Monday, 30 May 2016

What an extraordinary week!

I do many presentations in a year. In most years, I present about a dozen times. Ok, that sounds like once a month. But of course it doesn't happen like that. It might happen once a week, just like last week when I presented to the Family Court of Auatralia about surrogacy. Much more often, presentations occur in clusters.

Just like when I get asked: how often do you go to court? Well it might be once every couple of months or once a week, or several times in the one week: it varies, and when it happens, too often there will be two or three cases on the same day!

This week is an illustration of that chaos in action. 

All week: the office renovation

Few things are as exciting, stressful or as disruptive as the office renovation. Quite simply we couldn't fit everyone at Harrington Family Lawyers in like sardines anymore and wanted to have some room to do mediations. So we took over the space next door. 

For months, we have waited to be able to get the renovations under way. Now they are happening! Within the hour, two internal walls and our old front door are being ripped down. On the weekend we have had painters, electricians and carpenters in. 

Today more mass chaos as offices and files are moved, with electricians hanging out of the ceiling, etc., ahead of the dreaded: the whole office is being painted Wednesday and Thursday. Oh what fun. 

Out for Australia: Tuesday

Tomorrow night Out for Australia and Allens are holding an event in Brisbane, talking about the law and how it affects LGBTIQ people. I am one of the panelists. There are expected to be about 100 people turning up. There are still a few seats available. Looks like it will be a stimulating night! 

Gay Dads surrogacy event: Thursday

On Thursday night I join renowned US surrogacy lawyer Steve Snyder and US fertility doctor Dr Said Daneshmand to talk about surrogacy in the US. The event is full. It is illegal for residents of Queensland to undertake commercial surrogacy in the US. 

Canadian surrogacy event: Friday

On Friday I take part in a Canadian surrogacy event with Leia Swanberg from Canadian Fertility Consulting, Dr Daneshmand and Alex McNab, a Canadian surrogacy lawyer. Many Australians are now undertaking surrogacy in Canada- where surrogacy is altruistic, but unlike Australia is available. 

Families Through Surrogacy conference: Saturday

The conference, the largest of its kind in Australia, will run in Brisbane on Saturday and Sunday. There are expected to be 200+ attendees taking part in sessions about all things to do with surrogacy. On Saturday I will moderate two panels: one about international legal issues and the other about using surrogacy agencies. 

Brisbane will host some of the top US experts on surrogacy, including Steve Snyder, Dr Daneshmand, and  renowned surrogacy lawyer Andy Vorzimer, Dr Michael Feinman, as well as representatives from the big three surrogacy agencies: Karen Synesiou from the Center for Surrogate Parenting, psychologist Dr Kim Bergman from Growing Generations and lawyer Scott Buckley from Circle Surrogacy. 

There will be many local speakers as well, including fertility counsellors Miranda Montrone and Michael Condon, and  IVF doctors Warren deAmbrosis from Qld Fertility Group and Julie Lindstrom from City Fertility Centre. 

And then, after hosting a dinner for some of the local and international speakers at the conference, my week will finally be over!

Monday, 23 May 2016

Federal Parliamentary inquiry says no to commercial surrogacy

The Federal Parliamentary inquiry has concluded that commercial surrogacy in Australia continue to be banned, that there be national, non-discriminatory surrogacy laws, and that it be harder for Australians to undertake surrogacy in developing countries.

The inquiry, by the House of Representatives Select Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs, chaired by Nationals MP George Christensen, raised concerns about the potential for exploitation of both surrogates and children, and questioned whether birth certificates should issue that included the name of the surrogate and any donors of genetic material, as well as that of the parents.

The Committee has recognised that Australians will continue to access surrogacy overseas. It is likely that, with continued restrictions on surrogacy in Australia, that there will remain a shortage of available surrogates in Australia, meaning that if anything there will continue to be a growth in the number of Australians accessing commercial surrogacy overseas. However, the recommendations of the inquiry are to make it harder for Australians to access surrogacy overseas, by Australian intended parents having to prove to Australian officials that they have not broken the law in Australia or overseas before they can bring their children into Australia. Whether this will lead to children being stranded overseas remains to be seen.

