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Planning Auckland's new LGBT Centre
By Matt Akersten
21st August 2008 - 02:51 am

Auckland needs a central place for LGBT people to meet and get support and information, says Rankine's research
Since K' Road's Pride Centre closed in 2004, central Auckland – generally regarded as the gay capital of New Zealand – has been without an LGBT headquarters.

But do we really need a new one? Auckland City Council employed researcher Jenny Rankine to find out.

"It was very easy to get people to talk on the topic," explains Rankine, who got 124 attendees to fill out surveys at February's Big Gay Out, and conducted twenty in-depth interviews with key community stakeholders. "The only problem was having to limit the number of people I spoke to, because there could have been a lot more, if I'd had more time and resources.

"There was quite a range of ages, ethnicities, and gender identities represented at the Big Gay Out. I had no preconceived ideas. I didn't know what people would say when I sent out the survey forms. So I was quite surprised by how strongly people wanted a centre. Also looking at the interviews with people who know the community really well, it was very strong – they wanted it too."

There's currently no place which offers a drop-in centre for everybody in Auckland's LGBT communities. Rainbow Youth is for youth, the Charlotte Museum is for lesbians, and OUTline holds meetings, but nobody Rankine spoke to considers OUTline as a place you can just 'drop in to'.

"So the people that responded to the survey wanted one place that was safe, that was 'ours', and that offered support and information. They wanted more co-ordination between the groups that exist, and one central place to go," says the researcher.


Needs assessment: The research was published in June
The survey also highlighted other community services not currently on offer, but which would greatly benefit LGBT Aucklanders.

The need for respite housing came through quite clearly, says Rankine. "There are a lot of times in the lives of LGBT people where housing can become a crisis issue. For young people if they've been kicked out of home or forced to run away from a horrible environment, but also people in transition between male and female gender identities, or older people where their long-term relationship has broken up, or where they've come out and they've been chucked out of home, they can't live with their heterosexual partner anymore." Short-term respite housing for LGBT youth has been tried in the past by a gay-oriented church group, the MCC. Rainbow Youth also tried to fill the gap but funding wasn't available for their project to continue, despite the continuing need for it.

"Another issue that came up in the survey was needs around violence – homophobic violence as in gay-bashing, and also domestic violence," says Rankine. "It was really clear from the respondents that this wasn't being dealt with. There have been some attempts in the lesbian community to run groups – and there is a group that is available for women with anger management problems – but I didn't know or hear of any similar groups or services for men. Also, there are Women's Refuges, but there aren't refuges for men. So there's a real need to support people in same-sex relationships or transgender people in relationships facing domestic violence."

Thirdly comes the idea of community development. A place that will generate new groups, new support, new innovative ways of dealing with the issues that LGBT Aucklanders face. A place that can build the infrastructure in our community. "Currently the only place that employs anyone to do that stuff is the AIDS Foundation – and they focus on men who have sex with men," says Rankine. "One of the things that came up very clearly was that there's no support group for takatapui waahine - maori lesbians, for example. So there are gaps in other communities besides men who have sex with men, which need a community development initiative." The research suggests there needs to be an organisation that can proactively look at where those gaps are and try to do something about them.

"So it's at a stage where we need to think and talk about what we want as a community. And this is part of that discussion."


Ponsonby Road's Nosh/Liquor King site could become the LGBT Centre
So the need is proven, but is anything really going to happen in the current climate of funding cutbacks? With John Banks as Auckland's Mayor? And with the notoriously anti-gay David Hay as Deputy Mayor, presiding over a heavily conservative Citizens and Ratepayers-dominated Council.

Rankine admits the outlook is bleak for the time being, but sees this period as a good chance to plan.

"There are two ways in which a Centre could happen," she explains. "One is within Auckland City Council, as a Council-supported building of some sort, and then the other one is separate and completely independent of Council, where a community organisation gets funding – or does a lot of fundraising – to buy a building, and rents it out to pay off the mortgage that way."

There has been movement on the first of those options. Bruce Kilmister, Chair of the Western Bays Community Board whose area of the inner-city includes its gayest suburbs, has had approval for funding to scope a design of a community centre on the old Liquor King site on Ponsonby Road, which is currently Nosh gourmet supermarket.

"So that will come back to the Western Bays Community Board for approval in the next couple of months, and over the next year, the Council will consult with key stakeholders in the GLBTT community. They'll be talking to OUTline, Rainbow Youth and various other major community groups about what they want in the community centre."

Rankine believes the design process for the site will take a couple of years to complete, and then it'll be time for another council election. "John Banks didn't last more than one term last time, and I don't expect him to last more than one term this time," she laughs, "so we've got a chance of voting in people who are likely to support a centre for the queer community.

"I think there's a real likelihood that the next council will have a proposal. What we'll need to form is a combined LGBT organisation that will act as the head tenant of the community centre on that site – an organisation can then take up the lease. So I think we'll have to have something similar to the Pride Centre board, which represents every segment of the LGBT community – Maori, Pakeha, men, women, gay, lesbian, and transgender.

"I think that's quite likely to happen with a new Council, if there's enough LGBT momentum behind it," Rankine concludes.

Jenny Rankine's LGBT Community Centre Needs Assessment Report is summarised and available to download in full from the topmost link below.

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