Lawyer on loan to help with LGBTI issues

Lawyer on loan to help with LGBTI issues

Monday, 27 November 2017

Aimee Copper

In the lead-up to the marriage equality postal survey, many safe and inclusive organisations were inundated with additional, but necessary and important, work – including requests for information, explainers and campaigns.

Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) became aware that the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) was one of these organisations, so it decided to loan a lawyer to help with the increased work load.

Aimee Cooper is the Deputy Managing Lawyer for the Equality Law Program at VLA. However, until the end of the year she is working on secondment at the HRLC, where she is helping the centre with their everyday LGBTI legal work while the team focuses on the same-sex marriage debate.

‘The HRLC is an important stakeholder of ours and we became aware of how under the pump the LGBTI Rights unit was with all of the activity around the marriage equality postal survey,’ Aimee said.

‘The Equality Law Program has a new lawyer, as part of the New Lawyers’ Program, so it was timely and appropriate that I could help the LGBTI Rights unit with their everyday work.’

While Aimee is with the LGBTI Rights Unit, she will be working on a variety of projects including discrimination law reform and a paper on legal issues impacting on the intersex community.

She says she hopes to learn more about strategic advocacy to help drive awareness and bring appropriate and meaningful change in Australia.

‘The HRLC does a fantastic job of strategic advocacy campaigns to effect change in laws and practices, so I hope that I will be able to gain an insight into the way they go about planning and executing those campaigns,’ Aimee said.

‘VLA’s Equality Law Program’s aim is to create a society that embraces diversity and does not tolerate discrimination. We are never going to achieve that through individual cases so we need to be able to run effective strategic advocacy campaigns.’

Anna Brown is the Director of Legal Advocacy at the HRLC and says having Aimee on board has increased their capacity to progress positive and tangible change for the LGBTI community – especially in the lead-up to last Wednesday’s 'Yes' result and the busy weeks leading up to the end of this year.

‘It’s so fantastic to have a lawyer with Aimee’s deep expertise in discrimination law and experience assisting vulnerable LGBTI clients at VLA. It’s a perfect example of cross-fertilisation. We can learn from Aimee’s extensive discrimination knowledge and she can gain hands-on experience doing strategic legal advocacy and law reform,’ Anna said.

‘So many issues affecting the LGBTI community come back to unfair treatment in everyday life, and because of our strong relationship with VLA’s Equality Law team, we know that Aimee can be trusted to advocate for LGBTI people and communities with high quality legal analysis as well as compassion and sensitivity.’

Aimee says there is a high prevalence of discrimination against LGBTI people, yet this isn’t reflected in the number of people taking action to enforce their rights.

‘We know there are many people who experience discrimination at work, from service providers, and at school, yet the number of discrimination complaints is relatively low,’ Aimee said.

Responsible for engagement with LGBTI communities, Aimee helped increase VLA’s gender identity discrimination advice by 114 per cent and sexuality discrimination advice by 31 per cent.

‘I conducted training sessions, attended road shows in regional Victoria and engaged key stakeholders such as Transgender Victoria, Minus18 and Victorian AIDS Council, to make sure they knew about the services VLA offers, so they could then refer people to the service,’ she said.

‘But there is more to be done. We must engage with more organisations because the more we engage, the more we learn about the issues impacting LGBTI communities – then we can take action to address those issues.’

Last year, Aimee started a Pride Network at VLA, led participation in the Midsumma Carnival and Pride March for the first time this year, and ensured the organisation celebrated and embraced the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.

‘It’s very obvious once you’ve been working at VLA for a while that it is a safe and inclusive environment, but without things like a Pride Network in place when people first start they may not be aware of that,’ Aimee said.

‘When I first started in 2008, I was young, I was still at uni and I didn’t speak openly about my sexuality because I was unsure what the reaction would be.

‘In practice not disclosing it essentially requires you to actively hide it, as the topic can't be avoided when talking about what you did on the weekend, or when asked directly if you have a boyfriend, etc.

‘I soon realised that it would be fine to tell everyone and then had to have slightly awkward conversations about how I actually did have a partner and I was sorry I hadn't disclosed it at the beginning.

‘Everyone was warm and accepting and I felt comfortable to be myself at work. I hope one day everyone will have the same positive experience as me in disclosing their sexuality at work.’

VLA is an LGBTI-friendly organisation that respects and values diversity. It is also a place where people can get free legal advice about LGBTI discrimination.

More information

Find out more about sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination and how we can help.

Read our statement of support for marriage equality.

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