Tony’s Briffa: Conversion therapy organisation welcomed at Melbourne’s Midsumma Pride March

Tony Briffa
Imagine being a proud member of the LGBTI community, and a survivor of childhood and adolescent conversion therapies, and seeing the organisation that abused you and tried to make you fit heteronormative stereotypes welcomed into the Melbourne Pride March. With no apology, and no evidence of change to their practices. This is what happened to me last year when I attended the Melbourne Pride March. Despite advising Midsumma Board last year of the offence taken at the inclusion of the Royal Children’s Hospital in the Pride March, I am very disappointed, and even hurt, to know that the Royal Children’s Hospital has been welcomed by the Midsumma Board to participate again this year.

Like many other Victorian children born with intersex variations – biological variations in sex characteristics from medical norms for female or male bodies – I was abused by the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne. Incredibly, babies and children born with variations of sex characteristics are still being abused at the hospital today. Current interventions by the Royal Children’s Hospital include surgically reducing the size of clitorises in baby girls who have clitorises deemed too big by doctors, forced testosterone injections given to baby boys with certain intersex variations in the belief that it would make them become heterosexual cisgendered men, and the surgical removal of healthy gonads in some intersex children to remove any possible intersex trait (and thus also sterilising the child). None of these interventions are medically necessary, nor are they conducted with the consent of the children involved. Even parents are not provided with the full facts, and they are rarely given support.

Parents and children trust doctors with our lives and our future. We trust them to give us the best care, advice and treatment, and not to treat us differently because we are born with healthy physical variations. I am one of many intersex children abused at the Royal Children’s Hospital. I was subjected to surgeries from the time I was a baby to fit in with the heteronormative views of doctors (including genital surgeries and castration), and I was also subjected to non-consensual hormone treatment, sexual abuse, repeated genital examinations in front of many medical staff and students, as well as medical research. This still happens today and the Royal Children’s Hospital defend their ongoing interventions rather than apologising and making reparations.

So why are the Royal Children’s Hospital marching at the Pride March? Incredibly, the same hospital and many of the same doctors that abuse and mistreat intersex children also treat trans and gender diverse children – but their bodily integrity and right to self determination are recognised. No treatment of trans and gender diverse children at the Royal Children’s Hospital is conducted without the consent of the child involved. This is in complete contrast for intersex children.

Organisations engaging in gay conversion therapy would not be allowed to participate in Pride March. The same should apply to organisations – including hospitals – that engage in conversion therapies against intersex people. This hypocrisy must end. I call on the Midsumma Board to make it clear to the Royal Children’s Hospital that they are not welcome to participate in the Pride March until they stop conducting conversion therapy on intersex children and make amends to the many children they have mistreated.

I also call on our many allies and supporters in the LGBT community to support intersex people and join our fight to recognise our right to bodily integrity and self determination. We should be able to be the people nature made us, and if our bodies are to be modified then we should be the ones to make that decision with our full and free consent.

The Victorian Government, which has recently been given a strong mandate to continue their progressive human rights agenda, should also act immediately to prohibit the Royal Children’s Hospital from continuing to mistreat children born with biological variations of sex characteristics (intersex variations).

The intersex movement in Australia is growing, and our human rights concerns and needs have been set out in a community consensus declaration, the Darlington Statement. I understand many people (including gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans and gender non-diverse people) are unclear about intersex people and our human rights issues and demands. Please visit the Intersex Human Rights Australia website (www.ihra.org.au) to learn more about intersex people, our life experiences and the Darlington Statement. GLBT groups are also welcome to contact us to learn more about how you can work with us and be better allies. Let us together act as a community to end human rights abuses taking place in our otherwise wonderful Royal Children’s Hospital.