A group that advocates for the rights of intersex people, interACT, is fighting to ban non-consensual and cosmetic genital surgery for intersex infants. Amy Littlefield reported on how intersex activists have gained momentum in raising awareness about and fighting back against unnecessary genital mutilation, which can lead to sterilization, subsequent loss of libido, or gender dysphoria. In 2019, interACT and California lawmakers worked to pass the first legislation in the US that acknowledges the existence of intersex people. The resolution noted that a number of human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, the World Health Organization, and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, have criticized nonconsensual intersex surgeries.
According to a 2017 report from Human Rights Watch and interACT up to 1.7 percent of babies are born with genital, chromosomal, or other differences that make it difficult for the medical community to define them as “male” or “female.” Since newborns are unable to give consent to surgery, it is typically up to parents, under advice provided by medical doctors, to make a decision about whether to undertake surgery.
Truthout reported that, along with California’s resolution, lawmakers in Iowa, Nevada, Texas, and Connecticut have introduced bills to ban nonconsensual intersex surgeries on children, though none have passed. In 2020, interACT expects further study of the matter in Connecticut and has heard interest from legislators in New Jersey. Additionally, New York and California will introduce legislation addressing this issue.
The advocacy group interACT and its campaign against nonconsensual intersex surgeries has received minimal news coverage beyond Truthout’s October 2019 report. In February 2019, Rewire.News published a report on the topic by Amy Littlefield, the author of the Truthout article. In October 2019, WGBH, the Boston NPR affiliate, broadcast a story on the topic, exploring controversy over the definition of “medically necessary” surgery. The proposed ban in California was covered by KPCC of Southern California in February 2020, and in January 2020 ABC News ran an Associated Press story on California legislators’ decision to reject the proposed ban.
Sources Amy Littlefield, “Intersex Activists Are Closer Than Ever to Banning Nonconsensual Surgery,” Truthout, October 26, 2019, https://truthout.org/articles/intersex-activists-are-closer-than-ever-to-banning-nonconsensual-surgery/.
Student Researchers: Olivia Giampietro, Katherine Kelley, Brittany Lynch, Kelly Murray, and Julia Tasiopoulos (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)
Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)