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.