“Clinic 554 is an ode to all of us rebels”: Fredericton Pride Grand Marshal

Written by Adrian Edgar on August 22, 2019

Clinic 554 lead the 2019 Fredericton Pride Parade. Photo from the Clinic 554 Facebook page.

Happy Pride!

Thank you to the generous Wəlastəkewiyik, Mi’kmaw and Passamaquoddy peoples for sharing their home and native land with all of us beautiful people here today.

WE wouldn’t be here without the overwhelming generosity of our community.

Literally.

Clinic 554 was born out of a national crowd-funding project in 2014 led by organizations right here in Fredericton, including the Fredericton Youth Feminists – a group of radical teenagers, and Reproductive Justice New Brunswick or RJNB – who we’re sharing a booth with that I’d encourage everyone to come by and check out after.

The initial crowd-funding was to save the Morgentaler Clinic – the only abortion clinic between Montreal and St. John’s, NL.

Since then, we’ve added a full-scope family practice, taken hundreds of patients off the wait list for a family doctor, provided hormones for transgender patients from across the Maritimes, partnered with AIDS New Brunswick to increase HIV testing and treatment in the province, and with the Downtown Community Health Centre to offer a methadone and opiate replacement program.

Of the thousands of patients who’ve accessed care at the clinic, about one thousand identify on the queer or trans spectrum.

Including myself.

In 2018, the clinic was devastated by a “once in a decade” flood, but our community rallied around us with another “Save the Clinic” fundraising campaign, so we could afford to rebuild.

This year, that same flood had an encore. And for a third time, our community wrapped around us to raise funds to keep the doors open. Thank you.

We’ve also had high school classes host talent shows and silent auctions to support us, the Fredericton Gender Minorities Group has raised thousands of dollars for the clinic through yard sales and coffee houses, our beloved drag queens like Penny Wise and Freeda Whales have performed benefit concerts, and last year, Stand Up For Rebels held an infotainment comedy night fundraiser, and the Gyneocratic Art Gallery has hosted screen printing events in solidarity with the Clinic.

We’ve received countless anonymous donations online and patients and supporters routinely walk in off the street to give donations out of their own pockets.

When we received the Peter Gillespie Social Justice Award in Ottawa this year, we raised thousands of dollars just from a collection plate at our table.

THIS community has volunteered thousands of hours to help keep the clinic going.

And our INCREDIBLE staff, who we’re so fortunate to work with, bake us food every week, work over-time without billing for it, and come in when they weren’t scheduled and after hours, whenever the need arises. We can’t thank you enough.

But why, in a post-Tommy Douglas, post-Canada Health Act, post-supposed-to-be-universal-healthcare-Canada, do New Brunswickers have to do SO much to fund their own healthcare services to ensure access to medically necessary care?

Why?

It’s because of the stigma that is tolerated in the so-called “status quo” in New Brunswick.

Stigma against girls not loving boys and boys loving each other.

Stigma against boys who finally sum up the courage to tell us they’re really girls and girls realizing they’re not girls or boys at all, because there’s more to gender than a binary.

Stigma against abused children who grow up to inject drugs or can’t keep a job because their trauma takes up too much space in their hearts and minds.

Stigma against pregnant patients who aren’t able to be.

The status quo says it’s alright to make these people work harder to find healthcare, and only in New Brunswick, do some of them have to pay out of pocket for it, if the healthcare they need happens to be an abortion.

We are the only province in the country with a health minister who is willing to illegally legislate prohibitions against abortion access. This is where you can yell “SHAME”!

Because it is shameful to abandon patients in their time of need, shameful to offload the cost of caring for them onto our community, and shameful to violate national law in order to protect a status quo that is hurting patients every day.

Last month, in a statement to the Globe and Mail, a spokesman for New Brunswick’s health department rejected the Federal Health Minister’s direction to the province to enact a policy change that would ensure proper funding for the Clinic, stating: “There is no intention to change the status quo”

But why are people like our Health Minister and our Premier fighting to maintain a status quo that hurts us?

