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Intersex activists denounce infant surgeries

Sixty-three percent report negative consequences of ‘corrective’ surgeries



intersex, gay news, Washington Blade

Sean Saifa Wall says doctors told his mother his testes were cancerous to justify removing them. (Photo courtesy Wall)

Sean Saifa Wall spent more than two decades in the wrong body until he decided to live the life he had always wanted to: that of a man. 

Wall, a nationally recognized black, intersex activist, was assigned female at birth because of his “abnormally” small phallus but had undescended testis. He was one of eight in his family born with partial androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS): an intersex variation where an individual is born with XY chromosomes but is resistant to male hormones (androgens). Thus, these individuals have the genetic makeup of a male but some or all of the physical traits of a female. 

The term “intersex” more broadly identifies any individual who is born with any of several variations in sex characteristics (including chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones or genitals) that do not fit medically rigid definitions of “male” or “female.” Intersex variations are not uncommon and occur in about 1.7 percent of the population — approximately the same percentage as those born with red hair. Around one in 1,500-2,000 children have visible differences at birth, putting them at risk for early cosmetic surgical intervention. 

Intersex children like Wall, who are born with genitalia that a doctor considers outside of typical male/female appearance, frequently receive medically unnecessary surgeries to “normalize” their genitals, such as surgeries that reduce an “abnormally” sized clitoris. 

Thus, the intersex community continues to oppose these surgeries, arguing they violate a child’s basic and inherent right to bodily autonomy; activists advocate instead for the deferral of any such surgeries until a child can make a consenting decision on their own.

Although Wall did not receive surgery as an infant, he did receive an operation in his adolescence without his or his mother’s informed consent. When he was in college, he got hold of his medical records and finally learned the truth about his past and identity. 

When Wall was 13, doctors removed his healthy undescended testis at New York Presbyterian Hospital. For Wall, the consequences were devastating, both physically and mentally. 

 “My healthy testis were removed at age 13 without my thorough informed consent,” Wall says. “I really struggled at that point, (thinking) I’m a freak. … What the hell do I do with my body?” 

Although Wall’s mother consented to the operation, she did so on the premise of false information, a common thread seen across many stories from parents of intersex children. In Wall’s case, doctors lied and told his mother that his testis were cancerous in the hopes of encouraging her to consent to surgery.

It worked.  

“My mom heard cancer, and she was like, ‘No way José. My child is not going to die of cancer,’” Wall says. 

Beyond the removal of Wall’s testis, doctors also wanted to perform genital surgery to create a vagina, but his mother said no. This was not the first time she had advocated on behalf of her son’s bodily autonomy. Wall says his mother received countless phone calls from doctors after bringing him home from the hospital when he was born, encouraging her to consent to genital reconstructive surgeries to “normalize” his body. 

Wall remains deeply thankful for his mother’s advocacy and is “very glad” no such cosmetic surgeries occurred, but many other intersex children are unable to escape early genital reconstruction. Jonathan Leggette, an intersex activist based in Washington state, is one such individual. 

In a testimony to support a California resolution aimed at celebrating intersex folks, Leggette writes: “At 6, doctors operated on me without explaining anything to me, just leaving me to wake up, bandages around my genital areas and a pain I will never forget. I had never had the chance to be told the truth, to be given the chance to decide for myself how my body feels to me. My body was owned by the surgeons before I had a chance to lay claim to it.”

Leggette emphasizes the importance of doctors having honest and transparent conversations with parents, especially given the continued presence of systemic coercion and misinformation in these exchanges. He argues that doctors need to “change the language” they currently rely on when talking to parents about their child’s intersex variation. 

 Dr. Ellen Feder, professor of philosophy and religion at American University in Washington and author of the book “Making Sense of Intersex,” echoes the importance of these conversations and further explains the challenging position doctors continue to put parents in.  

“The way that parents are presented the options are, ‘Here’s what’s going on with your kid, here’s what we know about the condition, here’s all the things we can do, here’s the support we can offer you, or we can do nothing,’” Feder says. “That’s not a choice for most parents. Most parents would see doing nothing as copping out or not helping their kid.” 

