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Protestors challenge youth intersex surgeries
by Matt Simonette
2018-07-25

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About 100 persons, among them activists from as far away as Texas, Georgia and California, gathered July 19 at Ann & Robert H. Lurie's Children's Hospital downtown to protest that hospital's practice of performing what they say are medically unnecessary reconstructive surgeries on young intersex patients without those patients' informed consent. About 35 of those persons were intersex, according to organizers.

The hospital has long performed the surgeries, which many intersex individuals say rob them of bodily autonomy and often leave them facing a multitude of medical, physical and psychological consequences as they become older.

Among the supposed goals of such surgeries is a genital appearance that appears and seems more recognizably "male" or "female." Lurie pediatrician Earl Cheng, M.D., was called out repeatedly in the protest for performing such surgeries.

"This needs to stop, and it needs to stop now," said Sean Saifa Wall, an Atlanta-based activist who works with Intersex Justice Project, which organized the protest.

Activist Pidgeon Pagonis recalled a number of childhood surgeries on their reproductive organs and genitalia at Lurie, and said that they were told the surgery was necessary to prevent cancer.

"Were here to say, 'Lurie, do better,'" Pagonis said. "You're doing the same surgeries today that you did on me in the '80s and '90s."

Councilwoman Betsy Driver, who became the first openly intersex politician in U.S. history when she was elected to the Flemington, New Jersey Borough Council, also took part and reminded the crowd of the political power they can collectively yield.

"Don't stay home on Nov. 6," Driver said.

Houston-based activist and artist Koomah unveiled a graphic mixed-media piece they said was intended to evoke the trauma of the surgeries, a canvas wall hanging with several diapers, each dabbed with fake blood, attached. It was laid before the front door of the hospital.

"We will not pick up this installation," Wall said. "We are not ashamed."

Some Lurie employees stopped to watch the protest and look at the installation as they left work that evening. One man yelled, "We hear what you are doing. Please continue to speak up."

In a statement, Lurie spokesperson Kathleen Keenan said, "The Gender and Sex Development program at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago is dedicated to the development of optimal multidisciplinary care for individuals who identify as intersex or have differences of sex development ( DSD ) and their families. We are committed to open communication with the Intersex community and fully respect the diversity of opinions that exists. We believe that continued efforts to foster healthy and open communication between intersex support groups and the medical community are vital to future improvements in patient care. Consistent with this philosophy, Lurie Children's is hosting an educational program as part of the annual Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome ( AIS ) and Differences of Sex Development ( DSD )/ Intersex advocacy meeting July 19, 2018."

Houston Intersex Society, of which Koomah is a member, and interACT Youth were also represented at the July 19 rally.


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