An Insider’s Guide to LGBTQ+ Melbourne
Originally from the UK, James and Andy have been based in Melbourne since 2005. But despite having spent the best part of the 2000s in Melbourne, the pair only started offering LGBTQ+-friendly tours of the city and its surrounds in 2016. Now, their company VIC Rainbow Tours offers close to a dozen private excursions of Melbourne, the Yarra Valley, and beyond.
On their private Melbourne city walking tour, they familiarize guests with the city’s layout, passing by and pointing out some of the city’s most famous landmarks and attractions. “Along the way, we’ll incorporate Melbourne’s rich LGBTQ+ history and influence ... and explain what it means to live in this city as an LGBTQ+ person.”
Basically, if you want to combine sightseeing with LGBTQ+ history and culture, James and Andy are your go-to guys.
Your guide to LGBTQ+ Melbourne
Melbourne is a melting pot of cultures and identities, according to James and Andy, and “particularly for LGBTQ+ folk, the city is a very accepting place to live and work.”
Melbourne’s LGBTQ+ neighborhoods
Unlike other large destinations around the world—think San Francisco and Sydney—Melbourne’s LGBTQ+ scene is dotted throughout the city. “Melbourne doesn’t really have one defined area, [but rather] several different enclaves. Perhaps the most prominent is the area of North Melbourne, where you will find two of the most popular bars, The Laird and Sircuit, which host different events for different demographics, depending on the day of the week.”
Then there’s South Yarra, which holds the biggest LGBTQ+ party of the week at the Poof Doof. Accommodation-wise though, James and Andy recommend that LGBTQ+ travelers set up base in the CBD (Central Business District) as it’s “still very much the beating heart of Melbourne, and home to the main entertainment and culture venues.”
Where to learn about Melbourne’s LGBTQ+ history
“The city has many different resources to help you learn about LGBTQ+ history,” according to James and Andy, who especially recommend the soon-to-be-opened Victorian Pride Centre which “will help to support local LGBTQ+ organisations and groups to share ideas and resources, whilst working towards an end goal of equality and diversity within the Melbourne community.”
The best places to get a drink and meet others
When it comes to getting a drink, Melbourne’s LGBTQ+ hangouts might be low-key but that doesn’t mean they’re non-existent. “Most bars can be found in the more fashionable neighbourhoods where there’s a relaxed feel and more open presence of gay culture than in days gone by,” according to James and Andy. The Peel is one of Melbourne’s longest-running gay bars, while the gay-owned Laird and Sircuit, a popular drag bar, are both local favorites.
If bars aren’t your thing, then keep in mind that “Melbourne also has an abundance of visible LGBTQ+ community support, both in the way of social groups and peer support networks.” Both James and Andy are heavily involved with Melbourne Rovers, the city’s only LGBTQ+ soccer club: “[raising] the profile of the club, and LGBTQ+ sports within the wider community in general, is something we are both very passionate about.”
Melbourne's annual LGBTQ+ events
Pride aside, the city and surrounds offer a wealth of annual LGBTQ+ events to enjoy. “Two of our favourite events are the Melbourne Queer Film Festival (which showcases contemporary queer cinema) and Daylesford’s Chillout Festival, which has now become the longest-running and largest regional pride festival in Australia,” say James and Andy.
All about Melbourne Pride
A brief history of Melbourne Pride and Midsumma
Melbourne’s first Gay Pride March—part of the Midsumma Festival—took place in 1996, but the festival itself has a longer, more sequin-spangled history. “Midsumma is a queer arts and cultural event, held over 22 days every summer, [which brings] together a whole diverse mix of LGBTQ+ artists and performers. The festival has been running since 1988 and, aside from the recent pandemic period, audience numbers have continued to grow substantially each year,” say James and Andy.
The importance of Pride
“For us, Pride means love and acceptance [of the fact] that we’re all just humans, despite our individual differences,” say James and Andy. “It’s a celebration of inclusivity and a time to reflect on the hard work, dedication, suffering, and sacrifice that has taken place to get us to where we are today.”