In this way, “doing nothing” is not presented as a true alternative to surgery, but rather a negligent and irresponsible choice. However, such operations often have lifelong physical and mental unforeseen consequences. 

A 2016 study conducted in Australia found that 83 percent of intersex individuals surveyed reported at least one negative consequence (physical or mental) from a “corrective” surgery, and 63 percent reported only negative consequences. The study also found that intersex individuals were disproportionately impacted by mental illness, with 18 percent of respondents reporting a suicide attempt in their lifetime. Regarding physical complications, “corrective” operations can cause infertility, loss of sexual sensation and painful scarring. Still other intersex individuals like Wall are forced to take artificial hormonal replacement for the rest of their lives because their naturally occurring hormones were disrupted. 

These surgeries also serve as an indication to intersex folks that their bodies in their natural form are somehow wrong — that, in Wall’s words, “there is something that needs correcting.” This harmful sentiment is frequently internalized by intersex folks, who in turn learn to dislike and be ashamed of their bodies. 

Many respected organizations such as the United Nations, World Health Organization and Amnesty International have come out against these “corrective” surgeries, encouraging the deferral of any such operations till the individual is of consenting age.  

So, why then do these surgeries continue, despite public denunciation? 

Through both his activism alongside other intersex folks and personal experience meeting the doctor who operated on him when he was barely a teenager, Wall has some ideas. 

In 2015, Wall confronted the doctor who removed his testis over two decades prior, Dr. Terry Hensle, as part of an ABC News Nightline special. Dr. Hensle told Saifa he had “no regrets” about the operations he had previously performed because he “did the best (he) could do based on what (he) knew.” Wall says, “I knew he wasn’t going to give me what I was looking for” going into the interview, but he wanted the chance to share his personal experience and opinion nonetheless. 

“I told him, ‘Can you imagine what you said to a 13-year-old girl that you would create a cavity inside of her, shave down her clitoris — can you imagine how barbaric that sounded?’” Wall says. “And he had no response. … He was too proud to admit that (my surgery) was fucked up. He was so narcissistic … it was really powerful that the video captured (him) live in all his asshole-ness.”

A 2017 Human Rights Watch Report on the intersex community found that most of the bias that exists toward intersex children lies with the surgeons and medical providers rather than parents, although not the entire medical establishment is to blame. Rather, according to Hans Lindahl, an intersex activist based in California, only a small subset of urologists and medical groups continue to promote such operations because they benefit both “monetarily” and “from being the authority and maintaining the status quo.” 

Lindahl works to dispel the misconception that the intersex community and the medical community are inherently at odds with one another. 

“We’re not anti-medicine, we’re pro-consent,” Lindahl says, reiterating her support for all medically necessary interventions such as urethra constructions and interventions when the child is of consenting age. 

Echoing Lindahl’s point, Wall frames these surgeries as entirely cosmetic rather than medical. 

“Why do these intersex kids need porn star genitals? Why does a little girl need to have a developed pussy?” Wall says. 

Activists argue intersex folks need to be the subjects rather than the objects of conversations moving forward; they need to be recognized as individuals worth celebrating, listening to and learning from. 

“Intersex folks … really teach us how complex and how beautiful our bodies are and how nature is so amazing,” Wall says. 

Moving forward, when an intersex infant is born, in the words of Feder, “We need to do the brave thing and do nothing.”

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D.C. man charged with 2020 anti-gay death threat rearrested

Defendant implicated in three anti-LGBTQ incidents since 2011



shooting, DC Eagle, assault, hate crime, anti-gay attack, police discrimination, sex police, Sisson, gay news, Washington Blade

A D.C. man arrested in August 2020 for allegedly threatening to kill a gay man outside the victim’s apartment in the city’s Adams Morgan neighborhood and who was released while awaiting trial was arrested again two weeks ago for allegedly threatening to kill another man in an unrelated incident.

