Talking social justice
In the final Brennan Justice Talks event, human rights lawyer Nicholas Stewart focused on LGBTI rights and the need for legislative change.
This year has presented many challenges for all those involved in UTS Law’s Brennan Justice and Leadership program but students have managed to remain active and engaged – in part through a series of online events looking at issues of social justice.
The Justice Talks series covered a range of issues including privacy, refugees, indigenous justice and climate change with the final event featuring award winning Alumni and human rights lawyer, Nicholas Stewart.
Nicholas graduated from UTS Law in 2009 and, after working for several years in corporate law (including time at Minter Ellison, ninemsn and Singtel Optus), became a partner at out loud and proud boutique law firm, Dowson Turco.
He also serves as LGBTI National Co-Chair and an executive at Australian Lawyers for Human Rights.
With a long-standing commitment to social justice, his main focus for advocacy is LGBTI rights.
As part of this commitment, Nicholas worked for many years to seek a formal investigation into a series of gay hate assaults and murders in New South Wales which remain unsolved.
He was instrumental in achieving the current NSW Legislative Council inquiry into the crimes and is now asking for a more powerful Judicial Inquiry:
The parliamentary inquiry is an important first step. We need to find out why these crimes were never properly investigated but as a society, we cannot move on until the people who committed these crimes are held to account.
Nicholas is also calling for changes to legislation in NSW to help protect the LGBTI community from discrimination.
He is also concerned that the current anti-vilification laws in NSW have not kept pace with societal changes like Facebook, Twitter and other social media and says exemptions to the vilification of homosexuals within the NSW Act require review:
Human rights are not in a hierarchy – the right to religious freedom is not superior to the right of LGBTI people to be free from discrimination – all human rights are equal. In the same light, people holding religious beliefs should have protection from discrimination in NSW.
He challenged law students to use their legal qualifications for the common good; to participate in organisations that make positive contributions to the legislative process by making submissions and consulting with government on the drafting of legislation affecting specific groups in society.
Brennan student, Max Saker says for him, the talk was revelatory:
It helped guide me 'into the light’ regarding the history of LGBTI vilification in NSW as well as the continued discrimination faced by the community and helped me understand the changes that must be made to legislation which is failing to achieve its purpose.
For student, Natasha Madan, it was a call to action:
It’s easy to get caught up in your studies and lose perspective on the bigger picture - Nicholas' talk reminded me of why I am doing law and how I can utilise my legal knowledge to facilitate change.
There’s been an increased awareness around many social justice issues throughout this difficult year and the Justice Talks series has helped to highlight them. It’s also facilitated creative engagement between UTS Law students and alumni.
Crucially, it’s allowed the UTS Law community to come together, connect and learn from each other during a time when it’s easy to feel disengaged and disconnected.
It’s hoped the series will continue next year.
The Justice Talks event featuring Nicholas Stewart is available online.