Media release: This Mardi Gras season, underfunded community legal centres are being forced to turn away LGBTIQ+ people in desperate need of support

1 March 2024

Today, a group of specialist LGBTIQ+ community legal centres and Community Legal Centres Australia have written to members of the Expenditure Review Committee asking for Commonwealth Government investment in LGBTIQ+ safety this Mardi Gras season.

Across Australia, severely underfunded community legal centres are being forced to turn away more and more LGBTIQ+ people in desperate need of support. Community legal centres provide life-saving legal support for the LGBTIQ+ community. This includes expert specialist legal help to LGBTIQ+ people in queer-specific areas of law, as well as safe and supportive help for LGBTIQ+ people to resolve a range of everyday legal issues. Right now, the community’s access to this support is at risk. The community legal sector is in a national funding crisis, forcing centres to turn away over 200,000 people every year.

Already, the LGBTIQ+ community is under-served when it comes to free legal help: LGBTIQ+ people have continually been left off the ‘priority group’ list for Commonwealth legal assistance funding. Thisva means that community legal centres are not allocated Commonwealth funding to provide targeted services to the LGBTIQ+ community. Specialist LGBTIQ+ community legal centres in NSW, Victoria and Queensland struggle to meet even a fraction of the overwhelming legal need in the LGBTIQ+ community, and no specialist LGBTIQ+ community legal centre exists in Western Australia, South Australia, the Northern Territory, the ACT, or in Tasmania.

Community legal centres keep LGBTIQ+ people safe from a range of harms, including:

  • Domestic, sexual and family violence: Despite experiencing equal or greater exposure to domestic, family, and sexual violence, members of queer communities struggle to access support services and resources. A 2020 study by La Trobe University found that only 2% of LGBTQ+ Australians impacted by intimate partner violence accessed a domestic violence service. 6% reported the violence to police, and less than half felt supported by the response they received. 72% told no one at all. Many LGBTIQ+ victim-survivors who receive help from LGBTIQ+ community legal centres report that these services were their only available support.
  • Online hate, abuse, and doxxing: The eSafety Commission reports that LGBTQ+ Australians experience online hate at more than double the national average. Aggressive campaigns of hate, abuse, and doxxing impact queer Australians’ physical and psychological safety and can lead to loss of employment, housing, and other vital forms of support.
  • Employment discrimination: Research conducted by YouGov in 2020 found 61% of queer employees in Australia felt they had to hide their sexuality at work. According to the Australian Human Rights commission, 47% of queer Australians report experiencing harassment at work within the last five years.

Today’s letters ask the decision-makers to support and advocate for:

  1. An urgent injection of at least $125 million in additional funding for all community legal centres for the 2024-25 financial year.
  2. An ongoing and significant increase in legal assistance funding from 2025 onwards included in the forward estimates in the 2024-25 budget.
  3. The inclusion of LGBTIQ+ people as a priority group for Commonwealth legal assistance funding in the next NLAP, in addition to existing priority groups.

Quotes attributable to:

Katie Green (she/her), Managing Solicitor, Inner City Legal Centre (NSW)

Mardi Gras began as a protest for LGBTIQ+ safety and justice, and today Mardi Gras remains far more than a party and a photo opportunity.  This Mardi Gras season, politicians and organisations wishing to celebrate with our community this season have a responsibility to also commit to investing in LGBTIQ+ safety. Governments should invest in a society where access to legal advice and the justice system is based on need, and not on bank balance, gender, or sexuality.

Jo Sampford (she/they), Director and Principal Solicitor, LGBTI Legal Service (QLD)

LGBTIQ+ specialist community legal services are at breaking point, and it is heartbreaking that we have to turn away almost all clients to reach out to us for help. Our current funding allows us to employ one solicitor to cover all of Queensland (where it is estimated that over 150,000 LGBTIQ+ adults live, over half of whom will experience a legal problem each year). 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.

Ryan Hsu, Service Director, Q+Law (VIC)

LGBTIQ+ people in 5 out of 8 states and territories have no safe and inclusive legal service. Having a culturally safe specialist service is important to LGBTIQ+ people: more than half of queer people are less likely to access a service that is not visibly inclusive. We know that the CLC model works: results from an independent evaluation show that clients receive quality services from specialist community legal centres. They feel heard, respected and cared for by LGBTIQ+ community legal centres. People in all states and territories deserve to access the safety our services provide.

Tim Leach, CEO, Community Legal Centres Australia

We are asking the Commonwealth Government to commit to LGBTIQ+ safety by investing $125m in community legal centres in the 2024-25 Budget, as well as committing to a significant increase in Commonwealth legal assistance funding from 2025 onwards, foreshadowed in this May budget. LGBTIQ+ people must be added as a priority group for legal assistance, so that LGBTIQ+ specialist services can be resourced to give the queer community the support it needs.