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February 18, 2019

Our laws don't recognise intersexual children

Intersexual children are born with ambiguous genitalia. They neither fit nor conform to the male or female category. They are born with disorders of sexual development. These children do not choose to be born with ambiguous genitalia.

They do not come from Mars. They are humans just like you and I. These children are born all over the world; they do not belong to any tribe, colour, region or nation.

They come with a bundle of rights clenched in their tiny fists fighting to stay alive. They are born free with their unique bodily features, hormones and a blood system that flows like yours and mine.

And in the same token, they carry hormones like the rest of humanity. The only thing that is unique about them is that they find themselves in a world that does not have room for them.

They have no known legal recognition in our laws. This is because they can’t and will never fit in the male or female slots. They have no special washrooms, no clothes that can exclusively fit them, no wards in hospitals for them.

They live a miserable life. They grow up being called derogatory names like hermaphrodites. They are in constant contact with insults. They live in shame and fear. This is because we have refused to accept diversity.

Many parents opt to subject intersexual children to corrective surgery. The child is boxed into one of the boxes - male or female. The operations are no doubt painful, irreversible, and intrusive and they leave scars on the child’s person.

The poor child has no say. The child does not get an opportunity to participate in the decision-making process. The parents argue that they are exercising parental responsibility.

Is parental responsibility absolute? Can it be limited in case like these ones? The doctors will give you a different opinion. The other school of thought will argue that the child can’t grow looking like that. Religion will push for another approach.

The legislator will probably generate statutes that will protect these children like South Africa and Australia. What will it be like when this person sues the parents, the doctors and the State claiming that the corrective surgery was carried out without the intersexual child’s consent and that the other genitalia that was taken away should be reinstated when they attain the age of majority? I can’t tell. All I know is that it is happening elsewhere.


Allow me to share with you a letter I received last week from a friend of mine in South Carolina. Anne has allowed you to read my letter.


Dear John,


Today we are living a remarkable piece of history—in partnership with the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC) and the pro bono help of our law firm partners Steptoe & Johnson, LLP; and Janet, Jenner & Suggs, LLC, AIC has just successfully filed the first ever impact litigation lawsuit against South Carolina Department of Social Services, Greenville Hospital System, Medical University of South Carolina and individual employees for performing an irreversible and medically unnecessary surgery on an infant who was in the state’s care at the time of the surgery.

The lawsuit, filed in state and federal courts, charges that it was a violation of the Constitution when South Carolina doctors working for the state surgically removed the healthy genital tissue of MC, a 16-month-old child, potentially sterilising him and greatly reducing if not eliminating his sexual function.

MC, who was born with an intersex condition, was in the care of the South Carolina Department of Social Services when doctors, in co-operation with social services employees, decided to perform this medically unnecessary surgery.

This lawsuit was filed on behalf of MC by his adoptive parents, Mark and Pam Crawford, who seek justice for MC and hope to end this inhumane and antiquated practice.

After laying the groundwork for more than six years and developing this case over the past two, this is an unparalleled triumph for AIC, the intersex movement, and—most importantly—the civil rights of our special children.

We are in largely uncharted territory: no other individual or organisation before AIC has ever pursued an impact litigation agenda specific to defending children with intersex conditions or DSD. The historic significance of this lawsuit, and the opportunity to broadly influence legal protections for our children, is unprecedented.

You have expressed how important it is to you that we make legal action a priority and knowing that you believe in this as much as I do has kept us laser focused. Fortunately, Kimberly Zieselman joined AIC at just the right time to help manage operations and together, with the backing of SPLC and our partnering firms, we’re in a prime position to pursue this lawsuit as the powerful civil rights authority that, with your help, AIC has become.

As with any lawsuit there are many possible outcomes but regardless of what happens next, this is a landmark accomplishment for AIC and, above all else, MC and the other vulnerable children like him.

As with all of us at AIC, I know this news will likely evoke strong emotions. Please know that you are joined by a community of others who are also committed to compassion and justice for MC, his parents, and all our special children.

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