When it comes to the LGBTQIA community, there is perhaps no more misunderstood and more invisiblized letter than the “I”. While the other letters are being championed, the intersex community suffers from a lack of programming and advocacy in a society that does not always see or comprehend this umbrella term for differences in sex traits or reproductive anatomy.
This week, the Intersex Advocacy Series endeavors to shine a light on the intersex community via raising awareness, challenging shame and stigma, and seeking to end surgical interventions on youth without consent. The three free events sponsored by a host of Cleveland organizations will feature Pidgeon Pagonis, a nationally-recognized and leading voice in discussions about intersex issues.
To find out more about the series, The Buckeye Flame spoke with Dr. Laura Mintz, a physician in the Department of Internal Medicine-Pediatrics and the Center for Reducing Health Disparities at MetroHealth Medical Center, and chief organizer of this week’s events.
Orient everyone to what brings you to this work.
First, I’m a member of the community. My personal story was I started by working in harm reduction and HIV prevention work back in the late 90s when access to care for HIV was not what it is today and medication were not yet widely available. I lost a lot of people that I loved.
I decided to go to medical school. It took me a while. <laughs> In between finishing up college and going to school, I did lots of work in public health and organizing. I worked in prisons and jails with women and girls, worked for the Chicago Department of Public Health in HIV prevention and care, and I co-founded the Young Women’s Empowerment Project in Chicago which was for and by young people of color in the sex trade and street economy.
When I applied to Case for Medical School, they asked, “Have you heard about our MD/PHD in Health Services Research?” I said, “Go on.” It was an incredible opportunity to learn and grow in my research while training in medicine.
After med school, for residency, I knew I wanted to be somewhere I could do gender affirming care and eventually be trained in LGBT care. I trained at MetroHealth, and decided to stay on by pitching the job I wanted which was working with the queer community and HIV work in primary care, and I wanted to do gender affirming work and I wanted to do research and teaching. MetroHealth gave me the opportunity to do all of that work, which remains pretty unusual and cool.
Where are we as a society talking about individuals who are intersex?
The reason why I wanted to bring intersex speakers here is that I think that if we include the intersex community as part of the LGBTQIA community—and I know not all intersex people identify that way—they are the group of people who are the least discussed in terms of visibility in the community They are the group of people to whom physicians and doctors have done a lot of harm with a lot of long-lasting effects.
As a society, we owe it to everybody to treat everyone with respect and dignity. It was really important to me to figure out how to have a conversation not only with other physicians but also with people in the community about how we can learn about the intersex community and how we can help them to lead the wonderful, healthy, happy lives they want to lead.
Walk us through the three events this week.
I’m really excited about this three-event series. We’ve been really lucky to have a lot of great community collaborators. Everyone who came together on this project wanted to make sure to support the effort to increase our level of consciousness and our level of action related to intersex individuals.
On Thursday evening, there is a Kids Supporting Kids event focused entirely on LGBTQIA youth and their families. The young people of today are so incredible. I thought it would be amazing to do a workshop with kids about what it means to know intersex kids. All of us know about what being different means and this creates a natural place of solidarity and support to figure out how to support across difference and how to support difference in others. This will be kids and parents only, and build understanding within and between families.
The event on Friday at noon is focused on clinicians, and focused on the medical side of things about what does it mean and what is the impact of treating intersex people early in life. How does that reverberate throughout their lifespan? How do we as clinicians, physicians, and surgeons figure out what is excellent care and what are the protocols we need to make sure that all of the intersex children we see as babies are growing and thriving throughout their lives?
The last event is an LGBTQ+ generally focused conversation. It’s going to be profound and wonderful as everyone will get to hear from [co-founder of the Intersex Justice Project] Pidgeon Pagonis and [co-founder of The Houston Intersex Society] Koomah, the two of them in conversation with M. Carmen Lane, who is an excellent moderator of conversations. It’s going to be really special and everyone will witness this dialogue in an accessible, Zoom-based way. Everyone who attends will come away with some information about what it means for intersex people to live and thrive, and what can we do as a community to support intersex people in self-determination, independence, and happiness.
Picture the end of the week. The events are all over; we’ve all learned things, What’s next? What more can we do to make a difference?
That’s an interesting question. In learning from the intersex people coming to our city as guests, hopefully we can be more conscious about the intersex people in our community and think about specific steps. All of the people coming to speak have been involved in organizing efforts to end genital surgeries on children. We as a city need to have that conversation as well.
The intersex community in general has tried to get all of us on board about ensuring consent and ensuring that intersex people are told the truth about what has happened to them. I have had several clinical experiences where intersex patients have had procedures and surgeries but weren’t told about them, didn’t know about their own bodies, and weren’t clear about what happened to them. I want to live in a world where that’s not the case. I want to live in a world where people understand themselves, understand their bodies, and get to make decisions about what happens to them.
- Learn about and attend the Intersex Advocacy Series on November 5-6. All of the events are free, but registration is required for each one.