A SPECIALIST legal centre for LGBTI people is providing insight into the legal issues faced by the community, and into possible barriers to accessing legal assistance.

The centre was launched around a year ago at the Fitzroy Legal Service with specific support for family law issues, but has since expanded into anti-discrimination law. Lawyers who specialise in the two areas alternate on a weekly basis, with appointments available to the LGBTI community one night per week, on Thursday.

Fitzroy Legal Service Community Development Officer Ed Yap said the variety and complexity of issues the clinic dealt with indicated how necessary a service like this was to the community.

“Discrimination law and family law are ongoing areas of law reform, and the laws surrounding LGBTIQ people in those two areas are quite complex,” Yap told the Star Observer.

“Some of the barriers would be understanding legal rights, entitlements and obligations that LGBTIQ people have. So one of the aims of the clinic is to increase that k

nowledge within the community.”

Yap said given the sensitivity of these issues, a significant barrier to accessing legal services for LGBTI people could also be actual or perceived discrimination by other services.

“Some LGBTIQ people might just be more comfortable knowing that there is a specific service that will understand their needs as LGBTIQ people,” he argued.

“So having an LGBTIQ service that’s widely-known would be the first port of call for people who would otherwise feel uncomfortable accessing other legal services.”

Family lawyer Paul Boers was previously involved in a similar service based in Sydney and agreed with Yap, hoping the service could help reduce that discomfort.

“A transgender woman came to us about a property law issue and told us that she’d been around to a number of community legal centres and was told, ‘We don’t do transgender matters,’” Boers told the Star Observer.

“In reality it was straightforward family law matter. I thought it was really wonderful that she had found somewhere she could feel as though she was being treated with respect.”

Boers also said prior to a recent decision to allow trans children to access hormone treatment without approval by the Family Court, the parents of trans children were also being referred to the centre. He hoped this meant the clinic was seen as a safe place for people to take these issues.

“We’ve been referred a number of matters from the Royal Children’s Hospital, parents of children who are transgender … these people who came to us weren’t from the LGBTIQ community,” Boers said.

Boers and Yap both said a lack of general legal knowledge in this area was problematic for the LGBTI community, and the clinic is planning a series of seminars focusing on specific and complex areas of law.

For more information visit www.fitzroy-legal.org.au.

 

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