New Bill Would Protect Intersex Children From Unnecessary Surgeries

The S.F. Human Rights Commission suggested this 10 years ago, but legislators are just now catching up.

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School administrations, local governments, and Hollywood are slowly beginning to recognize transgender individuals’ basic human rights. But one group of gender-nonconforming individuals still lives largely in the dark — people who are born intersex. Around 1 in 1,500 to 2,000 babies are born with physical or hormonal abnormalities that blur the lines of their sex.

In the past, it was standard to “assign” a sex to babies who were, say, born with both sets of genitalia. Parents commonly chose the gender they wanted their child to be, and raised them accordingly. But as unconventional identities surrounding gender and sexuality become more acceptable, the medical community has received pressure to stop “normalization” surgeries on infants, instead letting the child decide for themself what gender they are as they grow up.

This week, Senator Scott Wiener took that pressure a step further, announcing a resolution that would ban medical professionals from performing these surgeries until children grow up and can consent to it themselves. Called SCR 110, it references a statement made by the San Francisco Human Rights Commission more than 10 years ago, which called for an end to the medical interventions.

“California has long been a leader for all people, and we can lead the way in supporting intersex children and their families,” Wiener said in a statement. “Infants who are born healthy should not be forced into a medically unnecessary surgery, and our medical community needs to help families to take a more measured approach to surgery. Over time, as a child grows and they can make their own choices, then that is the appropriate time to discuss medical options.”

Some of the most vocal advocates of the resolution are intersex adults, many of whom were forced to undergo genital surgeries at a young age.

“California should be protecting the most vulnerable among us, the children,” says Dr. Suegee Tamar-Mattis, a family physician who is also intersex. “What is happening to these children is both a violation of medical ethics, and a violation of their human rights.

“I don’t tell anyone that they need treatment when they’re healthy, and that is exactly what is happening to intersex children and intersex babies in their hospitals right now,” Tamar-Mattis adds. “Parents are misled by doctors to believe this is the only option. … These surgeries create a lifetime of harm.”

The resolution was introduced to the Senate at the end of February, where it is currently being reviewed by a committee.

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