By Dr Christopher Pepin-Neff

A new study from the University of Sydney will look at the impact of COVID on LGBTQI community life in NSW, including Oxford Street. The research project is being coordinated by the Sydney Policy Lab and will look at the implications of COVID-forced closings as well as new venues that opened during the height of the pandemic.

Many LGBTQI venues closed and never reopened, which has an impact on the social cohesion of the LGBTQI community. The research area on “social capital” looks at the connection between businesses and other venues as hubs of community life, social connectedness, trust, and civic infrastructure that are created.

Gay sex clubs like Sydney Sauna are a good example of social capital, where social trust is shared, and this may create a network of friends who go to the same doctor, gain access to PrEP, and seek sexual health information as a result. So, Sydney’s sex clubs lead to social infrastructure as a community asset.

Also essential to this research are community stakeholders. Requests have been made to Alex Greenwich, Clover Moore, City of Sydney, ACON, Mardi Gras, Linda Scott and others. But all are welcome, and we hope they will engage fully in a project which has three parts.

(1)  Data Collection: Mapping with a focus on LGBTQI bars and other venues closed that opened and closed due to COVID;

(2)  Community Consultation: Once data is collected, holding workshops and focus groups to reflect on the value of venues;

(3)  Government Report: Coming up with a report for the government on ways to build capacity in the LGBTQI community.

The research question driving this project is: How has COVID-19 impacted the development or obstruction of social capital in the LGBTQ community in NSW? There is a fundamental question about the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns on the underlying social capital of marginalized communities. What happens to social cohesion when bars, cafes, restaurants, newspapers, salons, and websites, are shuttered? This research focuses on the legacy and lessons of lockdown.

The first stage of the project is collecting information on LGBTQI businesses, shops, cafes, newspapers, and venues that have opened and closed between February 2019-February 2022.

To help us collect this data, please send the name of any venue that you know of that has closed down or opened up to me at: [email protected]

Christopher Pepin-Neff, PhD is a senior lecturer in public policy at the University of Sydney. His research focuses on LGBTQIA+ politics and he is currently researching LGBTQIA+ social capital in Sydney.

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