The full list of recommendations is:

Recommendation 1
The Committee recommends that the practice of commercial surrogacy remain illegal in Australia.
Recommendation 2
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government, in conjunction with the Council of Australian Governments, consider the development of a model national law that facilitates altruistic surrogacy in Australia. The model law should have regard to the following four guiding principles:
·      that the best interests of the child should be protected (including the child’s safety and well-being and the child’s right to know about their origins), 

·      that the surrogate mother is able to make a free and informed decision about whether to act as a surrogate, 

·      that sufficient regulatory protections are in place to protect the surrogate mother from exploitation, and 

·      that there is legal clarity about the parent-child relationships that result from the arrangement.

Recommendation 3 
The Committee recommends that the Attorney-General request the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) to conduct a 12-month inquiry into the surrogacy laws of Australian States and Territories, with a view to developing a model national law on altruistic surrogacy. The Attorney-General should request that the ALRC consider: 

·      first and foremost, the best interests of the child, 

·      previous reviews of Australian surrogacy laws, including the 2009 report of the Standing Committee on Attorneys-General and the 2013 Family Law Council report on Parentage and the Family Law Act 1975,
·      the need for State and Territory laws to be non-discriminatory, 

·      the need for mandatory, independent and in-person counselling for all parties before entering into a surrogacy arrangement, during pregnancy, after the birth, and at relinquishment, 

·      the need for background checks, medical and psychological screening, and independent legal advice for all parties entering into a surrogacy arrangement, 

·      the need for parties to enter into a non-binding surrogacy agreement which sets out shared expectations of all parties, including dispute resolution processes, and which ensures that parties respect the birth mother's right to make decisions about her own health and that of the child, 

·      the processes by which parental responsibility is transferred from the birth mother to intended parents, and when this transfer should take place, 

·      the need for adequate reimbursement for the birth mother for legal, medical and other expenses incurred as a consequence of the surrogacy, 

·      the need for a closed register of surrogates and intended parents, to be administered by a Government body, access to which may be granted following background checks, and medical and psychological screening, and 

·      whether States and Territories should keep standardised statistical information on families formed through surrogacy to enable long- term studies of surrogacy's effect on families. 

Recommendation 4 
The Committee recommends that the Attorney-General request that the Australian Law Reform Commission consider the issue of birth certificates as part of its inquiry as set out in Recommendation 3. In particular, the ALRC should consider whether a child's birth certificate should contain information on all gestational, genetic and intended parents, including a record that the child was born as a result of a surrogacy arrangement 

Recommendation 5  The Committee recommends that, within six months of the proposed report of the Australian Law Reform Commission being presented to the Attorney-General, the Attorney-General should request that the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) commit to the following actions:
·      consultation with all Australian States and Territories in relation to the proposed model, and 

·      the development of national uniform legislation on altruistic surrogacy to be implemented in all Australian States and Territories. 
The Committee considers that the deliberations by COAG should not exceed 12 months.

Recommendation 6 
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government develop a website that provides advice and information for Australians considering domestic altruistic surrogacy. The website should include: 

·      clear advice on the role of Australian Government support and service provision for intended parents, surrogates and children including Medicare, social security & welfare payments, child support, paid parental leave, 

·      clear advice on surrogacy legislation in each Australian State and  Territory, and 

·       clear advice on the support and services funded and provided for by each Australian State and Territory including relevant health, counselling and legal services available.
Recommendation 7 
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government establish an interdepartmental taskforce (which should include eminent jurists with relevant expertise) to report in 12 months on ways to address the situation of Australians who choose enter into offshore surrogacy arrangements, with respect to:
·      protecting the rights of the child, particularly their rights to be free from exploitation, to know their genetic heritage, to know the circumstances of their birth, and to have an ongoing relationship with their birth mother and any siblings or genetic donor/s, 

·      ensuring birth mothers give their free and informed consent and reducing the likelihood that they face exploitation,
·      ensuring that Australians who enter into offshore surrogacy arrangements meet their responsibility to act in the best interest of all of their children, and 

·      considering whether it should be unlawful to engage in offshore surrogacy in any overseas jurisdiction where commercial surrogacy is prohibited. 
While not condoning Australians' use of offshore surrogacy, the aim of the taskforce should be to ensure that where the regulatory, economic or social conditions in a particular jurisdiction give rise to an increased risk of exploitation or rights violations, Australians entering into or facilitating surrogacy arrangements in that jurisdiction are made aware of those risks, and are subject to a more stringent investigative process to ensure that the rights of the birth mother and the child have not been infringed. 

