Chicago activists to hospital: Stop unnecessary surgery on intersex children
Protesters outside the Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago, Oct. 26. | Courtesy of Sarah-ji Rhee / Love and Struggle Photos

CHICAGO—A group of protesters gathered outside of the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital Thursday October 26 to demonstrate against the medical procedures carried out at the hospital described as “corrective” surgery for intersex children. The practice they’re opposed to involves the invasive and medically unnecessary removal or alteration of genitals and gonadal glands, a “treatment” which the hospital continues to advertise on its website.

The controversial surgery has long been decried by activists throughout the country and around the world. Critiques of the procedure claim that it strips bodily autonomy away from intersex children by leaving the decision solely in the hands of parents and medical professionals. The hospital’s own website reiterates this sentiment, stating that “the family and medical team must work together to make the best choices for the child and family” and that the child is only considered in the decision-making process if they are “able” or if “the family feels it is appropriate.” Organizers also argue that parents of intersex children frequently feel coerced into making rash decisions in these scenarios because they lack the proper information about intersex awareness.

Chicago Intersex activist and filmmaker Pidgeon Pagonis, alongside Sean Saifa Wall of Intersex People of Color for Justice (IPOC) are both bringing light to the subject. In a press statement, the campaign cites statistics showing about 1.7 percent of babies are born with chromosomes, gonads, or internal or external sex traits that differ from “societal expectations.” Although a vast majority of these children are born healthy, they are often still subjected to unnecessary and irreversible surgeries to force their genitals to conform to society’s aesthetic “norm,” risking future fertility, scarring, incontinence, loss of sensation and psychological trauma, and a lifetime on synthetic hormones.

Several Chicago-based organizations have come out in solidarity with intersex activists, including members from ‘For the People’ Artists Collective, Chicago BTGNC Collective, Dyke March Chicago, and the Trans Liberation Collective.

Stephanie Skora, one of the founders of the Trans Liberation Collective spoke at the rally about overlapping trans and intersex struggles within the medical industrial complex. “Bodily autonomy is a basic human right,” said Skora, “whether we’re talking about trans people being denied access to surgeries or treatment that we need for our bodies, or intersex people struggling to get hospitals to stop performing medically unnecessary surgeries on them against their will. Our struggles are now and will forever be linked.”

Pagonis, similarly, has been vocal about their own experiences within the medical field as an intersex individual. “When I was a child, doctors at Chicago’s Children’s Memorial Hospital chose my sex and performed multiple surgeries to make my intersex body conform to their choice.” Pagonis’ remarks speak to the medical industry’s evolving and inconsistent ethics regarding the needs and treatment of LGBTQIA+ persons.

The comprehensive understanding of queer bodies has been a difficult subject to navigate for many medical experts. In fact, it is only in recent years that transgender identity has been acknowledged as legitimate, and no longer conflated with “mental illness.” Homosexuality faced similar scrutiny for many years as “experts” struggled with understanding sexuality and gender.

Medical institutions have a long history of examining the human body and psyche under a framework of cis heternormativity; something that they continue to grapple with. This is why, for those whose bodies don’t abide by gender binaries, it is crucial to fight back against policies that presume agency over patients.

Though the protest in Chicago targeted Lurie Children’s Memorial Hospital, organizers say that the movement is bigger than one institution and is about reclaiming bodily autonomy and preventing medical violence against intersex bodies. The Chicago activists hope that changing Lurie hospital policy is the a step toward the larger goal of banning unnecessary intersex surgery.


Michelle Zacarias
Michelle Zacarias

Michelle Zacarias was a staff writer at People's World. A graduate of the Univ. of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, Zacarias invested her time in raising awareness on issues of social justice and equality. Michelle self identifies as multi-marginalized: as a Latina, a woman of color and a person with disabilities.