Place of Pride

The placement of the Pride Centre reflects a desire to revive St Kilda as a tourist destination rather than the changing needs of Victoria’s queer communities.

There’s a striking method used to visualise the distribution of inequity — it’s the simple train network map. In Glasgow, famously, each additional stop on your train journey home corresponds to two years off your life expectancy for men, and 1.2 years for women. Similar effects are found in other cities, including Melbourne.

This reflects a difference in wealth — people who can afford to live in the inner suburbs are more well-off than people living further out. But research also shows that the further you have to travel to your nearest health clinic, the less often you’ll make the trip. So the placement of services is materially relevant to the fairness of our society.

It’s great that the Andrews Labor government in Victoria has announced $15m funding for a Pride Centre — a landmark central location for queer community organisations, cultural events and ‘health and advisory services.’ The work-up of this proposal has been entrusted to a Board with substantial project management and financial management experience, which may help it avoid the sad fate of the London Lesbian and Gay Centre in the 1980s.

But the agreement to place the centre in St Kilda is catastrophically dumb a shame. It shows the blind spots of a Board made up of middle-class professionals: they haven’t thought about taken travel time seriously as a barrier.* St Kilda is not on a train line. Google reports it takes about 30 minutes to get there from Flinders Street, on a tram that services busy St Kilda Rd, and over an hour from Footscray, the inner-most suburb in the West.**

Edit: some have interpreted this remark as ‘blaming the Board’ when its hands were tied by the lack of alternative sites offered by councils within the EOI process. This misses the point that the Board designed the EOI process, seeking applications from councils — which basically guaranteed the Pride Centre would be placed in a wealthier local government area.

I would argue that if the EOI process didn’t turn up an appropriate site, it could have chosen a temporary site to accommodate organisations with a fixed timeline to move from their current facilities, and gone back to the State Government to explore options for a more centrally-located sites. There is recent precedent for taking this approach — both the Melbourne Recital Centre and the Library at the Dock were built via public-private partnerships in exchange for relief of contractual obligations or as planning conditions.

** Comments have also noted there’s the 96 from Southern Cross. I used to take this tram every fortnight, and it takes 20-30 minutes, mostly due to delays at stops and intersections between the station to the start of the light rail section. 

st kilda
Actual re-enactment of St Kilda’s location.

My guess is the Pride Centre placement reflects the history of the queer communities, rather than our present and our future. Our future includes a shift away from the traditional centres of queer community life, driven partly by rising house prices, but also by the way increasing acceptance of queer people has decreased the need to clump together for safety.

Let me give an example from my own experience. I don’t drive, and even when I lived in Prahran, it took about 30 minutes to get to the Centre Clinic in Fitzroy St. Later, like a lot of queer people, I got priced out of renting in the traditional gay enclave, and moved to the Western suburbs. When I lived in Footscray, I travelled across town to see a doctor at Prahran Market Clinic, forty-five minutes each way, because there weren’t any queer community-controlled health and support services in the Western suburbs.

Travel time becomes an issue when you need sexual health care every three months. Incredibly, unless you’re okay with the conveyor-belt experience at Melbourne Sexual Health Centre, there is no free walk-in sexual health service within walking distance of a train station. This is a problem when our HIV prevention strategy emphasises regular testing and early treatment to bring the HIV epidemic under control.

However, I’m conscious that HIV risk has long dictated funding for service provision to queer communities, often to the exclusion of queer women and families. The research is also clear that involvement in community leads to improved mental health and resilience to stigma and prejudice. Placing the Pride Centre in St Kilda fails on this count as well.

Research by Flood and Hamilton, although now quite old, showed a clear gradient in acceptance of same-sex relationships – highest in cities and decreasing in outer suburban, regional and rural areas. People who live further out have the greatest need for a safe, centrally-accessible space where they can take part in queer cultural events and community activities. Meeting these needs is more important than reviving St Kilda as a tourist destination and Melbourne’s answer to the Castro.