Recommendation 8 
The Committee recommends that the interdepartmental taskforce should undertake a systematic audit of surrogacy destination countries to assess the extent to which surrogacy practices in these countries meet the requirements laid out in recommendation 3. The Committee considers that this audit will assist in informing the Australian Government’s response to the Australians who choose to enter into offshore surrogacy arrangements. 

Recommendation 9 
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government introduce legislation to amend the Migration Act 1958 such that Australian residents seeking a passport for a young child to return to Australia are subject to screening by Department of Immigration and Border Protection officials to determine whether they have breached Australian or international surrogacy laws while outside Australia, and that, where the Department is satisfied that breaches have occurred, the Minister for Immigration is given the authority to make determinations in the best interests of the child, including in relation to the custody of the child. 

Recommendation 10 
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government, in its representations to the Experts' Group on Parentage/Surrogacy at the Permanent Bureau of the Hague Conference on Private International Law should prioritise:
·      the rights of the child, particularly their right to know their genetic heritage, to know the circumstances of their birth, and to have ongoing relationships with their birth mother and any siblings or genetic donor/s,
·      the rights of surrogate mothers to be free from exploitation, and to only engage in surrogacy arrangements to which they give their free and free informed consent, and 

·      the development of an international convention dealing with the regulation of parentage and surrogacy. 

Sunday, 22 May 2016

I have been nominated for LGBTIQ Activist of the Year. Please vote!

I am greatly humbled to have again been nominated for LGBTIQ Activist of the Year in the Queen's Ball Awards. The Awards have been running for 55 years, and are the world's longest running. They are held in Brisbane each June, this time on 11 June.

Anyone can be nominated. The nominations are then considered by the Brisbane Pride Festival Committee, vetted, and those cleared are allowed to proceed. Vetting and clearing has happened.

The winner is determined by voting- by anyone with an email address. Voting is from this page. I encourage everyone to vote, so that your voice is heard. If you believe that I am worthy of the role, I hope that you will vote for me. If you think that someone else is more qualified, then you will vote for them.

The winner is announced at the Queen's Ball on 11 June.

I am the current LGBTIQ Activist of the Year. The last year for me has been simply extraordinary, seeking to changes hearts and minds in Australia, the US and South Africa, as well as through the Hague Conference on Private International Law.

On top of everything else, my firm has just been awarded the Queensland Law Society Small Firm Practice Initiative in the Equity and Diversity Awards because of our advocacy for women and LGBTI people, and for my writing this "pioneering" blog.

And if that were not enough, yesterday I learnt that a court case I was helping on in England has succeeded, which means that the ban there on single people becoming parents has been overturned.

It was great to help! UK single dad allowed to undertake surrogacy

England's top family law judge has overturned a law that said only  couples could undertake surrogacy. Sir James Munby, the President of the England and Wales High Court Family Division, has made a formal declaration that UK law discriminates against single parents with children born through surrogacy and is incompatible with their human rights.

The team at Natalie Gamble and Associates, who acted for the father,   (working with leading counsel Elizabeth Isaacs QC and Adem Muzaffer) has been fighting this important case and were delighted at the ruling.

 I helped in the case.

Some months ago, my friend and colleague Natalie Gamble, one of the leading UK surrogacy lawyers, sought my help in the form of expert evidence as to what Australian surrogacy law provided. I willingly did so.

Natalie Gamble also received help from other expert surrogacy lawyers- Richard Vaughn in the US and Sara Cohen in Canada, who gave evidence about surrogacy laws there.

It is delightful that my evidence and that of my colleagues helped obtain this outcome. The reality is that single intended parents are often discriminated against, for no apparent reason. In Australia, that discrimination is seen in the ACT, South Australia and, for men, in Western Australia.

The case concerns a British biological father of a 21 month old boy known as ‘Z’, who was born through a US surrogacy arrangement and lives with his single father in the UK. Last September the High Court ruled that it could not grant the father a UK parental order (the order needed to extinguish the responsibilities of the surrogate and to issue a UK birth certificate for Z), because UK surrogacy law only allows couples, and not single parents, to apply. The court ruled that the US surrogate who carried Z (who lives in the USA, is not his biological mother and has no legal status there) has sole decision-making rights in the UK. Z was made a ward of court, which means the court safeguards his welfare and makes decisions about his care.

