Australia’s first state-funded, purpose-built and the world’s second largest LGBTQI+ Community Hub – the Victorian Pride Centre opened its doors to the community on Sunday July 11, 2021.
Victorian Premier Dan Andrews along with Minister of Equality Martin Foley and Port Phillip mayor Louise Crawford officially launched the VPC – built at a cost of $50 million, and funded by the Victorian government and the City of Port Phillip.
“We are here to open a building that is the culmination of so much hard work over such a long period of time,” said Premier Andrews at the opening of the Centre located on Fitzroy Street – close to the where Australia’s first gay rights group, the Melbourne-based Daughters of Bilitis had their office in the late 1960s.
‘Equality Is Not Negotiable’
Andrews revealed that when the initial concept for a Pride Centre took shape, the discussions were along the lines of , “we might as well make it pretty much the biggest one in the world, we’ll put it in the heart of the struggle for equality in this precinct, we’ll make it a building that can house all manner of different and important organisations, groups, those who’ve not ever had purpose-built facilities before or have never had a place that was safe”.
“But it’s one thing to dream big, it’s one thing to make election commitments, it’s one thing to say, look, this will be a $50 million project, but to turn it into a reality, to turn it into a centre of celebration, a centre of healing, a centre of support and service, a sense of belonging, and a physical representation, a monument indeed to the things that we hold dear – that equality is not negotiable, that every Victorian should be safe and respected and valued, and included for being just who they are. No more, no less. That’s an altogether different thing to actually getting it done. This is a magnificent structure, it holds the stories of struggle, the stories of pain and loss, but it sets a course of hope – one of inclusion, one of equality. And that’s what makes me proud to be here today,” said Andrews.
Honouring Those Who Will Never Enter Those Doors
The opening ceremony kicked off with a smoking ceremony and had its poignant moments.
Todd Fernando, Victoria’s new acting commissioner for LGBTQI+ communities, asked the audience to remember the many thousands of queer community members lost “during the stolen generation, from HIV/AIDS, suicide and poor mental health… who will never enter through those doors”. As the audience of invitees, limited due to COVID-19 restrictions, started saying out aloud the names of their queer friends and kin to honour their memories, people could be seen wiping away tears.
The other equally moving moment was when the new incoming VPC board chair Hang Vo recalled her struggle to fit in – as a Vietnamese, lesbian woman who had come to Australia with her family in 1978 with the first wave of refugees on boats. “Here, at the Pride Centre, I can be my whole self. All the parts of me are valued, celebrated, embraced. The whole of me is needed here,” said Vo as the 300-strong audience gave the new VPC chair a standing ovation.
The loudest cheers were reserved for the Victorian Premier, who had returned last month after recovering from a serious injury. Premier Andrews announced that later this year, Melbourne’s inner north will get a Pride of its own – a one-day Pride street party on December 5, to commemorate 40-years of decriminalisation of homosexuality in Victoria.
The government also announced a $1 million grant for the event, and promised to make it an annual Pride event.
Welcoming The Community
The new VPC will house many of Australia’s premier LGBTQI+ institutions including Thorne Harbour Health, Minus 18, Melbourne Queer Film Festival, Switchboard, Joy 94.9 FM, Australian Queer Archives, Tranegender Victoria, Hares and Hyenas and Star Observer.
VPC Chair Vo said that the centre’s opening was a milestone not just for Victoria but the whole of Australia. “We are open, welcoming to everyone, with a culture founded on diversity, inclusiveness and belonging. We are so thrilled to be the new home to a broad community of organisations, groups, vital services and social spaces,” Vo said in a statement.
CEO Justine Dalla Riva said that the Centre was looking forward to welcoming the community. Inaugural VPC Chair Jude Munro, who was also a co-founding member of Gay Liberation, said that while we celebrate,
“we also acknowledge the history of criminalisation and discrimination many in our community have been subjected to and the people not with us today. As we party and prepare for the even brighter future we are building together we recognise how emotional it is for so many in our community to have reached this day”.
The community will get a chance to visit, when the Victorian Pride Centre will host an open house later this month on July 24 and 25.
While Fitzroy Street and St Kilda hopes the Centre will revive the fortunes of the neighbourhood, for the community, acting LGBTQI+ commissioner Fernando’s words will resonate: “May your Pride be as bold as this building!”
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