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‘LGBTIQ+ specialist community legal services are at breaking point’

Legal organisations have urged the government to boost funding for community legal centres, which are currently struggling to provide adequate legal services to LGBTI people.

user iconGrace Robbie 02 April 2024 Big Law
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Across Australia, more community legal centres are being forced to turn away individuals in dire need of their services due to severe underfunding.

LGBTI Legal Service has joined together with three other community legal centres that specialise in supporting LGBTI people, and they called on the Commonwealth government to provide sustainable funding to specialist services.

This non-profit service, dedicated to offering culturally safe and inclusive justice and legal assistance for LGBTI people in Queensland, has highlighted the inadequacy of current funding levels to provide effective statewide services to those in need.


According to the LGBTI Legal Service, “community legal centres provide life-saving legal support for the LGBTIQ+ community, providing expert specialist legal help to LGBTIQ+ people in quite specific areas of law, as well as safe and supportive environment for LGBTIQ+ people to resolve a range of everyday legal issues”.

This comes after the release of two reports, which highlight both the impact and extent of LGBTI discrimination in religious schools and services and overwhelming demand for legal assistance services.

Community Legal Centres Australia (CLCA) report, A sector in crisis, showed that community legal centres have to “turn away more than 350,000 people each year” and had to collectively refuse legal assistance to over “1,000 people every day last year”.

LGBTI individuals are among those affected due to the current underfunding of community legal services.

In addition, Equity Australia recently released its landmark report into discrimination in religious schools and services, Dismissed, Denied and Demeaned, which reveals the impact of LGBTI discrimination in religious educational institutions and faith-based service providers in Australia.

In light of this, the LGBTI Legal Service has emphasised the importance of LGBTI individuals having access to legal services with specialised knowledge in addressing the specific challenges they face.

According to a survey, the service conducted in late 2023 to assess the legal needs and experiences of LGBTI people, in five out of eight states and territories, LGBTI people had no access to a dedicated, culturally safe legal service.

The survey revealed that 61 per cent of queer people “experienced at least one legal problem in the past 12 months”, and “60 per cent would prefer to access a LGBTQI+ service or an inclusive mainstream service”.

According to the survey, LGBTI Legal Service clients experienced intersecting forms of disadvantage during 2022 and 2023, with 37 per cent living with disability, 74 per cent living in poverty, and 30 per cent having experienced domestic and family violence.

Jo Sampford, the director and principal solicitor for LGBTI Legal Service, reiterated her support for this movement after the service had to close its “doors to new clients for the third time in nine months”.

“LGBTIQ+ specialist community legal services are at breaking point, and it is heartbreaking that we have to turn away almost all clients who reach out to us for help,” Sampford commented.

“Often, people come to speak to us because they don’t feel safe report[ing] violence and abuse – family violence, bullying, online threats, and sexual assault – to police and support services. They are overwhelmed and afraid; they want to understand what their rights are [and] what steps they need to take to find safety.”

The survey also revealed that of the 4,700 survey respondents, “56 per cent would be less likely to seek help if there wasn’t an LGBTIQA+ or inclusive service available”.

“Often, we are the end of the line for these clients, with no other safe, accessible, legal, community or mental health services to refer them to,” Sampford said.

“Hearing ‘sorry, we can’t help you because we don’t have the resources’ deeply impacts their trust in the availability of support and in the justice system.”

LGBTI Legal Service recently supported Sophie, a trans community advocate, who sought their assistance after facing “false and defamatory accusations of assault and threatened with police action”.

“The LGBTI Legal Service’s support during an immensely tough period this year was invaluable to me. I was kept up to date with the best possible information via text, email and phone, and felt respected and supported at a time when I was having trouble keeping it together, in the face of horrendous transphobic abuse,” Sophie said.

“The advice I received allowed me to act in ways which protected myself from potential further harm and reassured me of my options in response to the circumstances with which I was met.”

Sampford added that she hopes all queer clients experience “that same sense of support and connection from all services” moving forward – but that more government support and action is needed.

“Whilst it’s challenging to work in this environment, to connect clients who are experiencing persistent – and in some areas rising – discrimination and abuse – with critically scarce resources, I think about our queer friends in the other five states and territories that have no safe and accessible community legal service,” she said.

“All LGBTIQ+ Australians should be able to access vital legal support to protect their safety, rights, and wellbeing, no matter where they live.”

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