I came out of the closet in the 90s and let me tell you what the status quo was like then. This was before the Internet. Long before Facebook or Twitter, or Grindr, or Google. If you wanted to know if you’d like kissing someone of the same gender, you couldn’t google it, you had to just do it. If we had a question like that, we went to the library and looked it up in physical books. And there was no “LGBT Section.”

And that’s how I realized I was queer. I was reading a poem by Walt Whitman when I was 15 years old, sitting at a long, dark, shared, hardwood table, in the public library.  And I was TERRIFIED that everyone around me suddenly knew!

Because the status quo back then was terrifying.

Gay marriage wasn’t legal. Gays couldn’t adopt and our children were routinely stolen from us in divorce courts, to be raised by the straight parent. Too many gay men and trans women were dying of AIDS, or random acts of violence and bashing, or suicide.  Gay love was kept secret in the workplace because it ended careers and destroyed reputations.

The status quo then was a world that didn’t seem to want me in it.

And, like all of us, who lived through that era, I had to choose to accept that or to resist.

Well, the proudest moment of my life was having my mum march with us today, and she’ll tell you, I’ve never been one to accept injustice.

So, I rebelled.

And I rebelled.

And I REBELLED!

And this clinic is an ode to all of us rebels who refuse to accept a status quo that doesn’t make room for our rights or our dignity.

And I started with events like this. If you wanted to meet a gay back then, you had to go to things like PRIDE.

And that’s where my world started to expand and my worldview swiftly followed. I was a white Christian and I started to meet Muslims and Jews, I met drag kings and people of colour. I met immigrants and refugees, some who came to Canada because it was illegal to be gay in their country or punishable by death. I met trans people and sex-positive people and people with disabilities. I met older people whose stories and struggles infuriated and inspired me.

And I quickly realized how much I had to learn from people with different experiences from mine, and how much it enriched my soul and my life, to learn that, though we all faced different barriers, our experiences of inequity – that core feeling of being outside the status quo – bound us.

And that knowing, that we are all in the same boat in this way, helped me feel safer and stronger and less alone, and less scared.

I look around now, at all the people who think that they are losing rights because others are gaining them and I wish they could see how wrong they are because a rising tide lifts all boats, as long as we make sure everyone has one.

And that is the duty of our elected officials, not to maintain a status quo where some are drowning.

If only our premier and our health minister, and people who want to build walls and rollback hard-won rights, could see what I see – I think they would find a way to connect with the struggle of a pregnant patient who can’t afford to pay for her healthcare and should never be asked to.

And the critical importance of a clinic in the heart of their capital city with a 40-foot rainbow wall!

They would see that the status quo in New Brunswick of excluding abortion from healthcare funding, is threatening the viability of its safest space for the queer and trans health.

Unless they do see that….

Unless they have already made these links and there’s a reason they’re not here today, standing in the soggy grass with us, celebrating our love and our contribution to this province.

Unless their refusal to meet with me or listen to the thousands and thousands of people who have signed petitions and called their offices and written them letters, demanding change – is intentionally targeting Clinic 554.

Because, if that’s the case, we need your help now more than ever. We need your voice!

We need your most inventive strategies for resistance and social change.

If you’re an artist or a filmmaker or a lobbyist, if you’re willing to occupy the Health Minister’s office (kidding, not kidding?) or picket outside the legislature, if you can make a documentary, or start a twitter storm, or do some other technology thing that I clearly know very little about, we need you RIGHT NOW!

Seriously, come up to me after. Let’s talk. I want to meet you. And I want to hear your ideas for solidarity and social change. I’ll be the one in the kilt, probably drinking a York County Cider.

Because pride is a party but it’s also an important opportunity to share our struggles, build our community, and direct our fight for the social change we need.

I’m so thankful to the Pride Committee for honouring us and to our patients for being here and giving us this time to share our struggle with you.

Hopefully, we’ll recruit a few new faces to help us figure out how we can keep Clinic 554 in this beautiful province, but more importantly, how to build a BETTER status quo. 

Happy Pride!

Thank you.

Adrian Edgar is the doctor at Clinic 554, reproductive justice activist and this year’s Fredericton Pride Parade Grand Marshal.

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