Bachelor of Laws, 2009
Partner, Dowson Turco Lawyers
UTS Community Alumni Award 2018
Nicholas Stewart, a partner at Australia’s only “out loud and proud LGBTI law firm”, has spent four years campaigning for an inquiry into one of NSW’s darkest chapters: the gay-hate crimes and bungled police investigations that plagued the state from 1970 to 2000. In that time, more than 80 gay men and transgender people are thought to have been murdered and a large number of those cases remain unsolved.
“There are people who’ve committed murder walking amongst us in Sydney,” says Stewart, who works in commercial and criminal law at Newtown’s Dowson Turco Lawyers. For years, he’s acted for pensioner Alan Rosendale, who was attacked in 1989 by men he claims were police officers. He’s also represented gay police in the largest homosexual discrimination lawsuit ever filed against an Australian law-enforcement agency. He says being part of a private firm, rather than a non-profit, gives him the freedom to speak out about public interest matters.
A parliamentary inquiry into historic gay-hate crimes appears imminent, largely due to Stewart’s campaign. Though he’s aware of the limitations, he says it’s a step in the right direction. “I want justice for the victims and I want to see the police force acknowledge that gay men, trans people, and lesbians – to some extent – were treated differently to other victims of crime.”
I want justice for the victims and I want to see the police force acknowledge that gay men, trans people and lesbians were treated differently to other victims of crime.
His commitment to social justice began in 2003 when he volunteered as a Lifeline telephone counsellor to develop the communication skills he’d need in his professional life. “Initially it was strategic rather than being about helping,” he says. “But it exposed me to a side of society that needed help and I became conscious of how privileged I am.”
In the final years of his time at UTS, where he studied a Bachelor of Laws (Graduate Law), Stewart was appointed President of Caretakers Cottage, a Bondi refuge for homeless youth. He went on to corporate positions at the Nine Network, MinterEllison and Optus, while remaining on the Caretakers board. “I wanted to see resources flow,” he says, “I lobbied the big law firms to give money to Caretakers. Minters was a sponsor of Taronga Zoo and had free passes for its staff, so I arranged for the passes to go to the refuge. I used whatever I could, in my privileged position, to make sure the kids had access to what I had.”
Stewart now volunteers as a director at Rainbow Families NSW, the group he incorporated in 2013 that supports families in the LGBTI community, with a focus on regional NSW and inner-city families. He’s a pro bono lawyer at the Inner City Legal Centre and mentors UTS students. He also sits on the executive management committee and is Co-Chair of the LGBTI subcommittee at Australian Lawyers for Human Rights, a group of judges, lawyers and academics that reviews new legislation to ensure it meets Australia’s human rights obligations.