How a Sydney student champions the LGBTIQ community globally

20 November 2019
Amy McCarthy has been instrumental in improving support for transgender students at the University of Sydney. Now, the undergraduate student is pushing for change on a global scale.
Amy McCarthy stands in front of a Jacaranda tree on the University of Sydney Camperdown campus.

Amy McCarthy. 

When Amy McCarthy decided to get involved in the University of Sydney Pride Network, she was driven by a desire to better the lives of her fellow students undergoing or considering gender transition.

The Bachelor of Music (Performance) student never imagined that her work to make our campuses more welcoming, safe and supportive for the trans community would see her fly half-way around the world to share her views on gender issues in the digital era with experts from the United Nations.

Amy’s advocacy journey started right here at the University of Sydney nearly two years ago. As a member of the University of Sydney Pride Network Steering Committee, she has helped instigate important changes on campus, including

  • developing a training program for LGBTIQ Student Support Liaison Officers,
  • rolling out gender transitioning guidelines for students across the University, and
  • educating resident assistants at the University’s colleges about gender and sexual diversity.

As well as wanting to improve the environment at the University for future students, Amy says she also wanted to do something to give back to the Pride Network, a group of allies who supported Amy during her own transition.

“I feel so privileged that I had an empathetic group of people around me while I was transitioning, who gave me the courage and support to live and study as my authentic self while being a student here,” she says.

I am so proud that we have done so many things to help make the University a safer and more welcoming place for transgender people.

It was this advocacy work that got Amy noticed by Dr Elizabeth Coombs, best known in New South Wales as the state’s former Privacy Commissioner, and currently the chair of a United Nations taskforce on the right to privacy.

Amy was invited by Dr Coombs to travel to New York University for two days of discussions with some of the world’s leading policymakers and researchers in human rights, gender equity, and privacy and data protection law.

The discussions were led by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy and Data, Joseph Cannataci, an expert appointed by the UN’s Human Rights Council to provide key recommendations on privacy issues impacting people globally.

Not content to merely share her own personal views, Amy felt compelled to use the opportunity to share the stories of others in her community.

In preparation for the trip, she surveyed more than 50 transgender individuals and used their stories to create an 8500-word research paper examining the ways privacy policies – such as those implemented by social media websites – disproportionately affect transgender and gender nonconforming people.

This research paper formed the basis of one of the key recommendations developed at the consultation in New York – a call for all countries and states to respect the right to self-determination of transgender people.

“Essentially, what that means is that people should be allowed to legally change their name and their gender without the need for medical consultation. This is important because the intervention of a doctor pathologizes something intrinsic for an individual who knows, deep down, what their gender is,” Amy says.

“I feel so incredibly privileged that my research and contribution helped to create a definitive ground to support this recommendation.”

“Naturally in life, people who are transgender go through some incredibly difficult experiences and sometimes it can feel like the world is against you – but for me, the thing that keeps on giving me purpose and the will to get by day-by-day is the amazing power and privilege of being able help other people,” she says.

“No matter how hard things get in your life, if you can use your experience to help other people you can turn something that might sometimes feel negative into your greatest strength.”

Jennifer Peterson-Ward

Media and PR Adviser (Humanities)