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Chicagoans protest Intersex surgery
by Vern Hester

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On Oct. 26 (Intersex Awareness Day), Chicago intersex activist and filmmaker Pidgeon Pagonis led a protest rally to speak against unnecessary surgeries in front of Lurie Children's Hospital at 225 E. Chicago Ave.

Pagonis—a survivor of numerous medical procedures described as "corrective" during her childhood—was joined in the protest by intersex activists Sean Saifa Wall (of Intersex People of Color) and Lynnell Stephani Long (of The Intersex Society of America), as well as representatives from For the People Artist's Collective, The Chicago Black Trans and Gender Non-Conforming Collective, and The Chicago Dyke Collective.

The rally was an action to "protest for intersex human rights demanding Lurie Children's Hospital [to] change policy to become the first hospital in the United States to end unnecessary intersex surgeries," according to a press release from Pagonis. Currently Center on Halsted, The Human Rights Watch, The World Health Organization, Amnesty International, three former U.S. surgeons general and The American Medical Association's board of trustees, among others, have called for an end to medically unnecessary non-consensual surgeries on intersex children; however, Lurie still promotes the procedure on its website.

Pagonis said in a statement, "When I was a child, doctors at Chicago's Memorial Hospital chose my sex and performed multiple surgeries to make my intersex body conform to their choice." Later in the same statement they said, "Intersex children should be allowed to determine if they want surgery when they are adults."

Lurie Children's Hospital will host the largest U.S. support group conference for parents and their intersex children next summer in Chicago.

Although the Oct. 26 rally included about 30 people, many passersby stopped and listened for a few minutes while reporters from WBEZ radio and a documentary film crew recorded the event.

Ruby, of For the People Artists Collective, said, "We want to make sure healthcare is for our health, not to force children into a binary." Saifa Wall, in words before the group, said, "It is a human right [not to have the surgery]. We are here to disrupt a paradigm which has forced intersex children into a box." Wall drew laughs when they commented, "When Donald Trump's State Department is against this, something is extremely wrong (the State Department's statement acknowledging Intersex Awareness Day was supportive)."

Stephani Long said, "We're working not to be silent and saying, 'Please, please, pretty please.' This is why we are protesting in front of Lurie."

According to the Free and Equal Intersex Fact Sheet, "intersex" is "an umbrella term describing the 1.7 percent of babies who are born with chromosomes, gonads, or the internal or external sex traits that differ from societal expectations."

Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital issued a media statement that said, in part, "We are committed to open communication with the intersex community and fully respect the diversity of opinions that exist in affected individuals, including those at the intersex protest at Lurie Children's."

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