Essex Law Clinic and LGBT+ Rights

June was Pride month and the Essex Law Clinic through its LGBT+ Rights Project works in close co-operation with Outhouse East a charity based in Colchester which serves the LGBT+ community in Colchester, Essex and throughout the East of England. Despite the pandemic students on the project have been able to continue some of their work with the LGBT+ community in developing factsheets on legal topics of relevance to the community, a podcast giving voice to the experiences of the community in a legal context and a public legal education session. Clients requiring legal assistance have also been able to access our Virtual Law Clinic. Colchester Pride which the project team attends every year has been postponed and so we look forward to returning to it in 2021.

The Essex Law Clinic team at Colchester Pride in 2019.

Our law students have reflected on their work on this project and on the impact of pandemic on the LGBT+ community of Essex.

Annabel Pike, Student Co-ordinator LGBT+ Rights Project, Gold Law Clinic Member:

Whilst the LGBT+ community is not inherently at more risk of contracting Covid-19 than anyone else, the impact of both the virus itself as well as the safety measures imposed due to the pandemic may disproportionately affect them. With an increased strain on healthcare systems and longer wait times at pharmacies, trans and nonbinary people have had difficulties in accessing hormones and faced cancellations of gender-affirming treatments deemed to be ‘non-essential’.

The order to ‘stay home’ can also be challenging for many in the LGBT+ community if their living situation is unsafe for them. LGBT+-phobic and potentially abusive family can make being confined to the house both physically and mentally more challenging for the LGBT+ community than other groups. Furthermore, the rate of homelessness, particularly amongst youths, is higher for LGBT+ people, meaning that many do not have a safe place to self-isolate and protect themselves from the virus. We must also consider the intersectional issues faced by black LGBT+ individuals, travellers and other nomadic cultures, and refugees, with all of these communities seen to be disproportionately affected by Covid-19 worldwide.

The social isolation required in recent months has separated LGBT+ people from support systems that are vital for mental health on a day-to-day basis, and even more so now in such challenging times. Whilst no-one is safe from the pandemic, many of the issues that come with it particularly affect those with LGBT+ identities, making this a very difficult time for many members of our community and making remote support vital. Remote services are currently available from many LGBT+ networks, including OutHouse East, the LGBT Foundation and ILGA.

Vinnie Jaya Kumur, Student Co-ordinator HIV & the Law Project, Gold Member Essex Law Clinic:

“Working at the Law Clinic has provided an in-depth insight of the disproportionate disadvantages faced by the LGBT+ communit. Anti-discrimination laws on sexual orientation and gender identity have helped to make significant progress over the past 30 years. However, the work is far from over. Today, LGBT+ individuals are more vulnerable to online bullying and harassment. Individuals are still fleeing prosecution based on sexual orientation from their home countries in search of refuge in places such as the UK. As the month of Pride is upon us, it is important to reflect and be grateful for the personal sacrifices of previous generations in order to secure LGBT+ rights. Equally, we must continue to fight for equality and extend this basic right on a global scale.”

Mariya Hoque, Student Director Essex Law Clinic:

“The LGBT+ Rights Project has given me the opportunity to be creative in developing my own project. This project is in the form of a podcast. We will be interviewing willing participants in understanding the LGBT+ community’s experiences with the law and educating the public on legal avenues and resources. I am further collaborating on a scriptwriting project educating the public on surrogacy. Both initiatives have equipped me with valuable communication skills. I am better able to support the LGTBQ+ community through these projects in the hopes that the experience I gained will contribute significantly to my future career as a human rights lawyer.”

Zuzanna Wojciak, First Year LLB with Human Rights, Participant in LSE-Featherstone Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity Moot 2020:

“It is so uplifting in this Pride month to reflect again about the Featherstone competition, especially now when here in Poland anti-LGBT policies became such a big part of the current presidential campaigns. I don’t know whether others have sent their quotes to you but here’s mine.

Participating in the Featherstone competition was an incredible experience. Not only could I get a taste of real-life advocacy, but I also met a lot of great people. It was really heart-warming to be able to freely discuss and celebrate being a part of the community, especially coming from a country where LGBT is considered by some as an ‘ideology’ and members of the government express open hostility towards LGBT people. I had fun, I learned a lot and I hope to participate again next year.”

Our Essex Law School, University of Essex and Essex Human Rights Centre students Nada, Lauren, Zuzanna and Patrick, with Lee Hansen, Lecturer at the School of Law, University of Essex at The LSE-Featherstone Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity Moot back in February.

Nathan Widmark, LGBT+ Rights Project Member, Silver Clinic Member:

“Some of the most important work to me in the LGBT+ clinic is the networking/meeting people. Going to last year’s pride and helping out with the stall and meeting people was amazing. Reflecting on the effects of lockdown and coronavirus highlight for me the problem of isolation. Recent research from the LGBT Foundation, shows 42% of people surveyed from the community would like to access mental health support, and 34% have had a medical appointment cancelled. Whilst the community must still maintain social distancing there is still no more important time than to come together. Hopefully things start to get better now the lockdown is slowly being eased.”

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