The President of the Family Division has now declared that the law is incompatible with the father’s and the child’s human rights, and discriminates against them. In an unprecedented move, the Secretary of State for Health decided not to oppose the father’s application, conceding that UK law breached human rights legislation and consenting to the court making a declaration of incompatibility. Although only Parliament can change the law, declarations of incompatibility under the Human Rights Act are unusual and carry significant weight: only 20 final declarations have ever been made, and all but one have prompted the law being changed.  However, the government has not yet said whether it plans to push forward reform.
Responding to the judgment, Z’s father said: “I am delighted by today’s ruling which finally confirms that the law is discriminatory against both my family and others in the same situation. I persevered with the legal action because I strongly felt that my son should be in the same legal position as others born through surrogacy. I have a son who I love dearly and as part of this process there was a rigorous court assessment that confirms that I am a good parent. I am now eagerly waiting to hear what the Government will do so my son does not need to indefinitely remain a ward of court.”

Elizabeth Isaacs QC, his barrister, said: “Declarations of incompatibility are rarely made, so this is a very significant decision. Having consented to the declaration, there is no reason why the government should not take swift action to change the law. We hope that the law will be changed to enable a parental order to be granted for Z as soon as possible.”

Harrington Family Lawyers receives an Equity and Diversity Award

On Thursday night I had the privilege to receive on behalf of my firm, Harrington Family Lawyers, an equity and diversity award from the Queensland Law Society.

Three awards were handed out by the Society- Large firm- to Clayton Utz (which recognised that it had LGBTIQ staff members and decided they should be made to feel welcome), Small firm- Miller Harris in Cairns (as 40% of their staff are on flexible work arrangements) and Harrington Family Lawyers- for the small legal practice initiative.

I had previously been told by President Bill Potts:

"The Society found your firm's leadershipof the profession in promoting the rights of women and of LGBTI people particularly impressive. In particular, your penning of the Australian Gay and Lesbian Law Blog represents strong and pioneering commitment to the rights of and interests of LGBTI people in Australia ( and doubtless, internationally)."

At the awards ceremony, Bill Potts said that I was "hardworking" and an "ornament".

I said that I had to change my speech in light of events earlier that day. I had been told by a trans woman that allegations were being made of her (i.e. place a child at risk simply because of who she was) that took me back to 1992, when I acted for lesbian mothers, who were often discriminated against, due to their sexuality. It seemed that at some level we had not moved on after all these years.

I also said that when i took my oath of office as a solicitor all those years ago, I was determined to ensure that the law served others- so that the potential of the law- i.e. that all were equal under the law, was able to be met.

Bill Potts said that he hoped for the day that equity and diversity awards were not necessary, because society and the practice of law is fair.

The award comes at a time that I have been nominated for the LGBTIQ Activist of the Year in Queensland. Who is chosen as Activist is based on voting. I am the current Activist of the year.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

What an extraordinary year it has been! Good luck to the nominees forLGBTIQ Activist of the Year

Good luck to the nominees for Activist of the Year

Last year I was humbled and honoured to be nominated for the Queen's Ball LGBTIQ Activist of the Year. I was further honoured and humbled when I was chosen to be the LGBTIQ Activist of the Year.

In reflecting on the past year, I have the best wishes to whomever becomes Activist of the Year this year.  There are many people who have fought and continue to fight for equality. Without this community effort the fight for equal rights will not succeed.

When I received the award, with my then fiance Mitchell beside me, I said that I wanted our laws to be changed so that Mitchell and I could marry, as could other couples. I also said that over 200 years ago, three words rang out about human rights- liberty, equality and fraternity. While we were free to meet at City Hall, and within the confines of the building we were all equal, as soon as we stepped out of the building, we were not. Same sex couples, for example, were not allowed to marry. Our democracy is based on the fundamental premise that all are equal under law. However, all are not equal under law, and therefore there was much to be done.

As Activist of the Year, I was privileged to be one of the leaders of the Pride march last year, in the biggest march ever. I also used my role to continue to lobby politicians for change, so that equality could be achieved, not just for marriage, but on a whole range of issues including family formation, gay panic defence, the recognition of our relationships, etc.

I got married

On a personal note, in October last year Mitchell and I decided we could wait no longer. We married - in Las Vegas. It is a modern  marvel that in addition to the dozen people at the ceremony, there were about 250 around the world, in North America, Asia and Australia, watching our ceremony as it was streamed live.

