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Dr. Pam Brown Recognized With a Nova Scotia Human Rights Award

Posted by Nancy Rogers on December 11, 2020 in News
DFM Pam Brown_2020
DFM Pam Brown_2020

December 10th is the United Nations’ International Day for Human Rights

Dr. Pam Brown has been a health care provider in Halifax, Nova Scotia for 45 years. Trained as a medical doctor in London, England, she moved to Halifax in 1960 with a training specialty in anesthesiology. Dr. Brown would say that while she enjoyed that work, what she always wanted was to work in reproductive justice and health care, in community clinics as she had seen in Britain, where very town had a mother/child/family planning clinic; the need for these was very clear to her after working alongside midwives in economically marginalized parts of large cities in the UK. Alas, family planning clinics were not legal in Canada until 1969 when the law was changed and it became legal to offer family planning information and services in the community and not only doctors' offices. Those initial services in Halifax were quietly offered, primarily with women with privilege who knew the right doctor to go to in the south end of the city.

In early 1970 Dr. Brownjoined a group of volunteers committed to ensuring sexual and reproductive health care provision from a pro-choice orientation. She describes these colleagues as “folks with vision and courage in the face of considerable criticism and many objections”. The resulting Family Planning Association of Nova Scotia opened a small clinic on Gottingen Street in 1973, in an old bank vault of equipped with a phone line, a small office, and committed volunteers, with Dr. Brown as one of 2 physicians among them. The clinic became an affiliate of the provincial Planned Parenthood organization shortly thereafter, moving to Veith House as Planned Parenthood Metro Clinic, where Dr. Brown remained a committed and compassionate physician through its evolution to the Halifax Sexual Health Clinic until her retirement at age 75.

Over the years she served countless people with gentle physical attention, and offering information and counselling from a progressive, non-judgmental and attentive orientation, always humble in hearing the stories of those who sought her care. Her speaking engagements throughout Metro Halifax high schools over the years contributed greatly to the move of sexual education toward the forefront of school programming, including the establishment of teen health centers, on which she consulted and through which she mentored many practitioners. She never wavered, even under intense scrutiny, in her belief that given the socio-cultural pressures on girls, women, and all female-identifying people, we need many examples, opportunities, and supports to help find our voices and resist the dominant societal messages that women exist to please others – in intimate relationships as well as in social and political environments.

Dr. Brown was sought out and volunteered as a facilitator for the inaugural sexuality course in the Faculty of Medicine at Dalhousie University in the early 70s, later becoming a member of the planning committee, and ultimately the Chair of the planning committee for 10 years. Under her leadership the course expanded to include the School of Nursing, the School of Social Work, and the Atlantic School of Theology. From these collaborations she met Drs. Bill and Jean Morse, who had trained under Masters and Johnson. Dr. Brown was selected, along with Dr. Hereford (Curly) Still, to take on the Morse’s Halifax based practice.

Following training and supervision with the Morses, in 1982 Dr. Brown joined Dalhousie Family Medicine, offering sexuality counseling to countless individuals and couples, retiring in 2006. She was a pioneer in this town in the provision of same-sex counseling, noted as an ally throughout the region for her challenges to individual and institutional practices of heterosexism and homophobia. It was particularly noteworthy to have a physician counter the medical model discourses which either excluded/dismissed or pathologized sexual desire and behaviour beyond the heteronormative. She can be seen in marching with purpose in archival footage of the first ever Gay Pride March in Halifax. Throughout her roles, Dr. Brown has been committed to providing information about and paying sensitive attention to sexual response physiologies and how to have safe, enjoyable, and egalitarian relationships with our intimate partners as well as engaging in advocacy and activism to shift societal narratives about whose lives and loves are upheld as valuable and worthy.

Dr. Brown took these commitments into her very active participation as a member of the United Church of Canada, serving on the Women in Ministry committee and on the study group on Sexual Orientation and Eligibility for Ministry, work which was integral to the landmark 1988 decision by the United Church to endorse the ordination of gay, lesbian and bisexual ministers. She was recruited to teach at the Atlantic School of Theology in the pastoral care program in the early 90s, a role she took on with attention to issues of advocacy, gender justice, and relations of power. With her colleague Jody Clarke, she developed the first ever identified course in human sexuality. She was the recipient of an Honourary Doctorate in 1991 and retired from AST in 2001.

In her 70s, at the time of her retirement, she was asked by colleagues at the Halifax Sexual health Centre to facilitate resource generation and discussion with staff and volunteers on transgender health. She took up that call saying she was pleased to have more time to ensure that staff and volunteers have awareness of issues that lead people, young and old, to seek information and consultation with them.

In her 80s, Dr. Brown was profoundly influenced by the movement to understand the ongoing impacts of colonialism through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the calls to action to the United Church in particular. She remained engaged in discussion and dialogue with her faith community and still speaks of these learnings, even as her mind is challenged by dementia and her body feels its frailty.

Dr. Brown is all these things and much more. She remains a loving partner, mother and grandmother, an attentive friend and a faithful colleague, with a largess of spirit, a generous heart, an inquisitive mind and an informed critique to serve the broadest reaches of health for all.

Lovingly offered by Dr. Brown’s daughter, Marion Brown