D.C. Superior Court records show that Jalal Malki, who was 37 at the time of his 2020 arrest on a charge of bias-related attempts to do bodily harm against the gay man, was charged on May 4, 2021 with unlawful entry, simple assault, threats to kidnap and injure a person, and attempted possession of a prohibited weapon against the owner of a vacant house at 4412 Georgia Ave., N.W.

Court charging documents state that Malki was allegedly staying at the house without permission as a squatter. An arrest affidavit filed in court by D.C. police says Malki allegedly threatened to kill the man who owns the house shortly after the man arrived at the house while Malki was inside.

According to the affidavit, Malki walked up to the owner of the house while the owner was sitting in his car after having called police and told him, “If you come back here, I’m going to kill you.” While making that threat Malki displayed what appeared to be a gun in his waistband, but which was later found to be a toy gun, the affidavit says.

Malki then walked back inside the house minutes before police arrived and arrested him. Court records show that similar to the court proceedings following his 2020 arrest for threatening the gay man, a judge in the latest case ordered Malki released while awaiting trial. In both cases, the judge ordered him to stay away from the two men he allegedly threatened to kill.

An arrest affidavit filed by D.C. police in the 2020 case states that Malki allegedly made the threats inside an apartment building where the victim lived on the 2300 block of Champlain Street, N.W. It says Malki was living in a nearby building but often visited the building where the victim lived.

“Victim 1 continued to state during an interview that it was not the first time that Defendant 1 had made threats to him, but this time Defendant 1 stated that if he caught him outside, he would ‘fucking kill him.’” the affidavit says. It quotes the victim as saying during this time Malki repeatedly called the victim a “fucking faggot.”

The affidavit, prepared by the arresting officers, says that after the officers arrested Malki and were leading him to a police transport vehicle to be booked for the arrest, he expressed an “excited utterance” that he was “in disbelief that officers sided with the ‘fucking faggot.’”

Court records show that Malki is scheduled to appear in court on June 4 for a status hearing for both the 2020 arrest and the arrest two weeks ago for allegedly threatening to kill the owner of the house in which police say he was illegally squatting.

Superior Court records show that Malki had been arrested three times between 2011 and 2015 in cases unrelated to the 2021 and 2020 cases for allegedly also making threats of violence against people. Two of the cases appear to be LGBTQ related, but prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not list the cases as hate crimes.

In the first of the three cases, filed in July 2011, Malki allegedly shoved a man inside Dupont Circle and threatened to kill him after asking the man why he was wearing a purple shirt.

“Victim 1 believes the assault occurred because Suspect 1 believes Victim 1 is a homosexual,” the police arrest affidavit says.

Court records show prosecutors charged Malki with simple assault and threats to do bodily harm in the case. But the court records show that on Sept. 13, 2011, D.C. Superior Court Judge Stephen F. Eilperin found Malki not guilty on both charges following a non-jury trial.

The online court records do not state why the judge rendered a not guilty verdict. With the courthouse currently closed to the public and the press due to COVID-related restrictions, the Washington Blade couldn’t immediately obtain the records to determine the judge’s reason for the verdict.

In the second case, court records show Malki was arrested by D.C. police outside the Townhouse Tavern bar and restaurant at 1637 R St., N.W. on Nov. 7, 2012 for allegedly threatening one or more people with a knife after employees ordered Malki to leave the establishment for “disorderly behavior.”

At the time, the Townhouse Tavern was located next door to the gay nightclub Cobalt, which before going out of business two years ago, was located at the corner of 17th and R Streets, N.W.

The police arrest affidavit in the case says Malki allegedly pointed a knife in a threatening way at two of the tavern’s employees who blocked his path when he attempted to re-enter the tavern. The affidavit says he was initially charged by D.C. police with assault with a dangerous weapon – knife. Court records, however, show that prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office lowered the charges to two counts of simple assault. The records show that on Jan. 15, 2013, Malki pleaded guilty to the two charges as part of a plea bargain arrangement.