Melbourne is the same size as London, with half the population, creating a need for people in emerging population centres like Werribee, Melton and Cranbourne to travel more than an hour to access essential services. In our transit architecture, train lines are the arteries, while bus routes slowly wind across the suburbs like varicose veins.

Locating the Pride Centre in St Kilda ignores the needs of queer people in emerging population centres in the West, the outer North, and the outer South-East. The Pride Centre Essential services must be located near a major train station, within easy reach of the centre of Melbourne’s hub-and-spoke transit network. In creating a centre to celebrate the triumph of queer community over historical inequities, the Andrews Government should not be creating new ones.


Author: Daniel Reeders

I study the cultural dimensions of the social governance of health.

6 thoughts on “Place of Pride”

  1. Jude Munro claimed on JOY today it was 16 minutes from the city and about 45 from Brunswick East as tested recently. Of course that doesn’t take into account waiting times. I gather there were three Council bids Yarra, Melb and Port Phillip considered and the Pride Ctee went for the one which offered the promise of a freehold for the LGBTI community after 20 years. Quite a generous offer as is the purchase of the land in the first place. I can see why the Cree made this pragmatic decision.
    I don’t think any Western suburban Council put in a bid but I could be wrong there. Should the ctee have ignored the best offers and actively pumped for say Maribrynong even if they didn’t put in a bid?
    As someone who is interested in the needs of VAC clients and indeed elderly GLBTI who might access a Pride Centre for activities during the day or to attend VAC, I was pleased to hear Port Phillip is offering car parking. The disabled clients who might need to be dropped off at such a Centre would have had trouble accessing a city venue and this is a good option for them.
    I’m not really buying the middle class older GLBTI argument either. It’s a building and whatever happens there is the creation of what occurs within its walls. Fitzroy Street is a real mixture of the well off and the not well off at all. Many GLBTI access the VAC Centre Clinic there now, often from a range of suburbs throughout Melbourne.
    I’m sure there is a decent argument that it should have been in a more central place but I think it is a blessing that we have a decent
    location with security of tenure in a safe neighbourhood. And a nice place for people to work being near the beach, parks etc. I think it will work.

    1. Google tracks how long it takes people using its Maps app to travel from point to point on roads, bikes, public transport, etc. At 10AM on a Monday morning — not the morning peak but not quiet either — it says it takes 28 minutes from Flinders St to St Kilda.

      I’m not buying your argument about it being a building and what matters is what happens within its walls — what happens is a matter of who’s able to make it there. I’m sure it’ll work, the question is for whom.

  2. Perhaps, with the consolidation of GLBTI organisations into a hub, there can – in future – be more effective lobbying for provision, co-ordination, and publicity of health and support services in outer areas. Now that the decision for siting the Pride Centre has been made, we need to ensure that it fulfils its purpose: and that will require the Centre to reach out beyond its walls in order to address its constituents’ needs. I know of several GLBTI doctors, working in outer suburbs and rural fringes, who would be happy to be accredited as providing “queer-friendly” medical practices. But no-one has (so far) put any kind of centralised and publicly accessible database together. Surely this kind of thing will fall into the ambit of the new Pride Centre? And, potentially, wouldn’t this kind of co-ordinated information be a more achievable solution to the problems you have articulated, rather than placing the Pride Centre in Epping or Sunshine?

    People used to worry that physical consolidation of the Melbourne’s arts organisations into a singular Southbank precinct would mean the death of theatre, dance, painting, etc. by institutionalising everything and sticking all the artists into a kind of boundaried ghetto. Indeed – whether through resistance, or through a conscious effort to reach out – the reverse has proven to be true.

    Let’s give the St Kilda Pride Centre a chance to succeed, and help it to understand where and how its policy directions, lobbying capacity, and initiatives can be applied for maximum benefit.

    1. There is no reason why co-location would improve advocacy — after all, until the City Village opened, all of the orgs we are talking about were co-located at the VAC building in Claremont St.

