride Center’s PALS (Positive Action for Living Safely) Project underwritten by the Community Foundation of Broward.
Joining Fegenbush in the interview with SFGN were Frank Gurucharri, PALS Project Manager; Lorenzo Robertson, a Facilitation Consultant and David Fawcett, the Lead Clinical Program Consultant for Couples Speak.
The four-week program was launched in June with five couples. New groups of approximately six couples will be formed every month. The program will help participants with a wide range of issues faced by gay and bisexual couples including communication, negotiating sexual agreements, managing conflicts and much more.
“We’re breaking new ground,” said Gurucharri. “Most programs aimed at reducing health risks in the LGBT community focus on individuals and don’t take couples into consideration. PALS has been working with individuals for a long time and now we’re taking what works for individuals and applying it to couples.”
“If we’re going to change, we need to practice,” Fegenbush said. “Couples Speakprovides an opportunity to do just that.”
“We really focus on expanding health routines,” Gurucharri said. “We have a very health-centric approach to everything we do under the PALS umbrella. “We work with the couples to develop a specific health plan. Diet and exercise are really important to good health and good health improves everything.”
Fawcett said that “most people, including most gay people, don’t think about couples in conjunction with homosexuality. But there are a lot of couples out there and we need to recognize and support them.” He continued, “It’s the way we’re acculturated. From early childhood no one tells or shows us how to be in a coupled relationship. It’s a heterosexual only issue. Still, we all know of long-term relationships so we know it can be done. Hopefully Couples Speakwill help more couples succeed.”
Robertson, who also coordinates Brothas Speak, a discussion group for black gay men, added, “This is one of the issues the men in Brothas Speak talk about. There’s no information for how to be part of a couple, and it’s compounded if you’re black and gay or bi.”
“Over 60 percent of gay and bi men now testing positive for HIV identify as being in a coupled relationship,” Fegenbush said. “When couples have different HIV status, communication can become more difficult.”
“The stigma of AIDS affects both members of the mixed status couple and can be very challenging,” added Robertson. “There’s the fear of offending and driving one another away. But these are issues that can be resolved and that’s where we hope to help.”
“Meeting and working with other couples, sharing skills, as well as areas where we need improvement make a big difference,” said Fawcett. “It shows you’re not alone and others have similar issues.”
Program sessions are designed to provoke thought and conversation using interactive exercises, small group discussion and creative roleplaying.
Couples Speak joins two other PALS programs: The 17-week L.I.F.E. Program and the five-week CHOICES Program.
L.I.F.E. (Learning Immune Function Enhancement) helps men living with HIV create and implement personal goals for health improvement, boosting immune systems, lowering risky behavior and increasing adherence to health routines and medication schedules.
CHOICES (Choosing Healthy Options & Improving Communication Effectiveness) focuses on equipping HIV-positive men with coping skills to build healthy relationships, negotiate safer sex, lower stress and disclose HIV-status to family, friends and sex partners.