Commissioners: Francisco Egulgren, Paulo Vannuchi, Esmeralda a. De Trotino

Petitioners: Brujula Intersexual, Mexico/ Justicia Intersex, Argentina/ MULABI Espacio Latinoamericano de Sexualidades y Derechos, Costa Rica/ InterACT, U.S.

State(s): All Member States

Petitioners, at a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on March 20, 2017, argued for stronger protection of rights of intersex people, specifically ending the practice of forced gender identity at birth. The Petitioners argued that intersex people in the member states are nearly invisible, pressured by doctors and society at large to “normalize.”

All Petitioners at the hearing were persons who identified as intersex and previously faced discrimination by medical professionals. Petitioners shared their personal stories of psychological trauma and forced medical procedures. A continuous theme throughout their testimony was that gender assignment is not determined by children who are intersex. Instead, parents and doctors pressure and force intersex children to undergo irreversible medical procedures.

These medical procedures have a debilitating psychological effect on intersex people. Many intersex people who have undergone these procedures have suffered sterilization, forced gender association, and other extremely invasive surgeries. One petitioner, who identified himself as Alejandro, described the invasive surgeries he underwent as an intersex person in Chile. He stated that, when he was a child, doctors pressured his mother to allow them to operate on his genitals and remove his penis. A couple of years after the initial surgery, he was forced to have another surgery on his urinary tract that would allow him to urinate sitting down. Doctors had decided that he would become a woman without his consent. Alejandro also mentioned that although he was being forced to become a woman, he recognized that he identified as a man when he turned 35. Alejandro’s testimony of the forced surgery to “be more like a lady” shows the lack of autonomy in the intersex community.

Another important theme from the hearing was “intersex invisibility.” As one of the Petitioners said, “[t]he ‘I’ in the LGBTI acronym might as well stand for invisible.” Many people in the intersex community experience harmful surgeries and sometimes violence. They are also pressured or forced into specific gender identities regardless of their needs. These societal pressures and gender politics prevent many intersex people from speaking out as an intersex person.

The Commissioners did not have any questions, but acknowledged the lack of information about intersex people. The Commissioners stated that they were grateful for the opportunity to discuss the rights of intersex people, and hoped to continue developing stronger protections for this oft ignored community.

Author’s Legal Analysis  

It is telling how the intersex community is viewed. Intersex people are forced to associate with a gender, either at birth or through subsequent surgeries. This demand to pick a gender forces intersex people to be grouped as transgender instead of as a separate group of people with differing needs. This misidentification works to limit the voices of the intersex community under the guise of other groups.

Article 8, Section 1 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child says: “States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference.” When doctors perform gender-assignment surgeries on children they are violating the UN convention. These children are not only owed the right to choose whatever identity they see fit, they are also entitled to require their consent to life-altering surgeries.