City Council Legislation Would Require Intersex Education, Outreach

Out gay City Councilmember Daniel Dromm has proposed legislation aimed at informing doctors and parents or guardians of intersex children about medically-unnecessary interventions.
New York City Council/ William Alatriste

The New York City Council will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. on October 28 on legislation that would require the city’s health department to create an intersex-inclusive outreach campaign intended to educate doctors, parents, and guardians about best medical practices regarding a child born with intersex traits.

The educational information would address medically-unnecessary treatments and interventions that are often performed on children who are intersex, or born with reproductive systems or anatomy not fitting the standard definition of male or female. There is a long history of intersex individuals being forced to undergo surgeries intended to align their bodies with male or female anatomy, but most of those surgeries are deemed unnecessary — and many intersex folks, when they are older, have said the surgeries did not align their bodies with their gender identity.

A summary of the bill, which was first proposed last October by out gay Councilmember Daniel Dromm of Queens and has 10 co-sponsors, states that the material would explain whether medical interventions could be “delayed until the infant is older and can voice thoughts about the procedure.”

In addition to educating parents and doctors, the bill also calls on the health department to “identify outreach partners and opportunities,” though the bill’s language did not elaborate further on that point.

In June of last year, then-City Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot and Human Rights Commissioner Carmelyn P . Malalis penned an op-ed for ozy.com calling on doctors to respect the rights of intersex folks “and only perform surgery when the health of a child is at imminent risk or it is consensual.”

At the state level, out gay State Senator Brad Hoylman of Manhattan announced legislation last November requiring informed consent from an intersex minor before doctors can proceed with any non-medically necessary treatment or intervention.

Dromm posted a tweet about the hearing on October 26, Intersex Awareness Day, which he said is “a time to center Intersex people across the globe.”

“It is also a time to commit ourselves to advocating for this community wherever and however we can,” Dromm said in his tweet. “I introduced Intro 1478, legislation that will equip parents of infants born with intersex traits with the knowledge they need to protect their babies from unnecessary and harmful surgeries. Parents of infants with intersex traits are often forced to rely on quackery masquerading as medical science, leading them to make decisions that inflict life-long physical and psychological trauma on their children. When enacted, my bill will provide these parents with the sound medical info they need to make healthy choices for their babies.”

On Twitter, activist Cecilia Gentili brought up Dromm’s legislation and posted a series of tweets featuring testimonials collected by interACT, a policy and media organization that encouraged Hoylman to propose his legislation last year.

One of those testimonials came from an individual named Hanne Gaby, who said, “I was born as a perfectly healthy intersex child, and yet the medical establishment used fear tactics to convince my parents that I needed to be altered… this led to unimaginably traumatic surgeries and experiences as well as irreversible complications that have broken my trust in the medical establishment.”

The bill’s co-sponsors are out gay Councilmembers Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens and Carlos Menchaca of Brooklyn as well as their colleagues Carlina Rivera, Helen Rosenthal, Ben Kallos, and Margaret Chin of Manhattan; Diana Ayala of the Bronx and Manhattan; Farah Louis of Brooklyn; and Costa Constantinides and Donovan Richards of Queens.

The bill is one of several pieces of legislation on the agenda during a joint hearing between the Committee on Health and the Committee on Women and Gender Equity. The committees will also hear proposals to establish a committee on female genital mutilation and cutting, to create an advisory board for gender equity in hospitals, and to require multiple city agencies to conduct culturally competent training on recognizing the signs of female genital mutilation and cutting.

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