California just failed to pass a ban on unnecessary genital surgeries for intersex babies


A bill that would have banned unnecessary cosmetic surgeries on intersex babies has failed a key vote in California, despite the state being the first to condemn the surgeries.

Intersex is an umbrella term encompassing those who are born with sex characteristics outside of the binary ‘female’ and ‘male’ definitions. There are many different ways that a person can identify as intersex, and it is thought to be as common as having red hair.

The vast majority of intersex activists now argue against ‘corrective’ surgeries on the genitals of intersex children and babies, pointing out that the operations are often medically unnecessary and can cause long-lasting harm.

However, these surgeries are still commonly performed despite the United Nations and Human Rights Watch classing them as a human rights violation.

If passed, the California bill would have been the first legislation in the US to ban the surgeries, but sadly it has now been tabled for the rest of the legislative session.

“I’m very disappointed that the committee voted down this civil rights bill,” the bill’s author, state senator Scott Wiener, said in response. “Intersex people deserve legal protection, and we are committed to ensuring that protection under California law.

“Today’s vote was a setback, but this is only the beginning. We aren’t giving up on protecting intersex people from non-consensual, invasive, dangerous surgery. As with many civil rights struggles, it sometimes takes multiple tries to prevail. We will be back.”

Intersex Justice activists

Intersex Justice activists protest non-consensual surgeries on intersex people. (IntersexJustice/ Twitter)

The bill was opposed by the committee’s chairman, state senator Steve Glazer, who said he believed it was moving “in the right direction,” but that he did not support the bill in its current form.

He later confirmed: “I oppose sex assignment surgery on infants born with ambiguous sex characteristics. I believe a narrower bill could be crafted to achieve that objective. I’m sorry that this did not occur today.”

In 2018 California became the first state in the US to pass a resolution condemning the practise of genital surgeries on intersex children.

It recognised the fact that “intersex children a part of the fabric of our state’s diversity to be celebrated rather than an aberration to be corrected.”