Toronto strip club hosts vaccination clinic targeted at sex workers
TORONTO -- More COVID-19 vaccines were available at a different kind of Toronto hot spot on Friday—in this case, a storied Toronto nightclub, as part of a clinic hosted by an advocacy group for sex workers.
The Zanzibar Tavern’s marquee announced its latest attraction: “Get vaxxed with Maggie’s Toronto”, a community advocacy group run by and for sex workers, which is putting on a low-barrier clinic where clients can avoid potential stigma by not even giving their real name.
“They don’t need to give their address, they don’t need to give their OHIP, they can give a name of their choice,” said Jenny Duffy, a board member of Maggie’s.
A line-up had formed on Yonge Street well before the clinic opened at 1 p.m., with each person hoping to get one of the 400 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on offer.
The project is an unlikely partnership between Maggie’s, Zanzibar Tavern, Sherbourne Health Centre and the Catholic Network Unity Healthcare.
“It’s a challenge to political leaders and a demonstration that our workspaces are legitimate workspaces,” said Duffy.
That’s a response to what she called “degrading remarks” by Premier Doug Ford last year, when documented outbreaks at adult entertainment venues, including at the Brass Rail, prompted the premier to make jokes.
“I feel sorry for the people, when they go to their house tell them you’ve been at the Brass Rail, that’s who I feel sorry for. The spouse. Seriously. Man, I wouldn’t want to be on the end of that one,” Doug Ford said at the time.
The clubs were shut down, though a survey of euphemistic online ads — some offering “female entertainment” — suggest the exotic dancing and sex worker industries continue underground.
One reason, say advocates, is that the workers in these cash-based businesses have found it difficult to qualify for CERB payments.
“They’re mostly on welfare, and seeing as many clients as they can because there’s no other choice,” said Valerie Scott of Sex Professionals of Canada.
She said the reason is that many sex workers don’t want to risk filing taxes and alerting any level of government that they are sex workers.
But that carries risks that make the vaccinations extremely necessary, Scott said.
"As a sex worker, you can't maintain a distance of six feet," she said.
The clinic at Zanzibar is the third such clinic operated by Maggie’s — at the first two, more than 1,000 doses were given out, organizers said.