Trans justice and community legal centres

November 2023

This piece was based on a presentation given at the November Community Legal Centres NSW Law Reform & Policy Network Meeting by Riley Brooke (Community Legal Centres Australia) and Niamh Joyce (Inner City Legal Centre).

Transphobia is on the rise around the world.

Reported hate crimes against trans and gender-diverse people are on the rise globally. To many it may seem that awareness and acceptance of trans and gender-diverse people is improving, and that therefore violence must be decreasing. Unfortunately, with increasing awareness, has come an escalation in backlash against and violence towards the trans community.

Hate crimes against transgender people in the United Kingdom saw a 56% increase between 2021 and 2022. In Europe, 2022 was the most violent year on record for LGBTQI+ people. Violence was both more frequent and more severe in 2022 compared to previous years. Here in Australia, the past year has seen an escalation in hate speech and physical violence towards the trans community. A 2023 report by the Trans Justice Project found that half of trans people have experienced anti-trans hate, and one in 10 have experienced hate motivated violence.

Trans rights are also a workplace justice issue. Trans people – especially trans women – are underpaid as workers, with over 40% of trans women reporting earnings under the poverty line. Trans people also experience higher rates of workplace exploitation and harassment than the general population.

Trans and gender diverse people need legal help.

Very few specialist legal services exist to support the trans and gender diverse community. This is partly because LGBTI+ people are not listed as a priority under the NLAP. Most states don’t have a specialist service. In Queensland, LGBTI+ Legal is vastly under-funded to meet demand for its services. In Victoria, the new Q+Law service has been funded as a pilot program by the state government. In NSW, the Inner City Legal Centre delivers specialist LGBTI+ services without government funding – which it receives only for generalist services.

Community Legal Centres Australia’s NLAP submission recommended including LGBTI+ people – alongside refugees and people seeking asylum, women, and people impacted by extreme weather and climate change – as a priority group under the next NLAP. Many of the community legal centres already doing work to support refugees and people seeking asylum already have specialties in working with LGBTI+ refugees and asylum seekers as there is a significant overlap between these cohorts. The inclusion of both as NLAP priority groups will help ensure people in these demographics can access the legal help they need, and centres carrying out this vital work can be paid to do it.

This case study from Inner City Legal Centre provides just one example of the important legal assistance community legal centres offer to the trans community:

Anna (pseudonym) is transgender woman and a refugee, who had recently arrived in Australia when she reached out to the Inner City Legal Centre for support. She had been granted asylum in Australia on the basis of being a trans woman from a country of origin where she was in danger of violence due to her gender identity. However, in Australia, all of her identity documents listed her long-discarded deadname because NSW law states that a person must wait 3 years after relocating to NSW to change their name on their birth certificate.

Inner City Legal Centre made representations to NSW Births Deaths and Marriages for a name change for Anna and were able to persuade the registrar that exceptional circumstances applied in this matter.

AABC News recently published an article highlighting the current NLAP’s failure to include LGBTI+ people and refugees and asylum seekers as priority groups, the consequences for the centres that specialise in those areas, and the push from our sector for those groups’ inclusion in the next NLAP. Read it here.

Community legal centres can advocate for trans justice.

Legislative processes

Many community legal centres already participate at the state and national level in legislative reform processes on issues that impact the trans community, including the right to self-ID, and protections from discrimination. Nationally, Community Legal Centres Australia and the Human Rights Network put in a submission to the national inquiry into Australia’s human rights framework, which included a section on the rights of the LGBTI+ community. We took part in a working group specifically responding to the question of trans rights, after there was a seemingly coordinated influx of submissions from anti-trans ‘LGB’ and ‘feminist’ organisations to the review.

Supporting protest movements

Another avenue for advocacy and law reform is protest.

Community legal centres have a strong history of supporting protest movements, including for queer and trans rights. Redfern Legal Centre lists as one of its earliest accomplishments ‘fighting for the civil liberties of 53 people arrested during the inaugural [1978] Mardi Gras parade,’ and goes on to say, ‘RLC has continued to support LGBTI activists and worked tirelessly in efforts to reduce police misconduct against this community’. Similarly, Poverty Law and Social Change, a book recommended by Fitzroy Legal Centre as a source for the centre’s history, states, ‘a group of barristers, solicitors, youth workers, students and community activists opened the doors to the service…From its earliest days it has had a dual role, offering free legal assistance (which by the late 1990s had been received by over 60 000 people) and promoting broader social-change activities.’

This year, Trans Day of Resistance rallies will be held in several major cities around Australia. The international Trans Day of Remembrance takes place every year on the 20th of November, often marked by evening vigils or gatherings. For the last few years, grassroots queer activists have also held daytime Trans Day of Resistance protests in the last weekend of November. These rallies serve to memorialise the trans people killed due to transphobia while also putting forth a set of positive demands on governments and the community of changes that must happen to ensure trans people are no longer dying due to transphobia. This year’s rallies will be grounded in the principles:

  • No right to discriminate
  • Keep queer kids safe at school
  • Cops out of community
  • No barrier to transition
  • Decriminalise and destigmatise sex work

Community Legal Centres Australia has endorsed this year’s Trans Day of Resistance, and some staff members will be attending the Sydney Trans Day of Resistance rally. Various community legal centres, the Australian Services Union, and many other community organisations and unions have also endorsed Trans Day of Resistance this year.

We encourage the community legal sector to consider endorsing Trans Day of Resistance and taking action to support – including sharing on social media or attending as a workplace.