The Marriage Act has not been changed, and we face delays until it is changed. In the meantime, Mitchell and I (and many other couples) face the odd situation that depending on where we are, we are either married or not. Since then we have travelled to the US (married), South Africa (married), Bahamas (not married) and home (not married).

I have been fortunate over the last year that I have had the active support of Mitchell, who also passionately believes in equality, and has often been there by my side or in support.

Holding hands

As I wrote yesterday, somehow Mitchell and I have been labelled "activists" because we love each other and walk through the streets of Brisbane and elsewhere holding hands. All too often we are subject to abuse because we openly show our affection for each other. I dream of a society where we can all be accepted for who we are, without any abuse, violence or threats of violence. Where we can be accepted as equals.

LGBTI Legal Service award

Receiving the Rainbow Keys Award from Drew Lauchland of the LGBTI Legal Service.

Last year I was humbled and honoured to receive the Rainbow Keys Award. This is an award handed out by the LGBTI Legal Service for 5 years continuous service as a volunteer. I had helped set up the service by persuading as many of my colleagues as possible to volunteer for the service, and was lucky enough to be rostered on the first night it opened- in July 2010. Regrettably, due to time commitments (and not for want of continuing there) I resigned as a volunteer in January this year.

This is what the LGBTI Legal Service said about me when I resigned from the service:

"It is with the sincerest regret the LGBTI Legal Service advises that Stephen Page is retiring from volunteering with the Service.
Stephen has been an integral participant in the Service. In fact, he was one of the original proponents and founding members of the Service. Those who were there in 2010 can remember Stephen bringing, on the first night of operation of the Service, a bottle of pink bubbles and a cake with pink icing. Unfortunately on that first night there were no clients, however the cake and champers were enjoyed by the volunteers.
Things have changed from that day. The service now provides legal advice for up to 10 clients per week. There can be no doubt that having Stephen as a volunteer lawyer has, over those years, enhanced the reputation of the Service, and he has regularly received glowing praise from clients and volunteers alike.
While we deeply regret losing Stephen's participation in our volunteer programme, we wish to acknowledge and thank him for everything that he has contributed to the Service.
Stephen remains a leader in the field of family law, both nationally and internationally as an acclaimed expert on surrogacy, amongst a host of other skills. He remains heavily involved in furthering LGBTI rights in a range of fields.
To Stephen we give our heartfelt thanks. You were an inspiration in the establishment of our Service, and you consistently provided service above and beyond expectations. Thank you.
We also give our congratulations to you and Mitch on your marriage. It is unfortunate that it occurred in the USA and not Australia, but we are sure that you will continue to lobby for those rights in Australia.
Thanks again. The team at the LGBTI Legal Service."
I am fortunate that in August I have the honour and the privilege, along with the Hon. Michael Kirby, to be speaking at the 6th anniversary of the service.

Goodbye to an old friend- Qnews

In January I also retired from writing for Qnews. I have written for Qnews since shortly after it started, and before that for BrotherSister. I guess this has been for 15 years or so. Issues covered have included gay marriage (of course) but also adoption, surrogacy, same sex domestic violence, refugee rights, and many others.

Writing the column has been a joy and a passion ever since I started, but one man can only do so much! Reluctantly, I gave it away.
Over the last 15 years, one of the topics I often wrote about was domestic violence. Here Mitch and I attended a rally in Logan saying we were opposed to domestic violence. We held hands while marching along Ewing Road, Woodridge.

420,000 lawyers can't be wrong!

A card received from a friend, following the extraordinary outcomes with the American Bar Association and the Hague Conference on Private International Law.

Since 1992 I have fought for equality under law for LGBTIQ people. I have done so both as a lawyer for clients (including when I have acted as independent children's lawyer, for the children), but also through lobbying anyone who would listen to effect change.

As part of that, since October 2011 I was given responsibility by the Chair of the Artificial Reproductive Treatment Committee of the American Bar Association, Mr Steve Snyder, to come up with a position paper of the American Bar Association as to a proposed Hague Convention concerning surrogacy. Since 2012 I have been one of two international representatives on that committee.

I am not American. I work in a small office in Brisbane. I was given this job because I was concerned that proposals about a convention would impact badly on Australian intended parents and as part of this I was concerned that the proposals could entrench discrimination against gay men in particular in their desire to have children. When Steve told me what was proposed with a convention; horrified, I set out my views in VERY clear language to him. Next thing you know, I got the job. I didn't see that coming!

