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Specialist legal service valued by LGBTIQ community

Specialist legal service valued by LGBTIQ community

By Karin Derkley

Discrimination LGBTIQ 

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Negative experiences with the justice system might explain why around 80 per cent of LGBTIQ people told a survey they preferred to get legal help from a specialist legal service.

The LGBTIQ Legal Needs Analysis conducted by LGBTIQ Legal Service showed that 80 per cent of its clients had experienced a mental health issue as well as a legal issue, and 70 per cent reported having either been attacked, bullied or harassed.

Clients from trans and gender diverse groups, many of whom had had "horrendous" experiences with police and the justice system, could be fearful of asking for help, LGBTIQ Legal Service representative Brooke Collins says.

"When you have clients from marginalised groups such as the trans and gender diverse community, in many cases they've had quite horrendous adverse experiences with the justice system or policing and they can be quite fearful of accessing help and saying they need help.

"To know that the person that you're talking to and the person that you're working with is somebody from the community can help them feel safe in approaching those services," Ms Collins says.

The LGBTIQ Legal Service grew out of a health justice partnership between St Kilda Legal Service and Thorne Harbour Health and was initially funded as a two year pilot by the Victoria Law Foundation.

The Legal Needs Analysis was conducted to assess the legal needs of the LGBTIQ community and how the service is addressing them.

Many legal issues experienced by LGBTIQ people are interrelated, and are often compounded by health and mental health issues, LGBTIQ Legal Service CEO Mel Dye says.

"What the data shows is that these areas frequently intersect," she says. "People who might be experiencing employment law issues for instance were experiencing those issues because of discrimination, and likewise with residential tenancy.

The benefit of a health justice partnership is that people are having their health and well-being needs met at the same time as their legal needs, she says.

One of the clients cited in the survey is Eric, a transgender man who worked as a cleaner and was laid off when he asked his employer for time off after experiencing mental health problems as a result of being bullied in his workplace. The LGBTIQ Legal Service was able to assist him with a disability discrimination claim and negotiate a positive outcome for him.

The LGBTIQ Legal Service recently received funding from the Victorian state government to continue its work with the community, a great recognition of the hard work that has been put into the service, Ms Dye says, “and confirmation that a specialist and integrated service is required to address and respond to community need going forward”.

At present the service provides legal assistance for discrimination, residential tenancy and criminal law but is not currently able to offer in-house assistance with immigration law or family law.

"Given the overlap between those areas, it would be great to provide a holistic service that could meet the needs of the community and focus on all those specialist areas,” Ms Collins says.

A properly funded LGBTIQ legal service should have the capacity to represent clients from initial advice all the way through to mediation or a court hearing, she says, "which is something that in many cases we don't actually have the capacity to do".

Ms Dye says the aim is to partner with corporates who may be able to help offer those services. "We already work with a number of firms that take our referrals, particularly in family law and immigration, but we'd like to formalise those partnerships going forward."

The LGBTIQ Legal Service is also looking to corporates and philanthropists to help diversify its funding sources beyond government funding, Ms Dye says. While appreciated, the new funding covers just three lawyers to cater for the needs of the entire state, and will run out after two years.


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