City Council Passes Intersex Education Bill

Out gay Councilmember Daniel Dromm of Queens spearheaded the City Council's legislation on intersex education.
Flickr/New York City Council

The New York City Council approved a bill on April 22 to provide intersex-inclusive education to doctors, parents, and guardians of intersex children.

The bill, which was led by out gay City Councilmember Daniel Dromm of Queens, requires the city’s health department to develop a comprehensive outreach campaign on the medically unnecessary treatments and interventions that are forced on intersex individuals. The legislation was approved by a 45-2 vote, with two abstentions and one absence. With the backing of intersex advocates, the city plans to provide educational resources on the medical procedures imposed on intersex youth in an effort to fit their anatomy into the male and female binary.

For years, the intersex community has spoken out against the harmful effects of these procedures, including the lack of autonomy over their health decisions. The interventions rarely align with the child’s gender identity as they get older.

Dromm, the bill’s lead sponsor, said advocates are “pleased” with the legislation, which could help prevent intersex children from undergoing genital surgeries without their consent.

“In the past, without that type of education, folks were deciding a child’s gender without really any consideration of what that could mean for the child’s future,” Dromm told Gay City News. “At this point, it’s important that doctors be educated on the legislation, and that parents also be educated on the legislation and what their choices might mean for the future.”

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

According to the City Council’s vote tally, Daneek Miller of Queens and Kalman Yeger of Brooklyn abstained; Steven Matteo and Joe Borelli of Staten Island voted negative; and Brooklyn’s Chaim Deutsch — who was pleaded guilty to tax fraud that same morning — was absent.

The legislation does not ban parents from requesting these surgeries for their children, but it mandates that doctors provide parents with information to help them decide about the procedures. Under this bill, the city will also receive guidance from the intersex community on developing policies and resources.

“We need people who have had lived experiences and who are themselves experts by virtue of living as an intersex person and making those types of decisions,” Dromm said.

At a City Council hearing last October, intersex advocates sounded the alarm about the dangerous approach of doctors performing unnecessary surgeries. Alesdair H. Ittelson, the legal director at interACT, a non-profit supporting children born with intersex traits, said doctors have continued to subject intersex youth to surgical interventions that could lead to chronic pain, sexual dysfunction, and psychological trauma.

“This is absolutely [female genital mutilation] but it’s not being prosecuted because it’s performed by white straight cisgender doctors at fancy medical clinics at Cornell.” Ittelson said.

Last year Dromm highlighted the importance of the legislation on Intersex Awareness Day.

“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,” Dromm tweeted. “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.”

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