What I didn't want was to have a convention that would wrap up intended parents in so much red tape, cost, delay and pain, like the adoption convention, that it would take forever to become parents. I didn't want a convention that would be used as a fig leaf to prevent LGBTIQ people from having children.

With my co-author, Bruce Hale from Boston, I wrote a paper for the American Bar Association. I was in charge of the project. The paper soaked up thousands of hours of my and Bruce's time, as well as those of other key lawyers, including Steve Snyder, and the current chair of the ART Committee, Rich Vaughn. It took a huge amount of effort, regular edits, and over four years for the paper to traverse the hills and dales of the world's largest, richest and most powerful lawyer's group- the American Bar Association.

In January I thought our proposal was sunk when we struck unexpected opposition. I was able to deal with that opposition head on.

And then, Eureka!- in February our paper was approved unopposed by the ABA's House of Delegates as policy. It is now the policy, including as to it being non-discriminatory, of the 420,000 members of the ABA.

One week after the paper was announced, a working group of the various members nations of the Hague Conference on Private International Law (the body which writes Hague Conventions) met and adopted our fundamental policy. What was important was not so much the intended parents or the surrogate, but the legal status of the child that needed protection; a position I had come to in 2011.

And all this achieved from a little office in Brisbane!

Hosting an American colleague when he came to visit. Richard Vaughn chairs the American Bar Association's Assisted Reproductive Treatment Committee.

Seeking non-discriminatory surrogacy laws

In March last year I was invited to give evidence to an informal Federal inquiry into our surrogacy laws. While I along with many others said that we ought to have properly regulated commercial surrogacy in Australia, the key message I gave was that we needed national surrogacy laws that were non-discriminatory. The Parliamentary Committee unanimously agreed with me on that point, and recommended a further, formal inquiry.

That recommendation for an inquiry fell on deaf ears. Tony Abbott was on the record as being opposed to an inquiry. Everyone I spoke to said that the idea of an inquiry was logjammed in his office.

Although I sought to push the inquiry with anyone who would listen, it was clear nothing was going to change until Abbott left.

As soon as he did so, I made representations to the following, to get an inquiry up and running:

  • my local Member, Teresa Gambaro, who also headed the Joint Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence
  • Graham Perrett MP, a member of the committee
  • Queensland Senator James McGrath, who was is also the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister
  • through the peak family lawyers group, the Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia
One of the politicians I lobbied was Graham Perrett MP.

The representations were successful. Late last year Attorney-General George Brandis announced a new inquiry. No sooner was it announced, but I was asked to make a submission, which I did. I called, again, for there to be national laws that were non-discriminatory.

After meeting with the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister, Queensland Senator James McGrath

The House of Representatives Committee has just now called, unanimously, for there to be national surrogacy laws that are non-discriminatory. It has proposed that these laws be drafted by the Australian Law Reform Commission, in conjunction with eminent jurists, in consultation with the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).

Currently there is discrimination in surrogacy laws in the ACT (must be a couple), Tasmania (everyone must come from there), SA (singles and same sex couples cannot access surrogacy, lesbian couples can access IVF only with difficulty, and single men and gay men cannot access IVF), the NT (not as to surrogacy- there are no laws which means it is not available, but as to IVF, because the doctors are SA licensed) and WA (single men and gay couples cannot access surrogacy). There is a lot to be done. In my own role, and as chair of the Surrogacy Australia legal committee, I will continue to push this issue so that discrimination can end, and so that those who want to be parents can be parents.

Another fighter for the LGBTI community- with Councillor Vicki Howard. I have lobbied her in the last year as well as Lord Mayor Graham Quirk.

 Getting rid of LGBTIQ discrimination in South Australia

Last year when South Australia changed its surrogacy laws, I sought that it also remove its discrimination against same sex couples and singles. I was unsuccessful.

The Weatherill government decided that South Australia needed to junk its laws discriminating against LGBTIQ people, and set up an inquiry, to work out what laws were discriminatory, and what was the best model to change the law. I made submissions about the impact of SA's discriminatory IVF and surrogacy laws. I then took part in a forum organised by the SA Law Reform Institute. The Institute has recommended that those discriminatory laws be repealed.

Getting rid of LGBTIQ discrimination in Queensland

A passion of mine for the last 31 years is to get rid of domestic violence. I was fortunate, as a White Ribbon Ambassador, to attend the White Ribbon Day breakfast, hosted by the Premier.

