Sydney firm acts pro bono in HCA vilification case

Legal proceedings, scales of justice

A self-proclaimed “out loud and proud” law firm based in Sydney’s Newtown has appeared in the High Court of Australia on behalf of Garry Burns.

Mr Burns appealed to the HCA following a determination in 2016 that despite being a victim of homophobic vilification, he had no standing to pursue the matter in the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal because the alleged perpetrators were not residents of New South Wales.

The gay rights activist was attempting to sue political aspirant and Katter Party of Australia candidate Tess Corbett, who made comments in the Hamilton Spectator in 2013. Ms Corbett told the publication that she did not want “gays, lesbians or paedophiles working in my kindergarten” and associated homosexuals with paedophiles.

“Paedophiles will be next in line to be recognised in the same way as gays and lesbians and get rights,” Ms Corbett was quoted as saying.

When Queensland’s Senate hopeful Bernard Gaynor later endorsed Ms Corbett’s statements, he was suspended him from the Katter Party Australia.

In January last year the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal found Ms Corbett’s comments had vilified homosexual people. She was ordered by the tribunal to place a public apology in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Mr Burns sought a court-imposed fine against the former candidate for the federal seat of Wannon in western Victoria when she failed to publish an apology.

On appeal, the Supreme Court of NSW said that the tribunal did not have the jurisdiction to deal with either Ms Corbett or Mr Gaynor. Mr Burns subsequently took the matter to the HCA.

Dowson Turco partner Nicholas Stewart (pictured) offered to represent Mr Burns pro bono for the costs aspect of his HCA appearance.

“This is a very technical matter and we are grateful for Garry’s instructions to act pro bono,” Mr Stewart said.

“Without Garry, the LGBTI community would be behind the times and the fact that his matter is before the highest court in our country is testament to his drive for justice for our community.”

The lawyers appeared before the court last week. [Outcome here].

Sonja Freeman, one of the lawyers at Dowson Turco, said that the firm had celebrated recent legal milestones for LGBTI rights, such as marriage equality and LGBTI rights in the Family Court. She noted that efforts to help Mr Burns’ vilification case were just as important.

“Garry Burns is a brave and unrelenting advocate of the Australian LGBTI community. He has fought tirelessly to prevent homophobic discrimination and to bring about a safer environment for the LGBTI community,” Ms Freeman said.

“We want to assist Garry to ensure that tribunals in NSW can assist victims of discrimination and vilification even when perpetrators are located interstate,” she said.

Larger / SmallerNight Mode Dubbo’s LGBTI campaigner wants council to listen

June 18, 2015, 4:30 a.m.

DUBBO’S Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) community may march on city hall out of frustration at being “socially excluded”.

LGBTI community spokesman Nicholas Steepe is rallying the troops and their “straight allies” after five out of 11 Dubbo city councillors ignored his request to speak with them about marriage equality.

Mr Steepe is in the “process of applying to address” the council at one of its two meetings this month.

“I am going to address the councillors on the social exclusion of the LGBTI community as evidenced in their social plan and lack of support for marriage equality,” he said.

“I am inviting everyone who is concerned about social inclusion for the LGBTI community or marriage equality to come along to the meeting and show the council that there is community support around it.” Marriage equality hit the headlines in Dubbo after Mathew Dickerson called it “almost irrelevant” because no one had raised the issue with him in his capacity as mayor.

Members of the LGBTI community and their heterosexual friends responded with pleas for the council to join a community-driven and national campaign aimed at influencing the federal government to amend the 1961 Marriage Act to include same-sex marriage.

The pleas have largely but not completely gone unheard.

Not all of the six councillors who met with Mr Steepe opposed marriage equality and at a May council meeting Cr Tina Reynolds rejected the mayor’s public assertion that the council should focus on issues it could control.

She used the battle to save Playmates Cottage as an example of the council stepping beyond perceived boundaries.

“I do not have an issue with this coming to council at all,” she said of marriage equality.

On Wednesday Mr Steepe said the council, as the “closest level of government to the community”, was responsible for making people feel they were “accepted in this town and had a right to be here”.

He said the council’s social plan was a “lengthy document” that used “offensive and discriminatory ” language such as “non-heterosexual” in its brief reference to same-sex attraction.

“It excludes gender identity which is quite prominent in Dubbo,” Mr Steepe said.

“In essence the plan excludes the whole LGBTI community. They need to update that and promote social inclusion which includes marriage equality.”

Mr Steepe said the council held the power to over time help reduce elevated levels of suicide and mental health problems among LGBTI people, resulting from discrimination and exclusion.

Dubbo mother Libby McMahon is set to join Mr Steepe in addressing the council.

“As the mother of a gay child I think that it’s very important that these children and adults have a voice and they deserve equal rights,” she told the Daily Liberal.

Originally published as PLEA’S IGNORED: Dubbo’s LGBTI campaigner wants council to listen by the Daily Liberal.