In our fast-paced selfie culture the individual often seems to be the consistent focus — even when looking at issues in relationships. And that’s all well and good. But it can also be relevant and worthwhile to look more holistically at concerns and problems that are affecting LGBT couples.
Community stakeholders say it’s important, in part, because healthy gay and bisexual relationships are often not discussed or analyzed as much or as often as heterosexual ones, which often face very different problems and issues.
Since 2012 a program offered through The Pride Center At Equality Park has been shining a spotlight on LGBT couples through its ongoing “Couples Speak” workshop. It’s a four-week commitment for participants. The last workshop began on Feb. 12.
Lorenzo Robertson, The Pride Center’s emerging interventions manager, has been involved with Couples Speak since its inception.
“We want to enhance the communication skills and safer sex practices of couples,” Robertson said. “We’ve incorporated more materials over the years that we’ve researched and that the [former] participants have said they want to learn more about,” he said.
In a nutshell, the workshop promotes risk reduction for couples, including serodiscordant couples (one partner infected by HIV and the other not). The ultimate aim is to lower HIV conversion rates in the South Florida LGBT community by talking about skills to counter risky attitudes and behaviors, and spur an increase in open communication, conflict resolution and safety agreements among couples.
Robertson said the workshop is important because over the years he found that couples that were negotiating sexual relationships found it difficult when one partner was HIV-positive and one was not.
“We look at how they interact with each other and how we can enhance communication skills,” Robertson said. “We look at how they can disclose it to their partner. So this workshop is not only for those who are in a relationship, but also for those who are interested in being in one,” he said.
Robertson explains that part of the evolution of the program is that the sessions often build on one another. For example, at session one a couple might indicate a real-life problem that is being grappled with and want to know more about potential solutions.
“We bring information back the following week about what was brought up,” he said. “What potential ramifications are, say, about a detectable viral load issue. We research what the community says is important.”
Program sessions are designed to provoke thought and conversation through exercises, discussion and creative methods.
Each session is scheduled from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., although Robertson said it often ends up running about two hours. He said the workshops have attracted anywhere from four to 12 participants at a time.
Participants are strongly encouraged to attend all four sessions.
“Sometimes people just want to come in and talk,” Robertson said. “They decide the group setting is not for them. They might not be comfortable sharing with people they just met. So we offer one-on-one [sessions] as well. We go over a lot of the same information,” he said.
Robertson has been on the staff at The Pride Center for about five years, and was previously a consultant and facilitator for the organization.
The workshop is free.