In the last year I have spoken to many politicians, their staffers and anyone else who would listen to get rid of our discriminatory laws. Not only marriage, but gay panic defence, civil partnerships, expungement of criminal convictions for gay offences, adoption, etc. Those I have lobbied have included Grace Grace, Communities Minister Shannon Fentiman and the office of Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath.
Over 16 years ago, Grace Grace and I first achieved law changes for LGBTI people. I continue to lobby her so that we can achieve equality.

I and 25 others took part in the LGBTIQ forum held by the Queensland Government to identify issues for the LGBTIQ community. The key message that I and others gave at the forum was that the number one issue was to change the law so that we are all equal.

I made submissions to the State Government review into adoption that the Adoption Act must be non-discriminatory.

The history making LGBT lawyers meeting

In March this year I hosted and organised the first meeting of family lawyers held in Australia who advocate for and act for LGBT clients. About 20 lawyers came to Brisbane from locally, interstate and the US to take part, under the auspices of the LGBT Family Law Institute. The Institute is a joint venture of the (US) National LGBT Bar Association and the (US) National Center for Lesbian Rights.  The NCLR has been a key litigator in many of the equal rights cases in recent years, including taking part in the US Supreme Court decision last year that resulted in equal marriage rights in the US.

The meeting was the first meeting of the LGBT Family Law Institute outside the US and the UK. More significantly, it will be the first, hopefully of many, that by use of the skills of specialist lawyers, will advance the rights of LGBTIQ people in Australia.

The meeting was able to identify key issues for LGBTIQ people when they engage in family formation or splitting up, or even who they are as people.

When I announced that I would be holding the meeting, it inspired my Canadian friend and colleague to hold one there too.

Striving for LGBTIQ equality worldwide

In October last year, when in San Francisco, Mitchell and I visited friend and colleague Cathy Sakimura from the National Center for Lesbian Rights. I first visited there in 2006. The NCLR has been one of the key fighters to establish equality in the US, including in last year's Supreme Court decision.

In March I was privileged to be the keynote speaker at the South African family law conference in Cape Town. The conference was inspiring because in countries where domestic violence and homophobia are rife, rather than wallow in despair, organisors are trying to change the world for the better- and slowly getting there.  One of the things I emphasised was the need for equality for LGBTIQ people. I was astounded to hear a speaker from Ghana talk about her country's proposed adoption laws- which in part were defective because they did not recognise LGBTIQ intended parents. It was refreshing to hear this criticism.
I presented to the Bar Association of San Francisco about international surrogacy issues, with an emphasis, not surprisingly, on the impact of laws on gay men.

The conference emphasised two universal truths- the first- while we have discrimination in this country, we have it pretty lucky. We do not have, for example, the death penalty for having anal sex. The second- human rights are universal. While we continue to struggle for equality at home, we should never forget those abroad who are in much worse shape than us.

While I was in South Africa, I scoped out the potential for there to be an LGBT Family Law Institute there. I met a number of lawyers there, and in my view hopefully there will also be an LGBT Family Law Institute there- which in turn will advance the rights of LGBTIQ people both in South Africa, and because of its leading role in the continent, throughout Africa.

Appointment to the Equalising Opportunities in the Law Committee


Last year I readily accepted the invitation to join the Queensland Law Society's Equalising Opportunities in the Law Committee. The Committee has the role to ensure that diversity is achieved in the solicitor's branch of the profession, including for women, ATSI, CALD and LGBTI people. I was appointed because of my LGBTI expertise.

After our first meeting! With Linda Ryle, President of the Indigenous Lawyers Association of Queensland, after our first meeting of the Equalising Opportunities in the Law Committee.

Abroad again

Other people take holidays. I work. In September last year I spoke to the Family Law Practitioners Association of WA conference on a panel with two Family Court judges- about surrogacy. One of the messages I gave was that WA has to get rid of its discriminatory surrogacy laws.
The two international representatives together. Sara Cohen and I are the international representatives on the American Bar Association's  Assisted Reproductive Treatment Committee. Inspired by my organising the first LGBT Family Law Institute conference in Brisbane, Sara has organised the first ever LGBT Family Law Institute conference in Canada. Way to go!

