Thursday, October 21, 2021

City Council Passes Historic Resolution Affirming Austin's Commitment to Protecting Intersex Human Rights

Austin City Council on Thursday took action to make Austin the first city in the South to move to protect intersex residents' human rights and health care.

By unanimously approving Item 28, a resolution brought forward by Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison, Council voted to condemn non-consensual and medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex children. The resolution also directs City Manger Spencer Cronk to consider options for a public education campaign aimed at providing accurate, affirming to doctors and parents of intersex children.

Close to 2 percent of people are born with chromosomes, gonads, internal, or external genitalia that differs from the conventional dimorphic understanding of sex. Since the 1960s, the medical community has relied on dubious science to encourage cosmetic surgeries to make intersex children's bodies conform to a binary definition of male or female. These surgeries can lead to lifelong complications such as scarring, loss of sexual sensation, incontinence, sterilization, and psychological trauma.

"Intersex people are not rare and our rights our not niche," said Alicia Roth Weigel, an intersex advocate and member of the City of Austin Human Rights Commission. "We need all levels of government representing us at least equally to our existence. At approximately two percent of the population, we deserve and demand better, and today's action by Austin City Council is a big first step. Condemning these surgeries reaffirms that whatever happens in that pink building up the road, this City does right by our residents and we serve as a beacon for the rest of the South to do the same."

Drafted by Harper-Madison, the resolution was co-sponsored by Mayor Steve Adler and council members Pio Renteria, Greg Casar, and Paige Ellis. It also received the endorsement of social justice organizations such as Austin Justice Coalition, LGBTQIA+ advocacy organizations such as Equality Texas, and reproductive justice organizations such as Avow. Embrace Austin led a campaign on social media and at City Hall to build support for the resolution.

"Embrace Austin was founded to ensure the voices of the most marginalized people within the Queer community are heard and uplifted," AJ Majd, Co-founder & Interim Executive Director of Embrace Austin. "For too long now, the Intersex community have been ignored by Gender and Sexually Diverse focused organizations and society at large. With Austin City Council passing this resolution, we are setting a new standard for protecting Intersex children and we will not stop until we end Intersex Surgery and ensure the inclusion of Intersex communities within LGBTQIA2+ spaces."

Harper-Madison said her experience as a mother informed her commitment to crafting and passing this important resolution.

"I know firsthand the myriad anxieties and uncertainties new parents face and the fierce desire they feel to protect the well-being of their children," Harper-Madison. "By shining the light of dignity on an unnecessary stigma, and by conscientiously pushing back on misinformation, we can help more parents ensure that their kids grow up happy and healthy in a truly inclusive community."

The United Nations has deemed the practice of intersex infant genital surgery as akin to torture, and the European Union recently encouraged member states to ban medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex infants. The state of California passed a resolution condemning these interventions in 2018 and earlier this year the New York City Council became the first city in the country to pass a bill mandating an educational campaign of the same type proposed in Harper-Madison's resolution.

"Each letter of the LGBTQIA represents an Austinite who is an important part of our community," said Mayor Adler. "Today's council resolution is a human rights action which will help parents and physicians – through public information – make informed decisions to prevent intersex individuals from having life-altering choices about sex and gender identity forced upon them."

Council Member Casar added, "We will protect and celebrate Texans of all backgrounds, especially those who so often face discrimination like our intersex neighbors. Everyone should have access to current and accurate health care information. We cannot support medically unnecessary and risky medical procedures. While state leaders at the Capitol continue to pass discriminatory laws, here in Austin we are dedicated to becoming more inclusive for everyone."