Vaccine clinic is being held at Zanzibar to reach sex workers

Organizers draw attention to how the city targets strip clubs and dancers


A low barrier, no-surveillance vaccine clinic is being held at the Yonge Street strip club Zanzibar Tavern on Friday, June 4, from 1-7 pm.

Organized by Maggie’s Toronto Sex Workers Action Project in partnership with Unity Health and Sherbourne Health, the clinic will provide safe first-dose access to the Pfizer vaccine for communities who need it without requiring OHIP, identification or an address.

“Our vaccine clinic is a necessary service to sex workers and other marginalized communities who have been left behind in the pandemic,” Maggie’s said in a statement announcing the clinic. “It is also a demonstration of sex workers’ continued leadership in keeping our communities safe, despite the government stigmatizing and further marginalizing our work, our clients and our workspaces.”

The pandemic left sex workers particularly vulnerable, with many unable to access publicly available labour protections like sick leave, employment insurance and pandemic benefits like CERB.

Organizations like Maggie’s and Butterfly Asian and Migrant Sex Worker Support Network have been raising emergency funds, providing street support and educating throughout the pandemic. Maggie’s is currently raising funds for those initiatives along with their emergency food box initiative, which the public can contribute to at maggiesto.org/donate.

Friday’s low-barrier clinic is the third organized by Maggie’s. The first two, which were organized in partnership with Toronto Public Health, were held in mid-May at Holy Trinity Church and Sanctuary. They also allowed people to attend without OHIP, ID or proof of address.

“We’ve been deliberately broad with language,” Maggie’s organizer Ellie Ade Kur tells NOW regarding who can come to the clinic. She explains that allowing people to self-select is the best way to reach marginalized groups, particularly sex workers.

Hosting the latest clinic at Zanzibar is a way to reach the community in a familiar space. But there’s also a symbolic value in hosting the clinic there for Ade Kur.

“Strip clubs and exotic dancers were targeted for workplace shutdowns,” says Ade Kur.

She refers to comments made by Mayor John Tory in September. He called it “nonsensical” for strip clubs to remain open due to the anonymous names given at the door. He gave those comments following virus exposures at Brass Rail and Club Paradise.

A single employee tested positive for COVID-19 at Brass Rail. Last August, the city announced that 550 patrons may have been exposed, though it’s possible none were infected since the club was following Stage 3 safety protocols.

At Club Paradise, six employees and a single patron tested positive in September. Soon after, the Ontario government shut down strip clubs but kept bars, restaurants and nightclubs open until midnight. And while strip clubs have been closed, the city still expects dancers and establishments to pay hundreds of dollars in licensing fees.

“We continue to be degraded in the public eye, but then still paying licensing fees and are unable to go to work,” says Ade Kur, who adds that Maggie’s is pushing for the city to provide industry-wide pandemic relief to adult entertainers.

“This city is really targeting sex workers at every turn through the pandemic. Maggie’s have been doing public health programming and advocating for workplace health and safety since the 80s, because we believe that there really is no one more invested in public health and workplace health and safety in this context than actual sex workers. Our livelihood depends on these things.”

@justsayrad

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