Amity Mara is the Director of Campaigns and Strategy at the Foundation for Young Australians. In this role, she has had the opportunity to inspire young people and help organise their communities to campaign for a better future. Prior to this, Amity has worked extensively in advocacy with organizations like Democracy in Colour, the Australian Youth Climate Coalition and Get Up.
Today, Amity shares how her experiences as a trans woman of colour have shaped her journey into law and advocacy.
Going back to your university days, what inspired you to study law? How has this led to your current advocacy work?
For me the law was personal from a young age. I grew up in a violent home. As a young child I would go with my mum as she made police report after police report. When we finally got away from the violence, it was the police who caught us and brought us back. I remember a lawyer telling my mum she could go to jail for kidnapping if she didn’t convince him to drop the charges. She would never try to leave again.
It wasn’t till I was in my teens that I would understand just how common this story was, how profoundly the supposed ‘justice system’ failed women who experienced violence (particularly women of colour like my mum). So I decided I wanted to be a lawyer to help fix the system that had failed us.
I loved being a lawyer, from supporting women fighting against those who had sexually harassed them in the workplace to helping those tackling unemployment to challenge the Government’s cruel & illegal Robodebt claims. Being able to make such tangible differences in people’s lives was really rewarding. But after a while the system began to wear me down, as case after case became so familiar and the repeated pattern of harm was too obvious to ignore. I realised that while it’s crucial that people are supported with their immediate legal needs, it was the system itself that needed to change. And that’s what led me to my current advocacy work, where I focus on building the power of local communities to change the systems themselves – whether that’s through changing laws, government policies, or corporate behaviour.
In your current role as the Director of Campaigns and Strategy at the Foundation for Young Australians, you’ve had the opportunity to organise local communities against injustice. What have been some of your favourite campaigns?
I’m lucky enough to support some other incredible young people through my role at FYA, from those fighting against police abuses of force, to those seeking to protect Aboriginal sacred sites from mining corporations, and those seeking solutions to the climate crisis.
At the moment I’m most excited about a program we are designing to support young Trans & Gender Diverse people to campaign for better healthcare and against the discrimination we face in nearly every aspect of public life. I’m really excited about it because we’re going to run the program in a ‘movement house’ - which is basically a house we’ll provide to the young trans people to live in for free, to give them the space and time to not only work on this campaign but to continue to live as their true selves in a safe and affirming environment. As a trans woman who experienced homelessness early on in my adult life, and then a string of unsafe housing situations, the ability to give other young trans people a safe and stable place to live, play and work to empower our community is really important to me.
A lot of your work focuses on making Australia a better place for members of the LGBTQIA+ community. How have you been able to make an impact through your work with Trans Medical Research at The University of Melbourne?
Trans healthcare in Australia is terrible. From medical discrimination, to extreme levels of gatekeeping over vital and life-saving gender affirmation interventions, and an extreme lack of specialist services. So much of ‘traditional’ medical practices, policies and procedures around trans people is filled with misinformation, lies, and dangerous stereotypes created by cis ‘experts’ who really have no idea what they’re talking about. That’s why it’s so important that research into trans medicine and trans healthcare is conducted by trans people ourselves, because we have the lived experience to understand the issues we face in ways that a cis person will never be able to.
It’s really the amazing researchers at Trans Health Research who deserve the credit for this, as the centre’s research has helped shaped better healthcare practices across Australia – including the growing use of the ‘informed consent’ model for accessing gender affirming hormone therapy that means more and more of us are able to medically affirm our gender on our own terms. As a member of their advisory board I’m glad to be able to help inform their research practices to ensure it’s accessible to and reflective of the needs of our community.
Your article, Please Don’t Remember Me — Sincerely, A Trans Woman, published by Refinery 29, called out the erasure and violence you face as a trans woman of colour. How can we work towards overcoming the trans erasure and transphobia that is so pervasive in Australia?
This is a really big question, and without having the time to give an entire TedTalk on this I’m just going to focus on 3 basic steps everyone can do to start tackling trans erasure.
Firstly, listen to trans voices and content. From articles & books, to podcast and art, make sure you’re intentionally listening to the experiences and stories of trans people in the world.
Secondly, amplify trans voices. Share our content, tell your friends about our articles and campaigns. And most importantly, never speak over trans people - even if you’re trying to be helpful. Allies often feel the need to add their own voice to the conversation, particularly when someone attacks the trans community. I promise you, nothing you have to say us more important or insightful than what a trans person is already saying. Instead, use your platform or social circles to share & amplify what trans people are already saying.
Finally, make room for trans people - even if it means giving up some space of your own. If you’re invited to speak on a women’s panel that has no trans women speakers, give up your spot for one of us. If you’re asked to write an article about an issue where trans experiences aren’t being covered, decline and suggest they pay a trans writer instead. If you’re creating a space for queer people but don’t have any trans folks on your team, pay a trans consult to help ensure the space you create is trans affirming. Make room for us.
What would be your advice to other young women looking to follow in your footsteps?
I honestly never know what to tell younger women looking to follow in my footsteps, cos the truth is I never followed anyone’s footsteps myself. When I started my career there weren’t really people like me in senior positions. I didn’t have someone I looked to. I looked around and I saw people I didn’t want to be, working in ways I didn’t want to work in.
So the advice I would give you is to do what sets your soul on fire and ignore everyone else’s opinions of how you should be. Lots of people will tell you what you can and can’t do, what’s the right thing to do, the smart thing to do, the practical thing - but it’s all nonsense.
I’m autistic, trans, and a woman of colour. If I listened to other people’s opinions about what I should do, I would do nothing. I’d be silent and invisible. So ignore all the noise, and trust the fire in your soul – it’ll always have your back.
Also hug and smooch your friends as much as you can. Cos what else is there really.