Fitzroy Street, St Kilda, used to be thought of as the King’s Cross of Melbourne. It was the heart of the city’s admittedly never very extensive ‘continental’ cosmopolitan life. But that was years ago and the aspect it presents now is – and for once this overworked term is le mot juste – tragic. Not simply because of the empty shops with yellowing newspaper pasted across their windows and mounds of unopened postage pushed daily through the letter-flap inside doorways putrid with the smell of micturition; no, tragic in a deeper sense, when you realise that what at first look like bundles of rags are in fact human beings sleeping in the street – by day, by night, in all weathers. The other day I counted six in the space of 50 metres.
These six were lying along the pavement in a section of the street where a chemist’s, formerly much patronised for methadone, and a restaurant have disappeared to make way for a showy new edifice replete with all the ‘exciting’ and ‘innovative’ irregularity of form to be expected of contemporary ‘cutting edge’ architecture. Given the plague of homelessness the sleeping bundles represent, you might expect that the new building would be intended as a shelter, a roof over the heads of those who have no home. You would expect wrong. It is to be a shelter instead for the pretensions of the most self-regarding ‘identity group’ in our society: gays, lesbians and devotees of the ‘trans’ cult. It is to be a ‘Pride Centre’. As an earnest of its construction, the local authority, Port Phillip City Council, spent $28,000 painting rainbow stripes on the street surface next to the site.
Of course there are plenty of places where the homeless can go for a night’s sleep or a longer stay but self-evidently there are not enough. In every city centre or inner suburb in Australia the number of people sleeping rough is rising all the time.
Fitzroy Street offers perhaps the starkest contrast you could find between our nation’s haves and have-nots. One of the city’s most lauded and expensive restaurants has somehow managed to survive there when most others in the street have closed; it is filled with well-to-do patrons who to gain access to its gastronomically hallowed portals have to pick their way past the sleeping forms and run the gauntlet of drug-crazed shrieking unfortunates ‘in community care’ who swear and brawl on the pavement outside and whose presence, a former restaurant owner told me, accounts in part for other restaurants shutting down because their customers were frightened off by the threat of assault.
Drugs are a different problem from the homelessness caused by poverty, and you would expect the latter to be more easily rectifiable by building adequate free accommodation. It ought to be a point of honour with local councils that no one in their jurisdiction should have to sleep rough. But shelters have to be paid for and councils are always complaining that the rates aren’t enough to meet all their spending ambitions. Nevertheless the Port Phillip Council has managed to contribute to the Pride Centre. Its gift is the land on which the building will stand, valued at $13 million dollars. You could provide a lot of beds in shelters by realising the value of that asset. The Victorian government’s contribution of $15 million would help too.
At this point one might ask why the sexually diverse establishment needs a ‘centre’ to show off its ‘pride’. Why does it want to divide itself from the rest of us, to create a kind of sexual apartheid, with a ‘permanent home for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex, (LGBTQI) organisations in Victoria’? These people are not a race or a cult or a religion. They are, according to gay and lesbian etc. activists, a normal part of the community. They are protected by law from the faintest breath of ‘discrimination’ or ‘homophobia’. They made such a song and dance about their ‘equality’ with everyone else that marriage had to be redefined so that no gay or lesbian was excluded from it. They demand to be seen – quite rightly – as ordinary individuals who just happen to have a different sexual preference from the majority of their co-citizens. Why do they require a publicly funded monument to themselves as though they were freemasons, or members of a club (like the one Greens election candidate Julian Burnside, more successful as a barrister than a canvasser, felt obliged to resign from when it turned out that its male exclusivity conflicted with his party’s views on ‘gender parity’)?
One reason, according to the ‘chair’ of the Pride Centre’s board, Jude Munro, a veteran trouper who’s been banging on about gay and lesbian rights since her glory days in ‘Gay Lib’ in the early 1970s, is because the centre ‘underpins society’s acceptance of its own diversity’. Well that’s worth $28 million isn’t it? But there’s more for the money than that. The centre will ‘serve as headquarters for the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, Midsumma Festival, Minus18, the Australian GLBTIQ Multicultural Council, and Team Melbourne’, whatever the last three are. Why couldn’t they all just rent offices the way other organisations do? Further, it will be a ‘meeting place for both the LGBTQI and broader community’ (oh really?) and ‘a research centre’. For research into what? How to extract more money out of councils and government?
Actually, they might need some. In October Tanya Plibersek on behalf of federal Labor promised $10.6 million for the Pride Centre. What she was pleased to call ‘the investment’ would top up the centre’s building fund. The then deputy opposition leader was photographed in the gay magazine QN with various local LGBTIQXYZ hierarchs wreathed in smiles at the prospect of the great project being able to open on schedule next year. But that of course was before the ‘commonsense election’, as I call it, that ensured that Plibersek & co. would never get their hands on the $10.6 million. It is unlikely, to say the least, that the Coalition will honour the commitment.
Perhaps the real reason the gay community wants this shrine is let out of the bag by Pride Centre fundraiser (and Future Fund executive) Stuart Kollmorgen in a somewhat syntactically challenged, though presumably intended as lyrical, website paean to the centre as ‘A secure, permanent, familiar place… Owned by us. Loved by us. Us. Defiant… No longer cap-in-hand to anyone.’
So much for diversity. Meanwhile less fortunate members of the ‘broader community’ sleep in the street outside.