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‘We must update our laws, systems, and processes to support LGBTQIA+ people’

As society’s understanding of sexuality, gender and identity expands, there is a need to amend our laws, systems and processes to keep pace, says lawyer and Out for Australia’s (OFA) Queensland director Renee Shike.

user iconJess Feyder 01 September 2022 Big Law
‘We must update our laws, systems, and processes to support LGBTQIA+ people’
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Renee spoke with Lawyers Weekly about the outdated laws and systems that are negatively impacting LGBTQIA+ people around Australia and the changes needed in firms and in legislation.  

“Antiquated processes can make our profession and communities less inclusive,” said Renee.

“For example, the current Queensland Births, Deaths and Marriages Act only recognises two genders: male and female. 


“Recently, there have been proposed amendments to the act to include other gender identities. This is an example of a small change that can make a huge difference to gender non-conforming people like me.” 

Transgender, intersex, and gender-diverse people face barriers and discrimination because of current laws. 

For instance, many intersex people have undergone non-consensual, medically unnecessary surgeries to “normalise” their bodies; this remains legal in Australia, Renee noted.

Still, non-binary identities are not recognised in every state in Australia, they said.  

In Queensland and NSW, “sex reassignment surgery” is required to change your identity documents — this surgery is not funded by Medicare, can cost an excess of $10,000, and is not always wanted by the individual. 

“Trans and gender diverse people must have documentary evidence from a doctor or psychologist to have their identity changed on federal documents. 

“These requirements place emotional and financial burdens on people who are already vulnerable.

“The legal profession should acknowledge the ways these laws impact people in these communities, not only supporting law reform, but taking the immediate action of having policies and supports in place that acknowledge these barriers.

“Within law firms, people should be reviewing the systems and processes that are in place to ensure they are not out of date.  

“These reviews should be undertaken through multiple perspectives,” Renee noted. “However it should not burden LGBTQIA+ with the labour of doing the work if they don’t want to.

“Place yourself in the shoes of a non-binary person looking at your gender options in your internal systems, will you be recognised? Is there an option for a gender-neutral prefix? 

“Other things you can embed in systems and processes is the expectation to have pronouns in your emails and video conferencing name.

“This is important because if only the gender diverse people do it, it inadvertently ‘outs’ them. If everyone does it, it means queer people feel safe, supported and seen,” said Renee. 

“Employee LGBTQIA+ policies should include paid leave for gender affirming care. This acknowledges the cost associated with accessing care and the need for the employee to take the medically required recovery period.”

Renee noted that along with such reforms, firms must take an active role in educating employees. “Most of the time, discrimination and bigotry is rooted in misunderstanding,” they said. 

There is a particular proclivity of lawyers, Renee mused. “Many of us are hard wired to want to know the answers and fully understand whatever we are presented with.

Once we can understand and see an issue from someone else’s perspective, then we can respect it.

“However, you don’t need to understand someone’s identity in order to respect them. Every person’s identity is expansive. It cannot be boiled down to a label, or a belief.

That’s why ‘understanding’ someone’s identity is not what we should be striving for — we should be providing the space for people to tell us who they are and respecting what they say, whether or not you understand them,” said Renee.