Sex, Drugs, and Education: TRIP! Project Celebrates 20 Years of Harm Reduction
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Sex, Drugs, and Education: TRIP! Project Celebrates 20 Years of Harm Reduction

From grimy photocopies to glossy pamphlets, a local non-profit celebrates two decades of bringing harm reduction to Toronto raves.

trip project toronto party

Photo courtesy of Craig Symonds.

TRIP! Project is celebrating 20 years of promoting safety at electronic-music events in the way you’d expect it to: with a sound system, DJs, and dancing.

Of course, there are differences between the raves the non-profit group got its start at and the ’90s-themed event it’s hosting at Toronto nightclub Nocturne (550 Queen Street West) on Saturday night. For starters, the venue actually has a liquor license, something the promoters of the warehouse parties TRIP! was a mainstay at in the ’90s couldn’t claim.

Over the years, TRIP!—which uses harm-reduction strategies like distributing pamphlets to promote safer sex and drug use rather than pushing abstinence—has cleaned up its act, too, so to speak. Back in ’95, founder Kenn Quayle had to smuggle educational materials into venues in his pockets as if they were contraband. “If we’re there doing harm-reduction stuff, then that’s telling people that drugs are at the parties, and of course, everybody says, ‘No drugs at the parties,’” says Quayle, now 52.

“We had to get through all that stuff.”

Little by little, TRIP! did. “It didn’t take very long for people to donate a logo, banner, and lights,” recalls Kim Stanford, an early TRIP! co-ordinator, in an email to Torontoist.

Now the organization boasts 40 to 50 volunteers at any given time (those interested in joining the ranks can apply in person on Saturday night), has a city-funded staff of five, and sets up booths at major EDM festivals like VELD and Digital Dreams. In a way, tomorrow’s happening is a sort of thank-you to all the people who have helped out.

“Instead of it being more of a ’90s throwback party, it’s more of an appreciation for those who supported TRIP! over the years,” says Lori Kufner, the group’s current co-ordinator.

Outside of its office at Queen West Community Health Centre, TRIP!’s booths have always served as home base for volunteers and outreach workers. From these outposts, items including condoms, lube, and drug information cards from DanceSafe, an American harm-reduction group, are distributed.

This harm-reduction method is effective because “it’s not patronizing,” says Kufner, who has been with TRIP! since 2004. “I think it’s really acknowledging that people are capable of making their own decisions even if you’re a young person.”

A TRIP! booth isn’t merely a drug information kiosk or a travelling Condom Shack. It’s a place where a partygoer can go to talk to an “active listener,” says Kufner, 29. “If they’re going through something difficult, or they are having trouble in a relationship, or they wanna … just talk to another youth person who’s not necessarily in their circle of friends, then we’re sort of there for that purpose as well,” she says.

The pay-what-you-can Party Like it’s 1995: Trip! 20 year Anniversary Party! will offer those in attendance that same opportunity and then some.

There will be something called a plounge—“It’s like a pillow lounge,” laughs Kufner—and TRIP! is playing up the retro theme with N64 games, Pinky and the Brain colouring books, and of course, a continuous mix of ‘90s jams.

“A lot of euro, some ’90s dance music, some happy hardcore mixed with euro, but yeah, a lot of the pop sort of euro-dance music,” says Kufner, listing off genres DJs will be spinning.

Like Whigfield’s MuchDance anthem “Saturday Night”?

Like that, she says, but “amped up a little bit.”