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Council votes to protect rights of intersex children

Friday, November 5, 2021 by Jackie Ibarra

Austin is one of the first cities in the South Central U.S. to pass a resolution formally condemning non-consensual and medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex children.

“There is an ‘I’ in LGBTQIA – it stands for intersex,” Mayor Pro-Tem Natasha Harper-Madison said at City Council’s Oct. 21 meeting. “Approximately 2 percent of people are born with variations of their sex characteristics that fall outside of the conventional male-female binary.”

The resolution is part of an effort to protect intersex children from cosmetic surgeries that can come with lifelong complications in an effort to make their bodies conform to the definition of male or female. 

“I have a friend who said one time, ‘My singular goal with parenting my children is to raise kids who don’t have to recover from their childhood,’” Harper-Madison said. “I think about that a lot when I think about what it is that adults do and decide that perpetually affect another person’s existence.” 

The resolution, sponsored by Harper-Madison, was passed 10-1, with Council Member Mackenzie Kelly casting the “no” vote. 

Kelly said that, while this resolution is an important topic to address, it’s not up to Austin’s municipal government to decide. “I feel that it’s a decision that should be made in a family or together with your doctor,” she said. 

Alicia Roth Weigel, who is an intersex rights advocate and a Human Rights commissioner for the city, championed the resolution. Leaving the decision up to others, she said, is not exactly the best thing to do. Children should be able to decide for themselves, when they’re old enough to consent, she said.

“If a child at some point vocalizes that they would like to enact certain changes on their body, then those decisions should be made in concert with their families and their doctors,” Weigel said. “But those decisions should not be made on those children when they’re too young to consent, or too young to even speak, which is like what happened with me.” 

Weigel testified before Council about her own experience getting a medically altering surgery as a child. She said such surgeries are not uncommon.

“We comprise like 2 percent of the world’s population, which to put into context, that’s like 150 million individuals,” she said. “We’re not rare.

“These are surgeries that say, this child was born in a way that makes us uncomfortable and we would rather force their body into a box that we are more socially comfortable with, regardless of what that child wants and before they’re able to vocalize what they want,” Weigel said. 

Organizations around the world have been calling for a ban on such surgeries since 2013. The World Health Organization came out with a statement supporting the “elimination of forced, coercive and otherwise involuntary sterilization” on groups such as intersex people. More recently, in 2018, countries like Portugal have banned surgeries on intersex children.

The resolution includes an educational component, directing the city manager to come up with a public education campaign that will tackle misinformation and educate parents and doctors. 

Weigel said there are times when she has not been able to access adequate health care and has had to take on the role of educator for her doctor. And, “I didn’t go to med school,” she noted. 

“As an intersex person, I wish that I could go to a doctor’s office and not be in the position of having to educate my doctors.” 

The educational campaign will teach parents and doctors of intersex children “why we are condemning these surgeries and what are the kind of facts and evidence-based recommendations for health care and human rights of intersex children that preserve their body autonomy, their sexual sensation, their identity, etc.,” Weigel explained. 

Although this is a start, Weigel said she isn’t done yet. 

She hopes to take this resolution to the federal level and wants other cities to follow Austin’s lead.  

“We serve as a beacon for the rest of the South to be able to do the same, so hopefully what we’re doing today will have a ripple effect in many cities and hopefully eventually at the state level.” 

This story was written by a journalism student at the University of Texas at Austin. The Austin Monitor is working in partnership with the UT School of Journalism to publish stories produced by students in the City and County Government Reporting course.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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