Toronto strip club Zanzibar opens for no-barrier COVID-19 vaccine clinic

·3-min read
Toronto strip club Zanzibar opens for no-barrier COVID-19 vaccine clinic

Vaccine clinics are being set up in unconventional locations throughout Ontario as the rollout continues. Over the past few months, malls, conventions centres, fairgrounds and even Canada’s Wonderland have been converted into massive COVID-19 vaccine clinics, in an effort to make the process as easy and accessible as possible.

On Friday, a Toronto strip club will be the latest location to offer a shot in the arm, though it’s specifically appealing to underserved members of the community. While Zanzibar’s marquee usually showcases the name of featured dancers, it currently has the date and hours it will be open for COVID-19 vaccines.

This particular clinic is supported by Unity Health Toronto, Sherbourne Health and Maggie's Toronto Sex Workers Action Project. Ellie Ade Kur sits on the board of directors of Maggie’s and is helping run Friday’s event. She says it aims to serve populations who are marginalized, so no appointment, identification, health card, or proof of address and postal code are necessary.

“The clinic is for sex workers but it’s really for people who need access to the vaccine in a low-barrier, surveillance-free environment,” she tells Yahoo Canada.

Friday’s clinic was not only meant to attract marginalized communities who might not have access to the vaccine, but also to draw awareness to how strip clubs and dancers have been publicly targeted by city officials during the pandemic.

“Strip clubs were ordered to close long before bars, clubs and restaurants,” Ade Kur sayd. 

“Mayor John Tory made a series of very degrading remarks about strippers, our clients and clubs that essentially blamed us for the spread COVID….we’re trying to send a clear message that sex workers are deeply invested in public health.”

She adds that when the city characterizes sex workers as dirty, disease-ridden and a risk to public health, it further marginalizes the community.

“Hosting a clinic at Zanzibar was a very intentional choice,” Ade Kur says. “Battling that narrative has been very central to our history at Maggie’s.”

She adds that Toronto's vaccine rollout plan has been "messy and very complicated,” making it challenging for those without proof of address or health coverage in Ontario to access a jab. 

However, no one will be turned away at Friday's clinic as long as supplies last. There will be 400 doses of Pfzier available for first-dose only.

Ade Kur says the owners of Zanzibar were happy to get involved, not only to serve the community but to challenge the narrative the city has projected. They also wanted to bring awareness to the struggle they’ve faced during the pandemic. Exotic dancers and strip clubs pay the city licensing fees and while the clubs have been closed for the past year, the fees are still required.

“The club was so open to working with us,” she says. “While we’ll keep running these clinics, there’s this added call for the city to introduce industry-wide pandemic relief. To free these licensing fees, to reimburse people who’ve had to pay these licensing fees during the pandemic, to provide the same kind of support they’re providing taxi drivers and other independent contractors.”

While Friday’s clinic is open to the public, Maggie’s also runs private clinics for sex workers and asks anyone interested in attending to contact them at info@maggiesto.org. 

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