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OPINION: The journey towards full equality and acceptance of the LGBTIAQ+ community is far from over

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Attwood Marshall Lawyers Estate Litigation Senior Associate Martin Mallon comments on the social injustices faced by the LGBTIAQ+ community and outlines the necessary actions to achieve full equality and acceptance.

June is Pride month, a time of reflection, celebration, and advocacy for the LGBTIAQ+ and wider community.  It commemorates the Stonewall riots, which were protests against the state sponsored persecution of the LGBTIAQ+ community in the United States of America, some 55 years ago this month. The Stonewall riots were a pivotal moment in the fight for LGBTIAQ+ equality, marking the beginning of a global movement to challenge discrimination.

Since then, significant progress has been made in Australia and around the world. Legal reforms, such as the decriminalisation of homosexuality, legalising same-sex marriage, and the introduction of anti-discrimination laws, have improved the lives of many LGBTIAQ+ Australians. Just this month, the NSW parliament apologised to LGBTIAQ+ Australians for its archaic and discriminatory legislation. While NSW is progressive in some aspects of the law, it was the last State to issue such an apology. It cannot be understated that it still took 40 years for the NSW Parliament to find its moral compass to apologise to the LGBTIAQ+ community after it had decriminalised homosexual activity.

The Queensland parliament passed legislation in 1991 removing gay activity between consensual adults as a criminal offence but it still took another 16 years for legislation to be enacted that allowed a person charged with those offences to apply to the Director General to expunge the conviction.  

As such, it is fair to say the journey towards full equality and acceptance is far from over.

I have assisted clients in expungement applications as part of my volunteer work. I have heard countless lived experiences of entrapment, mal treatment by the police towards the LGBTIAQ+ community and the shame of living a life as a “convicted criminal” for discriminatory offences.  A recent ABC report indicates that 75% of people who identify within the LGBTIAQ+ community experienced some form of mental illness in their lifetime. It is important to remember that discrimination against the LGBTIAQ+ community continues to have flow-on effects such as difficulty obtaining employment because of disclosure, and immense isolation. Further, workplace discrimination and harassment faced by LGBTIAQ+ individuals remain a prevalent concern. Alarmingly, reports from the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Australian Workplace Equality Index revealed that 47% of people who identify as LGBTIAQ+ have experienced sexual harassment at work in the past five years and 1 in 4 individuals surveyed, irrespective of sexual orientation have witnessed homophobic remarks or jokes directed towards people who identify as LGBTIAQ+ at work, with 36.5% admitting they did nothing in response.

Applications seeking to expunge criminal offences are complex, drawn out and are often rejected in the first instance. In my view, it is difficult to be successful in these types of applications unless a person has engaged a lawyer to advocate for them. This can make it beyond the financial means of many who need help. It is disingenuous and morally corrupt for the Queensland Parliament to pass legislation that makes it difficult to expunge a historical homosexual conviction. Legal representation should not be limited to those who can afford to engage a lawyer. There has been limited Government funding to assist disadvantaged and low-income LGBTIAQ+ Australians with these types of applications.  LGBTIAQ+ Australians deserve our support to be free from wrongful convictions based on their identity.

As a senior lawyer who has worked in the legal profession for more than 15 years, I am aware that some people who identify as LGBTIAQ+ are reluctant to attend a law firm to seek advice because of the perception they will be discriminated against or disrespected by conservative lawyers. The legal profession must be leaders in seeking change to attempt to reduce the negative stigma towards minority groups.  

It is time for the Government, private entities, and the wider community to take meaningful steps to end all forms of discrimination which will invariably reduce the number of people who identify as LGBTIAQ+ suffering mental health issues. The LGBTIAQ+ community need meaningful support and genuine engagement from the Government and private entities beyond Pride Month, not just symbolic gestures.

Forget the token social media posts and advertisements once a year during Pride Month or Mardi Gras, and help work towards positive action, including more funding for legal services for minority groups, mental health funding, legislative change, and making it easier for individuals to expunge discriminatory, archaic criminal convictions from their records.

As a proud member of the LGBTIAQ+ community, I have invariably faced discrimination not only on a personal level, but also at work.  For many years, I felt the need to hide my identity in order to feel safe and accepted.

This Pride month with the support of my employer, Attwood Marshall Lawyers, I am no longer hiding.

I want to use my platform as a senior lawyer practising exclusively in estate litigation to support fellow members of the LGBTIAQ+ community who are mired in estate disputes, often forcibly estranged from their families due to their sexual orientation and left out of their parents’ wills. 

This Pride month I want to tell my community to remember; you can be safe, and you will be supported. I am here for you.

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Martin Mallon - Senior Associate - Estate Litigation

Martin Mallon

Senior Associate
Estate Litigation

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Disclaimer
The contents of this article are considered accurate as at the date of publication. The information contained in this article does not constitute legal advice and is of a general nature only. Readers should seek legal advice about their specific circumstances. 

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