A Sydney community legal centre has turned to the public with a plea for funds so it can continue to help transgender teenagers and their parents navigate Australia's Family Court system.
Australia is the only country in the world that requires transgender teenagers to apply to a Family Court before they can start taking cross-sex hormones.
In NSW, many of the families seeking this treatment access pro bono legal help through the Inner City Legal Centre (ICLC). Currently, the centre has 19 cases open.
However, faced with a funding cut and a growing client list, the centre has started a crowdfunding campaign so it can continue to take on new cases.
Solicitor Hilary Kincaid, who has represented several parents of transgender children through the ICLC, told BuzzFeed News there has been a "marked increase in demand" in 2016.
“At the moment, we don’t turn anyone away," she said. "I open a new file for anyone who asks. But that can’t last."
Centre director Vicki Harding said the need for legal help has grown with increasing awareness and acceptance of transgender children.
"When there was quite a bit of interest in the mainstream media recently, we started getting three to four calls from families each week," she said.
"We tell them what they need to do. They need to organise specialist reports, get affidavits. We work with them on all that detail of the application.
"The amazing thing for families is that we do this free of charge, and if they opted for a private solicitor, they would pay thousands to go through this process."
Kincaid estimates the cost of going through the application with a private solicitor is around $15,000.
Due to a slated cut in Commonwealth funding to community legal centres, coupled with the way these funds are distributed in NSW, the ICLC faces losing up to 30% of its operating budget from mid-2017.
The centre is hoping to raise $20,000 from the general public to continue to employ a specialist solicitor, part-time, to work with transgender youth and their families.
The solicitor would also be involved in lobbying efforts aimed at the federal government to end the Family Court approval process.
To overturn the process – an aim of many advocates and legal and medical experts – would require either a High Court decision or a change to federal legislation.
In the meantime, a Family Court-hosted roundtable will be held in Melbourne in December to discuss ways to make the process easier, such as having decisions made by judges based on written submissions, instead of through a hearing.
Kincaid said she believes the process should be abolished.
"When I first started doing these cases, that wasn’t my view," she said. "I thought the court process seemed reasonable, given what a serious step it is.
"Now, through working with these kids and their parents, I have changed my view. I think it should be abolished. I certainly don’t think it should require the formality and expense of a Family Court application."
Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.
Contact Lane Sainty at email@example.com.
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