The ‘real need’ for legal advice in areas like surrogacy, co-parenting arrangements and parental rights is being answered with the launch of an LGBTI-specific legal aid service next month.
Fitzroy Legal Service is launching a weekly specialised service on Thursday nights for legal advice for gay, lesbian, bisexual and gender-diverse people in Melbourne.
Legal bodies like Victoria Legal Aid cannot record the number of LGBTI-related inquiries but other organisations, such as the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission and the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, have shown the need is significant.
Between 2011 and 2012 alone, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission recorded more than 250 inquiries for sexual orientation and gender identity.
Family law specialist Paul Boers has spearheaded the project in Melbourne over the past six weeks with the backing of Fitzroy Legal Service and has the experience to deliver.
He offered free advice to LGBTI people at Sydney’s Inner City Legal Service for over a decade while it transformed into a specialised LGBTI legal service, before back moving to Melbourne a year ago.
“We were getting more gay male couples coming in for advice about surrogacy… and then more lesbian couples or single lesbians who’s relationships had broken down, issues about parenting matters and so forth,” Boers told the Star Observer.
The Public Interest Law Clearing House (PILCH) Victoria published the ‘Equal Access to the Justice System’ report two years ago which found “increasing numbers of people are seeking legal assistance for a wide variety of GLBTIQ-related matters” in the state.
“It’s very simple, all we need to do is on the nights we do family law advice service on Thursday nights, roster someone to do the LGBTI advice service,” Boers said.
Fitzroy Legal Service executive officer Vivienne Topp said the additional service at Fitzroy was fantastic but added they were not looking to take over the on-going issue of an LGBTI-specific legal service.
“We’re just keen to identify the issues and look at where we go next and have really good referrals,” Topp said.
Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convenor Anna Brown welcomed the initiative.
“The Lobby frequently receives inquiries about legal problems and it is fantastic to be able to refer callers to a free service dedicated to the specific needs of our community,” she said.
“It can be very difficult for LGBTI people to source free legal information on family and relationship issues and LGBTI people also have specific legal needs due to the higher levels of discrimination and harassment they face.
“We look forward working together with the LGBTI legal service on community legal education, advocacy work and other initiatives.”
Other issues the service can address include relationship breakdowns, gender definition issues in family law and special medical cases like advocating for young gender-diverse people who need to apply for hormone therapy.
Similar legal services already exist in Sydney and Brisbane.
The new service will be launched at the Fitzroy Legal Service’s 40th anniversary on December 6.