Written by Thomas Clark
Thomas Clark is the Law Reform Director of the LGBTI Legal Service. This division of the Service seeks out laws that are discriminatory to the LGBTI community and actively advocates for their removal. Since its inception at the beginning of 2015 the law reform division has provided submissions, and appeared before, more than a dozen state and commonwealth inquiries. It also assists the Service with strategy, campaigns, projects and community legal education.
What is the LGBTI Legal Service?
We are a non-profit community-based legal service that began operation in July 2010. The organisation was officially launched on 1 December 2010 by our patron former Justice of the High Court of Australia, the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG. We also remain the only community legal service (CLC) in the country solely dedicated to LGBTI issues.
The Service recognises the difficulties faced by the LGBTI community and seeks to assist the Queensland LGBTI community to gain access to justice through the provision of legal and social welfare services. We also endeavour to provide community legal education activities and resources in order to increase awareness of legal rights and responsibilities for the LGBTI community in Queensland.
How to get involved
I joined the Service just over 3 years ago as an evening coordinator providing administration assistance to the lawyers at our weekly advice sessions. When I joined we had just started to take a more serious look at the advocacy we wanted to undertake. I offered to start a team of people to tackle some of the pressing issues the LGBTI community was facing and that’s how our law reform division began.
Some tips for launching a career in ‘human rights’ and the community sector:
Volunteer at a CLC – see if the community sector is the right fit.
Volunteer at another CLC – they’re very diverse in size and culture
Think about what you’re interested in such as law reform or case work – when volunteering, know your passion (if you can), and consider taking on volunteer roles such as on management committees and offer the skills and experience you have that could benefit the CLC and don’t just count legal experience - life counts too.
CLC’s are innovative and creative (and this is born out of limited resources) so let them know if you have an idea or proposal. This works best if you’re already a volunteer there so they trust your work and our president, Matilda Alexander, actually created one of her first jobs by identifying a legal gap and a relevant funding opportunity.
Network and hang out. CLC’s in Queensland are like a big family. You get support, opportunities and understanding but attending events and catch ups. She usually gets as much from coffee’s/lunches around events as the event itself.
The types of services offered by the LGBTI Legal Service
As above, we are a CLC so our core offering is providing free legal advice to marginalised or disadvantaged groups such as the LGBTI community in this case.
Many CLC’s advocate for particular communities through law reform which is a particularly big part of our offering. We also consult with Government organisations frequently on the different work they do.
Community legal education and professional development are also important aspects of the Service. We create legal tool kits and fact sheets to assist the LGBTI community with access to justice and we also provide training to Government and the legal profession on LGBTI awareness, competency and understanding.
The work that we’ve been involved in
So as I detailed earlier I’ve had the opportunity to participate in a number of inquiries, that is, the process that we undertake to remove laws that we have identified as being discriminatory to the LGBTI community or to add laws to protect the community. Some of the successful work has included:
- Pushing for a Human Rights Act in Queensland actually to legislate protections for gender and sexually diverse people where the current state government has committed to
- Changing the Adoption Act to allow same-sex couples and single parents to adopt
- Expungement the convictions for people who were charged with being gay until it was decriminalised in 1991
- Removal of ‘Gay panic defence’ which arose through case law as a mitigating circumstance of provocation i.e. murder could technically be downgraded to manslaughter if the victim was of the same sex and made advances to the perpetrator
- Equalising the age of consent for young gay men
- The introduction and reintroduction of Civil Unions in Queensland
- Pushing to end the requirement for family court approval for consent to stage 2 medical treatment for transgender young people N.B. a NSW case overturned this requirement before Queensland made any changes
- Consulting with the Special Task Force on Domestic Violence in Queensland, the Police and the Supreme Court through the drafting the LGBTI sections of the domestic violence bench book
- Fought for/against some of the legal issues surrounding marriage equality particularly during the hearings at the start of 2017 concerning the ‘bakers and florists’ amendments and the contents of a draft bill released by the Attorney-General that would eventually become Dean Smith’s Bill.
So what’s next?
While marriage equality was an extraordinary victory for the LGBTI community, and was easily the most visible issue, there are more laws that need to change. Some current areas the Service is working on include:
- The review into religious freedoms conducted by the Prime Minister where this has been taken as a second opportunity to import some of the amendments raised during the marriage equality debate that would have significant negative consequences for LGBTI people
- The review into the Births, Deaths and Marriages Act 2003 (Qld) to remove things like the surgical requirement for transgender people to change their birth certificate, deal with some intersex issues and the registration of parentage details; and
- Finally, the review of Australia’s family law system that the Australian Law Reform Commission is conducting.
We also have a LGBTI student’s toolkit which some students from the UQ Pro Bono Centre are assisting with and a domestic violence toolkit in development which some placement students from QUT are helping with.
What opportunities are available to students?
I think the main message I want to get across is that there are roles in the profession that are extremely legal in nature but they are also roles that you are able to do without being admitted.
In my experience, the community legal sector is the perfect place to look for this work particularly while you’re studying.
Volunteering at the service has been one of the most vital things for my own professional development that I have done while studying and I love being able to work on projects that I care about.
Everyone who has progressed through a career in the community sector has got there in a unique way. They usually come from or move on to academia, public law or government, international law or other non-governmental advocacy organisations.
All firms, large and small, regard CLC experience as favourable because it opens you up to a broad range of work you wouldn’t necessarily experience otherwise such as assisting with written advice, advocacy, preparing legal documents, court work and more.
So to finish up here are my tips for volunteering:
- Seek out CLC’s that work in areas you’re passionate about
- Apply like you would a law firm – follow the procedure on the CLC’s website, and provide everything they ask for – don’t email asking if they have any space
- Try and differentiate yourself – we’re a small service and still get around a hundred applications a month
- Follow up – unfortunately if someone is only looking at the applications inbox every so often they’re easy to miss
- Apply to do a placement at a CLC through UQ or volunteer for the pro bono centre
- Give them a window that you’re available for and make sure it’s 6 months or more
- Try not to look like a final year student who wants two months of volunteer work on their resume before grad applications
- Finally, tell them why you’re passionate about their particular service and relate it to you – you’re life experience matters to a community service
JATL is hosting its Annual Fundraising Gala on March 29 from 6 - 9pm. This year we are raising funds for the LGBTI Legal Service. Please visit http://www.jatl.org/annual-fundraising-gala-2018/ to buy tickets or to donate.