When Mitchell and I married last year, it was during a whirlwind trip after I presented about surrogacy (including LGBTIQ issues) in San Francisco and Chicago. Not surprisingly, a key focus of the presentation in San Francisco was about how gay men achieve parenthood through surrogacy.
For 31 years I have passionately opposed domestic violence, and achieved legislative change, to help make women and children safer, as well as including LGBTI people under domestic violence laws. I am glad that my husband shares my passion. At a domestic violence rally last year, attended by most Queensland State MP's.

Mitchell and I recently travelled to the US and the Bahamas, where I presented at family law/surrogacy conferences. I had the opportunity to meet colleagues from the US, Asia and Europe and discuss developments, in amongst other things, LGBTIQ rights, and the steps forward towards a Hague Convention about surrogacy and children's status.

While in New York, we caught up with a friend and fellow activist, Gabriel Blau. Gabriel is an independent LGBTIQ activist, who previously headed up the Family Equality Council, and who raised US$18million to help set up New York's first gay and lesbian synagogue.

With fellow LGBTIQ activist Gabriel Blau in New York about two weeks ago.

Following the presentation where I criticised WA's Surrogacy Act for being discriminatory against gay couples and single men. With fellow panelists Chief Justice Diana Bryant of the Family Court of Australia, Justice Jane Crisford of the Family Court of WA, and WA barrister Rachel Oakeley.

Presenting at the American Academy of Artificial Reproductive Technology Attorneys conference in Chicago last year.

 Thinking global, acting local. With my fellow international presenters at the American Academy of Artificial Reproductive Technology Attorneys conference in Denver. Irit Rosenblum is a tenacious fighter in Israel to ensure that gay men and others can have babies. Fabiana Quiani is a family/human rights lawyer based in Buenos Aires, who fights cases around the world to achieve equality. Margaret Casey QC is NZ's leading surrogacy lawyer. She recently represented the NZ couple who had their kids stuck in Mexico. Marcus Dearle is a leading HK/UK surrogacy/family lawyer.


Qld Law Society equity and diversity award

With Queensland Law Society President Bill Potts. Bill called me "hardworking" and "an ornament".

On Thursday  my firm received an award from the President of the Queensland Law Society, Bill Potts- for equity and diversity. The small firm practice initiative recognises our championing the rights of women and LGBTIQ people, including through this "inspirational" and "pioneering" blog. My aim in writing this blog was not to win awards, but to champion equality.

The launch of Rainbow Fertility

Some time ago I mentioned to the managing director of one of Australia's national IVF clinics, City Fertility Centre, Mr Adnan Catakovic, that IVF clinics really did not recognise LGBTIQ clients, even though they represented a fair number of those seeking help from the clinics. IVF clinics seemed to be focussed on heterosexual couples.

In a month's time I will be attending the launch of Rainbow Fertility- IVF services by City Fertility Centre devoted primarily to LGBTI clients. What a welcome initiative.

Inspiration from others

I continue to draw inspiration by amazing friends and colleagues, who are driving change here and overseas. Here are just a couple:

Irit Rosenblum continues to achieve change to enable Israelis to have children, despite a political process stacked against her.

Deb Guston and Deb Wald are two amazing colleagues in the US who have fought and lobbied for change for equal rights for many years, often in conjunction with the LGBT Family Law Institute and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.


Not resting on my laurels

One of 18 presentations I did last year. This year, I am up to 7 so far, with another 9 between now and September. At this presentation i talked about the courage to change: that someone who is determined to stand up for what they believe in can, with determination, and the assistance of others, achieve change.

I will not quit, while I have breath in my body, to try and ensure that we all have equality before the law. When I took my oath of office as a solicitor back in 1987, I was determined to achieve this, and am still determined to do so.
I was fortunate to speak at the marriage equality rally in front of a huge crowd. We are all entitled to equality, and should receive it.

I still do my work!

Some people think that because I am so active, that I can't possibly do my work. Not so! For the last 31+ years I have had the great joy to be able to help real people achieve justice in their lives, by representing them when their relationships breakdown. I still love doing that work. Helping real people matters!

For many years now I have helped my clients achieve the dream of becoming parents through surrogacy and egg donation. I was honoured to help these families to become parents.

 Amazing doctors like Dr Bruce Shapiro have achieved the magic of life. I am so lucky to be able to help people have children.


 What I did before I became activist of the year

This is what I did before I became Activist of the Year. I have been busy! Again, I wish whomever becomes Activist of the Year this year my best wishes and congratulations. Your award is well deserved, no matter who you might be.