35 % LGBTQI Victorians are hesitant to report a crime to the police and over 31% have faced incidents of discrimination in the last five years – these are some of the findings of a legal needs survey carried out by the LGBTQI Legal Service (LLS).

The LLS set up in 2018 by the St Kilda Legal Service had undertaken an analysis of legal needs of the community in Victoria that is now part of the Reflections On LGBTQI Legal Need report.

“By developing the first legal analysis of LGBTQI communities in the state, we believe our report will shed light on the complexity and severity of legal need within LGBTQI communities, as well as the compounded barriers LGBTQO communities face in accessing adequate legal support, including a deep mistrust of the justice system, lack of community-specific services and lack of information about available services,” Annie Davis, Executive Officer & Principal Lawyer at St Kilda Legal Service, told Star Observer.

“Our report will provide reference for legal professionals to better assist and represent LGBTQI clients, as well as supportive evidence for policy change and the continued advocacy by our service,” said Davis.

 The report, prepared over two years and funded by the Victoria Law Foundation, is based on experiences of LLS’ services and its clients as well as surveys by other organisations. The major findings of the legal needs survey were:

  • 80% of respondents would prefer to get legal help from a specialist LGBTQI legal service
  • 65% of respondents reported experiencing one or more legal issues in the last five years
  • 35% of respondents either disagreed or strongly disagreed to feeling confident that their local police station would assist them if they had to report a crime where they were the victim
  • 35% of respondents reported experiencing an employment law issue in the last five years
  • 31% of respondents reported experiencing a discrimination law issue in the last five years
  • 21% of respondents reported experiencing a tenancy law issue in the last five years
  • 6.5% of respondents reported experiencing an immigration law issue in the last five years

Discrimination is one of the most common legal issues facing LGBTQI persons, with over 31% reporting a discrimination law issue in the past five years.

“Discrimination is the largest area of legal service at the LGBTQI Legal Service, at 24.44% of our legal casework and 13.13% of legal advice,” the report says, which also refers to similar findings  by the Roberta Perkins Law Project that caters to trans clients needs. Over 34 of the LLS legal survey participants had reported an employment law issue in the last five years with many of the cases relating to dismissal on account of sexul orientation or gender identity.

 According to LLS most of the legal inquiries pertain to, “trans and gender-diverse clients regarding access to health services and issues in prison, cisgender gay males experiencing employment discrimination related to sexual orientation and sexual harassment in the workplace and LGBTQI disability discrimination at bars and private transport services.”

These findings were similar to the discrimination law survey conducted by the Victoria Legal Aid’s Equality team of 76 persons at Midsumma Carnival 2020.

  • 31.58% said that they had been  excluded from an event or service because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or diverse sex characteristics
  • 44.74% reported they had been treated badly at work or by a potential employer because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
  • 47.37% had been treated badly at school or university because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
  • Only 23.68% of people who had experienced discrimination took action.

“A concerning finding from our own data was that over 80% of clients who approached our service self-reported they were suffering from a mental health issue at the time. It was also clear from our service data and from the responses to our community legal needs survey that LGBTQI people continue to experience disproportionately and unacceptably high levels of discrimination and harassment,” said Davis.

 Another concerning aspect was that 35% did not feel confident that their local police station would assist them if they had to report a crime even when they were the victim. One of the cases cited by the survey of a cisgender gay couple who approched the police to report a person who abused them in public with homophobic comments. The police reportedly told the couple that it was a civil matter and they could not help. Another case involved a gay man approaching the police after facing phsical violence at the hands of his male partner. The police reportedly refused to record a statement for an intervention order and told him he could just move out.

“It is clear from our findings that there is still a lot more work for police to do in building trust with LGBTQI communities. One of our key recommendations is that there must be more education and training for police, as well as court staff, prison staff, corrections staff and legal service providers, to build their understanding and their capacity to build that trust. It is crucial that all parts of the justice system are equally committed to promoting and protecting equality and inclusion for LGBTQI communities,” said Davies.

The Victorian government announced that it would provide $540,000 in funding to the St Kilda Legal Service for its specialised service to the LGBTQI community.

“The important work of the LGBTQI Legal Service over the past two years has provided valuable insights into the legal needs of Victoria’s LGBTQI communities. This report is another reminder that too many LGBTQI Victorians still face discrimination just for being who they are,” said Martin Foley, Victoria’s Minister For Equality in a statement.

“The Victorian Government is proud to be providing more than $540,000 in funding to help the St Kilda Legal Service continue offering specialist support to LGBTQI communities, particularly as they face the risk of increased legal needs during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Minister Foley.

The Reflections On LGBTQI Legal Need report is available here.

LGBTQI people in Victoria can get free legal help here.

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