Championing Equality through Education

Lawyer Nicholas Stewart wears glasses and a dress shirt
Nicholas Stewart is a partner at Dowson Turco Lawyers. Photo: supplied.

Change doesn’t just happen in courtrooms or in the halls of parliament. It happens in classrooms, lecture halls and in the minds of young people who are given the chance to learn and grow.

WORDS Nicholas Stewart

During my time heading up criminal and human rights legal teams, I have witnessed firsthand the transformative power of education.

Education isn’t just about acquiring knowledge; it’s about opening doors to a brighter and more inclusive future for everyone.

Joining forces for change

That’s why Dowson Turco Lawyers joined forces with The Pinnacle Foundation at its 2023 fundraiser in December to support LGBTQA+ students in higher education across Australia.

Higher education is a key factor in lifting Australia’s economic and social standards – it’s about empowering individuals to make meaningful contributions to society.

This is particularly important for LGBTQA+ students, who face unique challenges and barriers in their educational journey.

Current NSW and Commonwealth laws still permit discrimination of LGBTQA+ students and teachers on the basis of religious belief, underscoring the urgency of our mission.

The National LGBTIQ+ Health Alliance‘s research highlights alarming rates of self-harm and psychological distress among young LGBTQA+ individuals, often stemming from stigma and discrimination.

The Writing Themselves in 4 report likewise paints a stark picture of the experiences of LGBTQA+ youth in educational settings.

In the past year, 60.2% of secondary school students reported feeling unsafe or uncomfortable due to their sexuality or gender identity, along with 33.8% of those at TAFE and 29.2% of those at university.

Worse still, 40.8% of young LGBTQA+ people experienced verbal harassment, 22.8% sexual harassment or assault and 9.7% physical harassment or assault.

An alarming 81% reported high or very high levels of psychological distress. These statistics prove that investing in educational support for LGBTQA+ students is a critical step towards a more equitable society.

At Dowson Turco, we’ve seen how legal advocacy, combined with educational support, can create lasting change.

Recently, we represented a non-binary student facing discrimination and harm in a regional NSW Catholic school. Our legal intervention and support led to significant policy changes, ensuring a safer and more inclusive environment.

As a member of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee at the Law Society of NSW, I have also seen the impact of initiatives that promote law reform and inclusion policies.

More than gestures

But meaningful change takes more than tokenistic gestures.

Beyond financial contributions, individuals and companies need to take an active role in raising awareness, engaging in meaningful dialogue and advocating for policy changes which support inclusive practices and year-round community engagement.

Through corporate donations and support of the Pinnacle Foundation, we can fund scholarships that address financial barriers facing many LGBTQA+ students, including tuition fees, books and living expenses.

We’re empowering future leaders and thinkers by investing in LGBTQA+ education. We will carry the banner of diversity and inclusion into every corner of society.

From government, to civil society, to the corporate sector, we want LGBTQA+ leaders qualified and experienced in business, economics, law, management, the arts, medicine and other disciplines, so that the organisations they lead become more inclusive.

As a proudly gay-owned and operated law firm, our partnership with the Pinnacle Foundation is more than just a philanthropic endeavour. It’s a reflection of our core values.

At Dowson Turco, we are advocates for change, champions of justice and supporters of those who are often marginalised.

We are committed to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQA+ students – unlocking potential. This will break down barriers and build bridges to a more diverse and inclusive society.

-Nicholas Stewart is a leading criminal and human rights lawyer and a partner at Dowson Turco Lawyers

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