California Condemns Intersex Surgeries As ‘Akin to Torture’ in Historic Resolution

California became the first state to support intersex rights in a historic resolution passed on Wednesday.

Introduced by openly gay State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), Senate Concurrent Resolution 110 condemned surgeries on intersex babies as “unnecessary” and “invasive,” claiming they are “akin to torture.”

Since the 1950s, doctors have been performing medical interventions on children born with ambiguous genitalia. Although estimates on the number of intersex individuals vary widely, the Intersex Campaign for Equality claims this group comprises as much as two percent of the U.S. population.

“These surgeries are often performed before a child can even speak or stand, meaning the intersex individual is excluded from the decision whether to undergo these irreversible procedures,” stated SCR 110, adding that intersex surgeries cause “psychological and physiological harm when performed without the informed consent of the individual.”

“These harms may include scarring, chronic pain, urinary incontinence, loss of sexual sensation and function, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidality, and incorrect gender assignment,” it continued.

SCR 110 does not ban the practice outright. Instead, it urged medical professionals to enact “policies and procedures that ensure individualized, multidisciplinary care.”

After the resolution passed the California State Legislature by a 25 to 13 vote on the Senate floor, Weiner tweeted that it was the “first time a state has gone on record supporting the intersex community and opposing these surgeries.”

“California has long been a leader for all people, and we can lead the way in supporting intersex children and their families,” the lawmaker told colleagues when he introduced the resolution in March. “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,” he added at the time.

The resolution was widely supported by LGBTQ advocacy groups. Equality California and interACT Advocates for Intersex Youth co-sponsored SCR 110, which also received an endorsement from the ACLU of California, National Center for Lesbian Rights, PFLAG, and The Trevor Project.

Intersex surgeries have also been denounced by a litany of international human rights groups, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the World Health Organization.

Kyle Knight, an LGBTQ researcher at Human Rights Watch, said SRC 110 respects individuals’ right to bodily autonomy.

“This resolution calls on medical professional associations to honestly examine medical evidence and ethics and develop care standards that treat intersex people with the same respect as other patients,” he claimed in a statement.

“California’s leadership on the protection of intersex children’s rights is not only an expression of solidarity and dignity, but a reminder that doctors take an oath to do no harm,” Knight added. “Medical professional associations should draw a hard line saying that unless surgery is medically necessary, intersex children have the right to grow up and participate in the decision to undergo surgical procedures.”

Despite overwhelming support in the California Legislature and advocacy organizations, some groups did come out against SRC 110.

The California Urological Association called the resolution “well-intentioned” but stated it is “crucial to preserve early surgical intervention as an option to be considered by the multidisciplinary team in consultation with the family on a case-by-case basis.”

“A single standard of care is neither reasonable nor rational,” the group claimed in March.

SRC 110 follows the passage of several pro-LGBTQ bills in California in recent weeks. As INTO previously reported, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill on Monday prioritizing assistance for older adults based on characteristics like gender identity and sexual orientation.

Meanwhile, Brown is poised to sign the nation’s most decisive conversion therapy ban after it was approved by both houses of the legislature. It would classify the anti-LGBTQ practice as “fraud.”

Image via Getty


Nico Lang

Nico Lang is a staff writer for INTO, covering news, politics, and global LGBTQ issues.

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