By Jessica Morton
In 1988, Mark Ruggeberg opened The Union Block Bakery and Restaurant in West Branch, Iowa. At the time, Mark — who currently is the co-owner of the Brown Street Inn, along with his husband, Bob Brooks — was one of a few openly-gay people in the area, and it was the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the U.S.
“When my business partner died of AIDS, business stopped,” explains Mark, “but the people from the Emma Goldman Clinic and the free medical clinic came out in droves weekend after weekend” to help support Mark’s business.
At that time, the Emma Goldman Clinic had already been a cornerstone of non-judgmental, safe and accessible healthcare in the Midwest for over a decade. Driven by a focus on social justice, Emma had long been at the forefront of striving for equality for everyone in healthcare.
Since its start, the Emma Goldman Clinic has reached out to communities, like the LGBTQ community, who might avoid seeking healthcare for fear of discrimination and judgment. For example, in response to other clinics’ protocols prohibiting lesbian couples from utilizing insemination services, Emma began to offer its own insemination services in the late 1970s to early ‘80s.
“It was not just that people from Emma came out to buy our food,” says Mark, “it was the compassion and community-building they brought with them.” The Emma Goldman Clinic, and many members of the West Branch community, helped Mark’s business through its initial, tough first months. And when The Union Block Bakery and Restaurant closed its doors in 1991, “it was like a funeral on Main Street,” says Mark. Mark and the Brown Street Inn have maintained a relationship with the Clinic and the Clinic’s annual Spring Benefit was held at the Brown Street Inn on Friday, June 12.
The Emma Goldman Clinic continues to provide quality, client-centered healthcare to the LGBT community, including safer sex promotion, STI and HIV testing, and support and care for trans individuals, including hormone therapy. And since 1990, Emma has offered free services to LGBTQ individuals during pride month. Emma’s mission is deeply rooted in the belief that all individuals should be empowered to make their own choices about their lives and their healthcare. Emma seeks to reduce barriers to healthcare for all people without compromising quality.
During this month of celebration of the LGBTQ community and its history, I encourage everyone to make a donation to the Emma Goldman Clinic either online at emmagoldman.com or by sending a donation to the clinic: 227 N. Dubuque St., Iowa City, Iowa 52240
Our Eastern Iowa community has made great strides in the past 30 years to further equality and encouraging individuals to be who they are. The Emma Goldman Clinic was part of that progress in the past and continues in its mission to create greater political, economic, and social equality in the future.
Jessica Morton serves on the board of directors for the Emma Goldman Clinic.