Defending the rights of the LGBTIQA+ community

Defending the rights of the LGBTIQA+ community

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

The International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Interphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT) will be held this Friday 17 May. It is a day to recognise that there is still a way to go to ensure that LGBTIQA+ people are treated fairly, without prejudice and can express their truest selves without fear of exclusion.

It is also day to reflect on the struggles of LGBTIQA+ communities around the world. There are more than 70 countries where same-sex acts are still illegal, and the death penalty is in place for same-sex sexual acts in at least 11 countries. Additionally, there is intense stigma and prejudice against trans and gender diverse people in many countries around the world, including many parts of Australia.

Whilst it’s important to recognise that we’ve come a long way, we must also acknowledge that we’re not there yet, and there is still much work to be done.

We take a strong stance against discrimination both through the work we do and how we support our staff. We undertake anti-discrimination work through our Equality Law Program, but our staff can and do make a real difference to LGBTIQA+ rights in all of the areas we practice in. For example, the rights of LGBTIQA+ people are often affected by being confined in prisons or mental health facilities, being denied the right to live in Australia, or by their involvement in family law proceedings.

Photo of VLA staff at Midsumma Pride March
Victoria Legal Aid staff and our VLA Pride Network at the 2019 Midsumma Carnival

Many LGBTIQA+ people still experience significant discrimination and marginalisation in many areas of their lives. Outside of this experience, the LGBTIQA+ struggles for justice are inherently linked to the struggles of justice of many marginalised groups in Australia, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander justice, justice for people of colour and refugees and disability justice. For these reasons, it’s important that our work in this space is neither narrow in scope nor overly specific.

We also participate in work to educate the community about LGBTIQA+ rights and to encourage access to our services. We recently undertook a survey of people attending the Midsumma Carnival to determine how they felt about our services. We initiated this survey to increase engagement with the community, provide information about the scope of discrimination protections and how we can help, and to inform our service provision.

Of the nearly 200 people who completed the survey:

  • more than half didn’t know that we could help with discrimination problems
  • 1 in 6 people didn’t know that they had protection from gender identity and sexuality discrimination at all
  • 1 in 2 people disclosed they had experienced discrimination by a service provider, employer or school
  • Of those people, only 1 in 4 said they took action. The reasons why people didn’t take action included, ‘because it happens so often you just learn to live with it’, ‘didn’t know anyone would support me’, ‘didn’t know how’, and simply: ‘fear’.
  • 1 in 3 people said they wouldn’t have felt comfortable approaching us for advice with a sexual orientation or gender identity related discrimination problem before they engaged with our stall
  • But 97 per cent of people said they would call us for legal advice in the future.

We’ll use these survey results to reflect on what they mean for our LGBTIQA+ engagement and our discrimination services.

Currently, we support clients who:

  • experience appalling bullying and harassment from their co-workers or supervisor because of their LGBTIQA+ status
  • are prevented from wearing the work uniform or name tag that appropriately reflects their identity
  • have been dismissed when their LGBTIQA+ status is disclosed
  • are denied access to adequate health care in custody due to an erasure of their intersex status
  • have been refused access to gender specific services due to transphobia
  • have been refused services because of their gender identity and subjected to overt prejudice about their LGBTIQA+ status by service providers.

We endeavour to lead by example in the LGBTIQA+ space. Our staff march in the Midsumma Pride March, have a stall at the Midsumma Carnival, and have started an online Pride Network within the organisation. We have gender neutral bathrooms and are improving our employment forms to ensure that gender diversity is properly reflected in the data we capture. We also took a public stance on marriage equality and provided support to staff impacted by the postal survey.

Whilst there is still much work to do, we will continue to fly the rainbow flag for diversity and inclusiveness, and uphold the rights of the LGBTIQA+ community.

More information

Get help with Sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination

Read more about International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia

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