City News

Kirby calls for Gay, Lesbian, Trans Museum near Taylor Square

Former High Court justice Michael Kirby is calling for the establishment of a Sydney pride museum. Photo: Wikimedia

By ALLISON HORE

In the lead up to World Pride 2023 there is a renewed effort to set up a permanent pride museum in Sydney. And it’s already gaining momentum.

Former High Court justice Michael Kirby, a patron of the Victorian Pride Centre, has written a letter to a number of prominent members of the LGBTQI+ community in Sydney, as well as allies, to make them aware of the new museum proposal.

He said while the Victorian Pride Centre already contains “an archive of records which substantially deal with the history and personal stories of the hostility towards LGBTIQ persons in Victoria,” there is no NSW equivalent in Sydney.

“Nor is there a suitable venue for the public display of records, interviews and memorabilia of leaders and participants in the LGBTIQ community over the past century and more,” he added.

He said a preliminary committee for the museum has already been established and it is being organised by notable HIV/AIDs activist, David Polson. He has already been in touch with a number of potential supporters including ABC chair, Ita Buttrose, who has agreed to be involved. 

Education and reflection

World Pride 2023 will see people from around the world descend upon Sydney in celebration of the LGBTQI+ community. For the influx of tourists, there are already many vibrant and fun queer spaces across Sydney to enjoy. 

But the yet-to-be-named museum, provisionally titled the “National Queer Museum,” would have a serious tone. 

It would be a space to document the history of oppression against the LGBTQI+ community and celebrate wins such as equal age of consent laws, expungement of historical homosexual convictions, same sex adoption and marriage equality.

City of Sydney councillor, Dr. Kerryn Phelps, told the City Hub the space would be an important educational tool as “the first step in learning from history is to record it.”

“We have to hear and preserve first person reports of the struggle for recognition and equality so that future generations understand how important it is not to take freedoms for granted,” she said.

“We have to record our own history because the role of the LGBTQI community is mostly invisible in the chronicling of mainstream history.”

In his vision for the center, Michael Kirby said it should be a space for reflection akin to the Sydney Jewish Museum and include sections to do with colonialism, the first Mardi Gras and the HIV epidemic. There would also be sections celebrating notable LGBTQI+ Australians. 

“As this idea develops, I hope that it will have unanimous support, expressed in various ways,” he wrote in the letter. 

“It will be vital that the years of oppression of sexual minorities and the gradual liberation from oppression are faithfully and vividly recorded, for the benefit of future generations.”

The museum would build on the efforts of the organisations collecting information on Australia’s LGBTQI+ community for decades. 

The Australian Queer Archives, now located at the Victorian Pride Centre, was established in 1978. For 43 years the organisation has been collecting information on queer history not just in Victoria, but all across Australia.

The State Library of NSW has also been collecting records of LGBTQI+ history for many decades now. Their archives include personal stories and oral histories of what life was like for LGBTQI+ people in an unsympathetic environment dating back to the early 20th century. Currently, the library is showcasing an exhibition called Coming out in the 70s’. 

The State Library is also in the planning stages for a major exhibition on LGBTQI+ life in the state in time for World Pride 2023.

Failed attempts

This isn’t the first time there has been a push for a pride museum to be established in Sydney. 

Previous attempts to get the idea off the ground have faced a number of obstacles including finding a suitable location and uniting the community behind a concept. Money is also an issue, with the project needing both startup funds and ongoing funding.

Taylor Square’s T2 building, the previously proposed site of a permanent Mardi Gras museum.

Most recently in 2016, Labor councillor Linda Scott pushed for the rundown T2 nightclub building at Taylor Square to be transformed into an LGBTQI+ museum. The idea for the building to be transformed into a pride museum was first put forward by independent councillor Angela Vithoulkas and had the backing of other councillors including Christine Forster of the Liberals.

In 2014, Ms. Scott put a motion to council to begin storing and documenting artefacts of Sydney’s LGBTQI+ community. The motion passed, laying the groundwork for a museum. But, the idea to transform the T2 was knocked back by a majority vote, with Lord Mayor Clover Moore and her allies favouring a proposal for a bicycle hub in the building.

Eventually the bicycle hub plans were scrapped and the building was put up for sale. 

Asked how this attempt would be different from the ones before it, and whether there was more backing this time around, Dr. Phelps said it’s still “early days,” but there is “consistent interest” in the project. 

“I am sure these challenges will be front of mind for the steering committee as they get this latest attempt off the ground,” she said.

Lord Mayor on board

Despite knocking back previous incarnations of the project, Clover Moore told the City Hub she is committed to the renewed museum push. 

“In 2014, Council resolved to support the LGBTIQ community if there was a viable proposal for a permanent museum, noting that such a facility could only be established and sustained with strong community, state and federal government financial support,” she explained. 

“To this point there hasn’t been a proposal that accounts for the resources, volunteer commitment and business plan needed to ensure such a project is viable.” 

“But I believe the people involved now, with their long histories as members or allies of the LGBTIQ community and deep commitment, might be just the group to achieve this.”

Ms. Moore said a Pride Museum would be “a welcome addition to Sydney’s cultural infrastructure” and said while the City is “not in the business of establishing and running museums” themselves, they welcomed ideas from the community. 

She confirmed she had received the letter from Mr. Kirby, and a policy officer from her team has been in touch with the chair of the museum committee to schedule a meeting.

“It is encouraging to see committed members of the community interested in establishing a Queer Museum or Pride Centre in Sydney. With WorldPride taking place here in 2023, it’s a great time to get such an initiative off the ground,” Ms. Moore said.

Before any concrete plans can be laid out for the museum a suitable location must be identified. Dr. Phelps said a government or council owned site, preferably close to Oxford street, would be most suitable. 

“Sydney is the epicentre of the LGBTQI+ community in Australia and a Pride Museum would be an important statement of the integral role the LGBTQI+ community has played and continues to play in the life of the city,” she said.

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