      One of the frustrating things about working in health inequities is that everyone thinks that dynamics that have shown up again and again won’t apply to *their* new initiative. What’s that saying attributed to Einstein — the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result each time? The services and activities of a Pride Centre could be absolutely fabulous, and in fact, the better they are, the worse the health inequity would become, because it is an opportunity that is harder for people living further out and on low incomes to take advantage of compared to people who drive, who live closer-in, and who have more financial resources.

      Similarly, hub-and-spoke service delivery models have been tried for many different issues before in Victoria. Take the BreastScreen program, for example, which has both fixed sites in regional Victoria and a mobile breast-screening van. Participation rates for mammography are higher in areas closer to a fixed site than areas visited by the outreach van. We have also tried using websites to provide information as if that’s somehow a solution to having to travel 60-90 minutes to obtain an essential service.

      For what it’s worth, I proposed a central website listing queer-friendly clinicians in 2008, as part of a campaign called GoTest, and the lawyers shot that proposal down, because we can’t guarantee that people who list themselves as queer-friendly actually are. GLHV have since developed a practice-wide accreditation test called the Rainbow Tick, which helps answer that problem, but it’s used by community health centres rather than private practices. And there’s a big difference between a practice having one or two queer-friendly clinicians, and a practice that is owned and operated by queer clinicians or a queer community organisation.

      Now, towards the end of your comment I started to worry about your reading comprehension. I’m not saying the Pride Centre should be located in Epping. I am pretty clear in my post about saying it should be located closer to the centre of Melbourne’s hub-and-spoke transit network — within walking distance of a train line. It is pretty telling that you have already started calling it the St Kilda Pride Centre instead of the Victorian Pride Centre. To me, that’s indicative of how the Pride Centre will function as a jewel in the crown for a particular neighbourhood, reviving it as a tourist destination. I have edited the post already to acknowledge that the site is unlikely to change, therefore the focus now has to be on securing services for queer communities in the Western suburbs and outer urban growth corridors.

  3. I think the problem with the initial post is that it overstates the extent to which the Victorian Pride Centre should be thought of as delivering health and other essential services. There is a passing reference in the blog to its various functions, but these don’t seem to factor into the discussion. But the VPC is nor primarily about delivering health services; it is a place that will house a variety of community organisations who will benfit (we hope) from cheap, reliable accommodation, shared admin services and opportunities to interact on a daily basis with our peers. At this stage likely tenants include the Victorian AIDS Council, the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives, Joy Radio, Switchboard, the Melbourne Queer Film Festival and many others. Most of them are only tangentially connected — if at all — with health service delivery. Obviously locating the Centre anywhere other than opposite Southern Cross Station will add to the journey time for almost everyone — but navigating public transport is a fact of life for Melburnians and if the Centre’s offerings are primarily pleasure, research, meetings rather than essential services, there is a high degree of choice about whether to attend. No single Centre can address the locational disadvantage of working class Melbourne — the only solution is the provision of widely distributed services (which is already happening: the western suburbs councils are doing great work with their queer communities, for example).
    Graham Willett

    1. That’s a slightly odd criticism to make, Graham. In the piece I’m upfront about the fact I’m viewing the location announcement through the lens of health equity. I’m a health equity researcher and this is a blog about the cultural dimensions of health. The initial funding announcement describes the centre as a home for ‘queer community organisations, cultural events and health and advisory services.’

      But a health equity perspective applies equally well to the cultural and social activities that take place at the centre — it simply notes that people who live further out, who don’t drive, and who have fewer resources, will have more difficulty accessing the benefits of the centre, be they health services or cultural events, if it is not placed near the centre of the train network.

      I’m certainly not arguing that highly motivated people can’t make it there from Werribee or indeed Warrnambool. But I am noting that they will encounter friction, and we know from studies of health services that it doesn’t take a lot of friction to create measurable differences in people’s health outcomes. And I’d argue it’s pretty damn important for people with fewer resources to be represented in opportunities for pleasure, research, and meetings, if only because their absence leads to crappy decisions like this one.

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