Global donor forum marks a shift in intersex inclusion

A global donor forum held in Washington DC in November 2014 marks a shift in intersex inclusion in work on issues affecting sexual minorities. Importantly, in both an Australian and international context, the civil society statement from the conference calls for “deliberate discussion”, “in each region and country” as to what this means. It states:

As governments, donors and civil society add the “I” to “LGBTI,” there must be deliberate discussion of what this means in each region and country of engagement. This must include recognition that the intersex movement is in many ways a distinct movement, with distinct issues and an often different group of people.

From an intersex-specific perspective, the statement also encourages:

regionally sensitive investment in… Educating health staff/doctors in issues related to dignity and respect for the diversity of our bodies (intersex) and gender identities/constructions, as well as implementing programmes focused on preventing, monitoring and responding to institutional violence in medical settings

OII Australia warmly welcomes these statements.

Internationally, circumstances will differ, but Australia has been ahead of the game in terms of intersex inclusion – at least in name, and so not wholly one that it would be wise to replicate elsewhere. The Australian experience has typically been one of a shift from LGBT to LGBTI without deliberate discussion and, in particular, without any consequential recognition of the different needs, audiences and target groups addressed by work on LGBTI issues. Pre-existing resource imbalances have helped to create this situation, and also help to perpetuate it. We need to be at the same table, as equals, in those discussions.

Worryingly, we have seen many health promotion organisations become “LGBTI” organisations without contributing to health policy or implementation of the 2013 Senate committee report on the Involuntary or coerced sterilisation of intersex people in Australia. Worryingly, too, we see no recognition that people with intersex variations are “an often different group of people” to pre-existing LGBT communities. Intersex is wrongly sometimes defined as a gender identity and gender recognition issue.

Most worryingly, we see no funding of issues of fundamental concern to the intersex movement, in particular the funding of human rights-based peer support for children and adolescents with intersex variations, and our families. We are deeply concerned at the disconnect between LGBTI rights work and what happens in hospitals.

To date, Australian funding applications to support peer support work, and/or advocacy work, have not been successful. A GATE/AJWS report published at the start of 2014 identifies serious global gaps in resourcing for the intersex movement and, to a lesser extent, the trans movement.

Inclusion of intersex in LGBTI is good and valuable when it effectively recognises the different characteristics of the intersex movement; all LGBTI peoples stand to benefit from joint actions to inclusively promote our human rights. There is no better example of this than joint work on anti-discrimination legislation. It is tokenistic when it takes place without such recognition. Our inclusion must be critically examined. Similarly, our exclusion in work on “LGBT” issues must also be critically examined.

Of course, this is not just an intersex issue: the same is true for transgender people and lesbian women. All too often, issues affecting gay men or same gender attracted people are branded as LGBTI issues, while trans, lesbian and intersex issues are treated as ephemeral or niche despite being just as relevant for all of us. The civil society statement also addresses this point:

Within the broad constructs of LGBTI rights, lesbian, trans, lesbian and intersex-specific issues have not been adequately funded and/or addressed politically and publicly by governments, private foundations or civil society. To progress on LGBTI rights, this urgently must change.

The statement also calls for better acknowledgement of intersecting marginalisation, and “inter-linkages with gender, race, class, age, health status, nationality, migration status, and many other social factors”.

We hope that this civil society statement will be a tool for broader change in the LGBTI movements.

More information

Morgan Carpenter, Mauro Cabral (GATE) and Natasha Jimenez-Mata (MULABI) were honoured to participate in this conference, and Morgan thanks the organisers for that possibility. The event produced both civil society and joint government/multilateral agency statements; the civil society statement was kindly organised and issued by the Council for Global Equality. The governmental statement was issued by the US State Department.

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