The records show that Judge Marissa Demeo on that same day issued a sentence of 30 days for each of the two charges but suspended all 30 days for both counts. She then sentenced Malki to one year of supervised probation for both charges and ordered that he undergo alcohol and drug testing and undergo treatment if appropriate.

In the third case prior to the 2020 and 2021 cases, court records show Malki was arrested outside the Cobalt gay nightclub on March 14, 2015 on multiple counts of simple assault, attempted assault with a dangerous weapon – knife, possession of a prohibited weapon – knife, and unlawful entry.

The arrest affidavit says an altercation started on the sidewalk outside the bar when for unknown reasons, Malki grabbed a female customer who was outside smoking and attempted to pull her toward him. When her female friend came to her aid, Malki allegedly got “aggressive” by threatening the woman and “removed what appeared to be a knife from an unknown location” and pointed it at the woman’s friend in a threatening way, the affidavit says.

It says a Cobalt employee minutes later ordered Malki to leave the area and he appeared to do so. But others noticed that he walked toward another entrance door to Cobalt and attempted to enter the establishment knowing he had been ordered not to return because of previous problems with his behavior, the affidavit says. When he attempted to push away another employee to force his way into Cobalt, Malki fell to the ground during a scuffle and other employees held him on the ground while someone else called D.C. police.

Court records show that similar to all of Malki’s arrests, a judge released him while awaiting trial and ordered him to stay away from Cobalt and all of those he was charged with threatening and assaulting.

The records show that on Sept. 18, 2015, Malki agreed to a plea bargain offer by prosecutors in which all except two of the charges – attempted possession of a prohibited weapon and simple assault – were dropped. Judge Alfred S. Irving Jr. on Oct. 2, 2015 sentenced Malki to 60 days of incarnation for each of the two charges but suspended all but five days, which he allowed Malki to serve on weekends, the court records show.

The judge ordered that the two five-day jail terms could be served concurrently, meaning just five days total would be served, according to court records. The records also show that Judge Irving sentenced Malki to one year of supervised probation for each of the two counts and ordered that he enter an alcohol treatment program and stay away from Cobalt.

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Biden names civil rights veteran to U.S. Education Dept.

Catherine Lhamon’s portfolio will include LGBTQ rights, sexual misconduct, racial discrimination



Nominee for Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education Catherine Lhamon. (Photo public domain))

The White House announced Thursday that President Joe Biden has nominated Catherine Lhamon to serve as the Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.

Lhamon currently serves as a Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council for Racial Justice and Equity at the White House, where she manages the President’s equity policy portfolio. She is a former attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, (ACLU) and served as chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights from 2017 to 2021.

She has also served as Legal Affairs Secretary to California Governor Gavin Newsom.

Her portfolio at Education, where she previously served in the same position under former President Barack Obama, will include LGBTQ rights, sexual misconduct and racial discrimination in the nation’s K-12 schools, universities and colleges. Lhamon was Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, to which President Obama nominated her and the Senate confirmed her in 2013.

“I am thrilled that President Biden is nominating Catherine Lhamon to serve as Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. Catherine has devoted her career to ensuring equity is at the core of all her work,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement released by his office Thursday.

“She has a strong record of fighting for communities of color and underserved communities, whether as the current Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council, the former chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, or as a civil rights educator at Georgetown University. We are thrilled to have Catherine serving as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights and know she will continue to fight for fairness, equity, and justice for all of America’s students.”

Lhamon has also litigated civil rights cases at National Center for Youth Law, Public Counsel Law Center, and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California.  Lhamon taught federal civil rights appeals at Georgetown University Law Center in the Appellate Litigation Program and clerked for the Honorable William A. Norris on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

“Catherine Lhamon is the right choice to lead the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights at such a critical time for the country and the agency. There is much work to do in order to roll back the harmful policies and legacies of Betsy DeVos, from her attacks on transgender students to her unconscionable revocation of discriminatory discipline guidance and rewrite of Title IX rules,” Adele Kimmel, Director of the Students’ Civil Rights Project at Public Justice told the Blade in an email.

