Intersex Awareness Day is marked annually on October 26. Matthew Wade caught up with Morgan Carpenter from Intersex Human Rights Australia to chat about the significance of the day.

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The first ever public demonstration by intersex people took place in 1996, and it was the beginning of the intersex human rights movement.

It was staged as a way to draw attention to the involuntary or coerced medical interventions being performed on young intersex bodies to erase their intersex traits.

And while that original demonstration has since evolved into Intersex Awareness Day – an annual day bringing visibility to intersex people – the issues remain the same.

The invasive procedures continue to be carried out in Australia without personal informed consent, and are often irreversible.

They can cause permanent infertility, pain, a loss of sexual sensation, and lifelong mental health issues like depression.

Co-Executive Director of Intersex Human Rights Australia (IHRA), Morgan Carpenter, says Intersex Awareness Day is an important opportunity to highlight the ongoing fight to end the medical interventions.

“Our core issues are still the same, unfortunately,” he says.

“We hear a lot of reassurances from different bodies that there has been change, but nobody has been able to produce any evidence of that.

“Often these surgeries are conducted early because of the idea that children can be saved from trauma, but young people need time to learn about their bodies and make their own informed decisions, an autonomy removed from them through these procedures.”

Intersex people are born with physical or biological sex characteristics that don’t fit binary ideas around male and female bodies.

There are at least 40 kinds of intersex variations and according to experts up to 1.7 per cent of the population are born with one or more of them.

Some intersex traits are visible at birth while others might not be apparent until puberty.

Carpenter says many within and outside the LGBT community often associate intersex people with minority sexualities or gender identities, despite the fact that evidence suggests most intersex people are cisgender, and roughly half are heterosexual.

He adds that it has become the norm in LGBT spaces for that to be ignored.

“It makes it difficult for us to talk about the issues we face,” he says.

“Any framing that talks about LGBTI people around issues of sexuality and gender won’t provide a conceptual framework for intersex people.

“Intersex people share the common experience of being born with sex characteristics that don’t fit typically male or female bodies.”

Earlier this year the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) sought input from people born with intersex variations on how to best protect their human rights.

Carpenter and the team at IHRA have sent a submission outlining how intersex people – infants, children, and adolescents in particular – can be protected in medical settings.

While he’s hopeful the consultation will yield positive results, he says the only way to end unnecessary medical interventions on intersex people is by enacting policy change.

“The Human Rights Commission can make proposals, but it will take the government to make reforms,” he says.

On Intersex Awareness Day, Carpenter hopes the broader population educate themselves on what it means to be intersex and the issues affecting their community.

“It’s a great day to find out more about intersex people,” he says.

For resources and information on the intersex community in Australia, visit IHRA’s website: ihra.org.au

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