An article posted yesterday on The Intersex Network highlights intersex erasure* at a recent House of Lords event.
Activist Anis Akhtar explains how this “LGBTI” event focused almost exclusively upon the “LGBT”, with LGBT groups speaking and topics of discussion including LGBT History Month, homophobic and transphobic hate crime in the EU, the forced sterilisation of trans people in countries such as Sweden and the complex intersection of LGBTI experiences and religion/faith.
“I was not surprised that the focus was LGBT but glad that a few people did say LGBTI on the day. What is paramount is that intersex people in the UK now have a voice – the use of the acronym “LGBT+” by the Liberal Democrats may be a good start.
It is extremely important to spread the word of what intersex is and what we experience due to society’s ignorance, negligence and outright discrimination towards any person who supposedly differs from the “norm.”
Intersex people stand up for LGBT and it is time that LGBTs include us as LGBTI, or intersex people stand alone and continue to fight for our own equality globally.”
Akhtar’s experience reminds me of a “trans youth” (25 and under) consultation at the Government Equalities Office during the autumn of last year; part of the process that eventually led to the creation of the trans action plan. A few of us asked why intersex issues were not also on the agenda. We were told that intersex people are “not on the [current government’s] agenda” and the Government Equalities Office did not intend to tackle intersex issues until (at least) 2015.
This is quite frankly unacceptable. Intersex people aren’t about to magically disappear, and people aren’t about to start magically respecting intersex rights.
So how can those of us who aren’t intersex provide solidarity? There’s a long history of the people within the trans rights movement co-opting intersex issues for their own ends or erasing intersex experience by claiming that trans and intersex issues are “basically the same”. This is totally unacceptable and has to stop.
What we can do is be there for intersex activists when they ask for help, just as trans people would like cis allies to stand by us without telling us how we identify or how to run our campaigns.
When UK LGBT organisations attended the House of Lords LGBTI event, why did they not join intersex activists in asking the Government Equalities Office to get its act together? When a conference that promoted infant genital mutilation was held in London during September, where were the trans people, the queers, the feminists who should have been standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the intersex activists who called a demonstration?
We need to get our act together and support others as we’d like to be supported ourselves.
*Edit 16/2/12: I today recieved the below message from a correspondent who prefers to remain anonymous, and have appended it to this post for the sake of balance. I should also clarify that whilst Anis Akhtar’s blog was not my sole source, I was not present at the event myself.
Having read your blog about the UNA House of Lords event, I must point out that intersex identities were not erased, far from it. Intersex was included in the event rationale/publicity, intersex activists were suggested and considered as potential speakers, Oii was included in the mailing list, Anis was in email correspondence with the UNA Chair (David Wardrop) and the speakers before the event, Anis spoke at the event after the Q&A and got a very appreciative thanks from the Chair and a big clap from the audience, and two of the three international speakers explicitly mentioned intersex issues in their addresses. Do you really think that amounts to erasure? I see how you might reach that conclusion if Anis’s report was the only source, so I understand why you might say that, but to be fair I do not think ‘intersex erasure at the House of Lords’ is accurate or helpful. Erasure implies an absence or at least an attempt to censor, which is the opposite of what really happened. It’s a pity you were not there to see for yourself.
I have discussed this with the UNA Vice Chair who assures me that he will support my suggestion of a follow up event where intersex issues are discussed more fully and we get an intersex activist to be a main speaker.
In the meantime, I wonder if you would be so kind as to insert a correction into your blog or remove the ‘intersex erasure’ claim? Anis’s speech was brave and important because of what it took personally for him to get there and speak despite social phobia and visual impairment, and it deserves attention on it’s own terms, not because of some spurious claim that Anis stood up to people who wanted to erase the existence of intersex people. They didn’t – Anis was welcomed and applauded wholeheartedly.