Introduction to MESMAC blog – A Message on Equity, Pride and Hope
posted by Erin Marsh
on 02nd August 2023

We're starting a new blog spearheaded by Rotherham volunteer Bee! Check out this introductory post for more info about the future of the blog, Bee and what we've been up to in Rotherham and across the organisation...

Welcome to Yorkshire MESMAC’s new blog – a space dedicated to community, inclusion, visibility and pride, amongst other things! These are some of the values that MESMAC embrace in our dedication to community based sexual health. 

My name is Bee and I’m a MESMAC volunteer, based in the Rotherham office. I’m a Sociology graduate doing a master’s in social research – I especially like to talk about the ‘taboo’ stuff. So naturally, sex and sexual health are a part of that. I also love writing, and can talk a hell of a lot, so I’ll be using this space to talk about the things that often are not talked about - including how society can make sex education more accessible and intersectional, (ethical) porn, how the body positive movement can help us have and advocate for better sex, sex positivity movements and sex worker’s rights, and a whole lot more. There are lived experiences that I have and can talk about – being disabled, fat/plus-size and bisexual. However, there are experiences that I can’t bring lived experience to – such as being from an ethnic minority group. Where I believe learning from someone with a certain lived experience is necessary, I will absolutely pass the mic.

Education, knowledge and understanding around sexual health still has a long way to go – and Yorkshire MESMAC is committed to being a part of the campaign to equal access to sexual and reproductive services and education. Part of this is acting as a stepping stone to the building of strong communities that have the resources and skills needed for individuals to make their own choices about their bodies and lives free from discrimination.

Sexual health is considered part of our human rights – including the right to health, life, equality and freedom from degrading treatment and violence. As such, individuals should have access to the highest attainable standard of sexual health – encompassing aspects such as:

  • the ability to control their own fertility through access to contraception as well as abortion
  • access to freedom from sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • access to relationship and sexual health education and services, freedom from sexual and intimate discrimination pertaining to aspects of their identity (such as race, religion, sexuality, gender, (dis)ability & size)

These all help ensure that individuals have sexual freedom and access to pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, if they so wish. This would also help improve mental health and wellbeing overall as people with restricted access to sexual health and freedom also tend to have worse mental health outcomes - which is why MESMAC is also committed to improving the mental health of the communities we work with.

We are, however, aware that barriers to sexual health still exist in today’s society. Discrimination still takes place especially against minority groups, preventing easy access to necessary services. Our mission, therefore, is to work alongside the most at risk communities across Yorkshire to reduce health and social inequalities, as well as eliminating stigma including homophobia, biphobia, queerphobia and transphobia. These communities include men who have sex with men, people of colour and other marginalised races, people misusing drugs, sex workers, and LGBTQ+ young people and adults. Our MESMAC offices are based in Leeds, Bradford, Rotherham and Hull. The services that we offer range between location but each service shares the same core aims and values. You can find more specific details about each different service here. Each of our bases, however, offer services such as:

  • Free, rapid & confidential HIV, STI & testing
  • Free condoms & lubricant
  • Counselling
  • Information & resources
  • Meeting rooms & training space
  • Outreach to the commercial gay scene, cruising areas & public toilets
  • Support for individuals & community groups
  • Training

As a charity, we stand strong with the belief that all people - regardless of race, sexuality, gender, other identities or HIV and STI status – are entitled to the same rights and protections. This includes the right to pleasure and a satisfying sex life. We are dedicated to improving education surrounding consent in order to minimise sexual and intimate violence – and as such, no sexual behaviour is deemed a problem as long as it is not abuse, exploitative or a problem to their sexual and intimate partners.

Part of lobbying for equitable rights is having a historical and current focus on LGBTQ+ history and community. We are committed to continuing this through outreach and work with LGBTQ+ communities – including improving access and sexual health of transgender and nonbinary individuals, as well as working with communities who are disproportionately affected by HIV and STIs. We value this diversity and the breadth of experience it gives us – and on a personal level, as someone who is bisexual and gender-questioning, I feel embraced and supported in my voluntary work with MESMAC.

Back in June, the UK celebrated another Pride month. LGBTQ+ people and their allies once again flocked together to celebrate themselves and each-other – and also, the generations that came before. But despite being a display of celebration, Pride has always been and still remains a protest. Since the first Pride at Stonewall, LGBTQ+ communities and allies have continued to fight for progress, inclusion and visibility. This year for the UK marks 20 years since the repealing of Section 28 – a law banning “promotion of homosexuality” which had major ripple effects and was an attack on LGBTQ+ visibility. So whilst so many of us marched, and honoured all identities on the queer spectrum, now and past – honouring the progress that has already been made – we also made clear our demands for more.

Last month: transgender, nonbinary people and allies also did the same at Trans Pride London with an attendance of over 25,000 people. With signs like “trans healthcare is a human right” and “protect trans kids”, thousands marched to make one thing clear: we are here, and we deserve equal access to rights, protections and visibility.

Photo credit: Pink News

And so we may have seen the end of Pride Month 2023, but our pride at Yorkshire MESMAC is all year around. As a charity dedicated to inclusiveness, we remain committed to working towards equity, and as such we value and treasure diversity. This means that MESMAC is continuously open to listening to the communities it serves – and using that knowledge-building to continuously develop its services that respond to all communities’ needs.

When I first started as a volunteer, I was struck by all of the goals that MESMAC made clear it strives towards. In my induction, I was told “There are no hard-to-reach communities – just hard to access services”. Sometimes, society and the world can feel bleak – it can be hard not to let the bad things overwhelm us entirely. But there are people, organisations, charities, communities – that are doing the work. And that’s how social change happens. Through listening, learning and above all, hoping – we can start to change things, no matter how slowly. Access to inclusive sexual health is a human right. This blog is a small steppingstone to reaching a world where this is a fundamental reality – where communities are not deemed hard-to-reach, or difficult, and thus stigmatised. Where people, and communities, can access services that they deserve and are entitled to as a person that lives in the world and holds indisputable sexual freedom.