Today, October 26, is Intersex Awareness Day. People who are intersex are born with variations in their sex traits or reproductive anatomy or develop variations at some point in their lives. The day commemorates a demonstration in Boston at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics on October 26, 1996, the first known public action by intersex people in the United States. Gathered before the nation’s pediatricians, the demonstrators called on the medical community to cease performing non-consensual surgeries on infants to “correct for” intersex traits.
Since then, the day has become a way to celebrate intersex people and to shed the stigma experienced by those whose sex traits vary from society’s inadequate binary. The movement for intersex awareness continues to center the human rights issues faced by intersex people. While an estimated 1.7% of people are born with naturally occurring intersex traits, many doctors still pursue non-lifesaving procedures to alter these normal variations before a child is old enough to make their own informed decision. In 2018, California became the first state to formally recognize “that intersex children should be free to choose whether to undergo life-altering surgeries that irreversibly—and sometimes irreparably—cause harm.” Despite this recognition, a bill to limit surgeries on intersex children failed in the California Senate earlier this year.
Raising awareness is critical to achieving justice for intersex people. But because of prejudice and discrimination, coming out as intersex can generate its own set of difficulties, particularly in the workplace. Employment problems faced by intersex workers may include failure to hire and on-the-job discrimination and harassment. Federal and state law recognize that intersex people have the right to be their full selves at work and prohibit such unlawful conduct.
If you have faced challenges at work because you are intersex, because you have been perceived as intersex, or because of any other aspect of your sex or your sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity, Legal Aid at Work’s Gender Equity & LGBTQ Rights Program may be able to help. Please contact us at 415-864-8848.
To learn more about how to be a supportive ally to intersex people, read these tips from interACT, which advocates for intersex youth. Spread the word about Intersex Awareness Day using these free resources.
*Jared Odessky is a Skadden Fellow in the Gender Equity & LGBTQ Rights Program at Legal Aid at Work.