Today is International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, Biphobia and, in recent years, discrimination against intersex people. The event marks the anniversary of the partial depathologisation of homosexuality by the World Health Organisation, that is, the removal of homosexuality from the International Classification of Diseases.
We recognise the importance of this event to people who are same-sex attracted, and a desire to promote awareness and human rights for all sexual and gender diverse populations, including intersex people.
At the same time, a new version 11 of the International Classification of Diseases is expected to be approved at the World Health Assembly 72. This will further improve the situation for both same sex attracted and gender diverse people – but it will also repathologise intersex variations as “disorders of sex development”. Morgan Carpenter (2018) states:
The ICD-11 introduces additional and pathologizing normative language to describe [intersex variations] as “disorders of sex development.” Current materials in the ICD-11 Foundation also specify, or are associated with, unnecessary medical procedures that fail to meet human rights norms documented by the WHO itself and Treaty Monitoring Bodies. This includes codes that require genitoplasties and gonadectomies associated with gender assignment, where either masculinizing or feminizing surgery is specified depending upon technical and heteronormative expectations for surgical outcomes. Such interventions lack evidence. Human rights defenders and institutions regard these interventions as harmful practices and violations of rights to bodily integrity, non-discrimination, equality before the law, privacy, and freedom from torture, ill- treatment, and experimentation.
The Australian – Aotearoa/NZ community declaration, the Darlington Statement (2017), recognises:
5. Our rights to bodily integrity, physical autonomy and self determination.
6. Our opposition to pathologising terminology such as “disorders of sex development”, not only because such labels are inherently disordering, but also because this promotes the belief that intersex characteristics need to be “fixed”.
52. We recognise that the stigmatisation and pathologisation of people born with variations of sex characteristics hinders self-acceptance, access to community, help-seeking, and accessing of services including healthcare.
59. We call for an end to the stigmatisation and unnecessary pathologisation of intersex bodies.
Tony Briffa, co-executive director of IHRA states (2014):
I don’t consider myself or any other intersex person as having a “disorder” or somehow being “defective”. Sure, we may have some medical issues, but lots of other people deal with infertility, hormone replacement therapy, osteoporosis, etc. My wish for future generations of young intersex people is that they grow without the stigma and shame many of us experienced. I want them to have intersex role models, for them to know they are not defective. I want them to be afforded the right to make their own choices about their bodies, and to have wonderful relationships throughout their lives. That is why I am personally against the use of “DSD”.
Steph Lum, co-chair of IHRA, says:
IDAHOBIT day is a time to celebrate and recognise the important history of the removal of homosexuality from the ICD. I call upon those celebrating IDAHOBIT day to act in solidarity with intersex individuals by acknowledging the ongoing pathologisation of intersex traits and recognising that there is much work to be done.
The World Health Assembly commences on Monday 20 May. Morgan Carpenter, co-executive director of IHRA, will be present at the kind invitation of GATE.
Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome Support Group Australia, Intersex Trust Aotearoa New Zealand, Organisation Intersex International Australia, Eve Black, Kylie Bond, Tony Briffa, Morgan Carpenter, et al. 2017. ‘Darlington Statement’. Sydney, New South Wales. https://darlington.org.au/statement
Briffa, Tony. 2014. ‘Tony Briffa Writes on “Disorders of Sex Development”’. Intersex Human Rights Australia. May 8. http://ihra.org.au/26808/tony-briffa-on-dsd/
Carpenter, Morgan. 2018. ‘Intersex Variations, Human Rights, and the International Classification of Diseases’. Health and Human Rights 20 (2): 205–14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6293350/
Read our briefing paper on intersex people and the rights to bodily integrity, and freedom from harmful practices: https://ihra.org.au/bodily-integrity/