“During her previous tenure in the same job, Catherine embraced equality, enforced Title IX and ensured students had an ally inside the federal government. She will do so again, and the Senate should move to quickly confirm her so she can begin the work of restoring the Department’s commitment to protecting the civil rights and dignity of students and implementing the Biden Administration’s pledge to undo the damage that DeVos has done,” Kimmel added.

Born in Virginia and raised in California, Lhamon graduated from Amherst College and Yale Law School. Lhamon and her husband and two daughters are transitioning between California and Maryland.

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IDAHOBiT events to promote intersectionality, resilience, allyship

HRC president to participate in virtual panel in Canada



(Photo courtesy of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia committee)


Intersectionality, resilience and allyship are among the themes that this year’s International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia events will highlight.

Dignity Network Canada and the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention on May 17 will hold a virtual panel that will feature Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David, Canadian Center for Gender and Sexual Diversity Executive Director Debbie Owusu-Akyeeah, Kaleidoscope Trust Executive Director Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, COC Nederland Executive Director Marie Ricardo and Rainbow Railroad Executive Director Kimahli Powell. The British High Commission and the Dutch Embassy in Canada have co-sponsored the event.

“We hope that this will be a really interesting and important conversation on intersectionality and transnational solidarity — and what it means for these leaders and their organizations during these times,” reads a description of the event.

The U.N. LGBTI Core Group on May 17 will host a virtual IDAHOBiT event that will focus on ways to develop an “inclusive and diverse post-pandemic world.” The World Bank Group, the International Monetary Fund, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Inter-American and Asian Development Banks host a similar IDAHOBiT commemoration.

“In order to heal from the economic, social, and public health dire impact the pandemic has had and still has, every plan of recovery must take into account a human-rights based, intersectional and gender responsive approach that addresses the specific needs of LGBTI persons in order not to leave them further behind,” reads a description of the U.N. LGBTI Core Group event.

Several Russian LGBTQ rights groups on May 17 will hold a “Vaccine for Acceptance” event that seeks to bolster allyship in the country.

Retired South Africa Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron on May 16 will moderate a virtual panel that will focus on religion and anti-LGBTQ violence.

Workplace Pride and the Dutch Embassy in Budapest on May 17 will host a symposium on LGBTQ-inclusive workplaces in Hungary. M.V. Lee Badgett, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, on the same day will participate in a webinar the U.S. Embassy in Singapore is hosting with Oogachaga, a local LGBTQ advocacy group.

Haver Srbija, a Serbian NGO, on May 15-16 will hold Falafel, a film festival that seeks to build “bridges and promotes Israeli, Jewish and LGBTQI culture and communities” and highlight “various social issues in the context of the fight against prejudice, discrimination, anti-Semitism, homophobia and xenophobia and encourages the audience to develop critical thinking on the issue of these topics.” Proud Lebanon is slated to hold a series of six webinars between May 17-22 that will focus on feminism, LGBTQ rights and other topics.

The National Center for Sexual Education in Cuba will hold a series of virtual forums and other events through the month to commemorate IDAHOBiT.

CENESEX Director Mariela Castro, whose father is former Cuban President Raúl Castro, during a May 4 press conference in Havana said the IDAHOBiT events are part of the process of amending the country’s family code to make it more equitable for LGBTQ Cubans. Mariela Castro said a bill to amend it will be introduced in the Cuban Parliament in July.

“I was able to appreciate that the majority of the population … is in favor of recognizing the rights of LGBTI+ people and especially the rights in the family sphere that include the possibility, the option, of marriage,” said Mariela Castro during the press conference, according to Tremenda Nota, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba.

IDAHOBiT commemorates the World Health Organization’s 1990 decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.

This year’s events will take place against the backdrop of a pandemic that continues to exacerbate existing inequalities for LGBTQ people and other vulnerable groups around the world.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in dozens of countries. Violence based on gender identity and sexual orientation remains rampant in the U.S. and throughout the world.

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