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Critical Human Rights Legislation Fails to Advance in California Senate Committee
January 13, 2020 at 3:27 pm

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January 13, 2020

CONTACT: Josh Stickney, Equality California
PHONE: (323) 848-9801/MOBILE: (405) 315-4151/EMAIL: press@eqca.org

SACRAMENTO — The California Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee failed to advance Senator Scott Wiener’s (D-San Francisco) legislation to protect the human rights of Californians born with variations in sex traits — many of whom identify with the term “intersex” — on Monday by a vote of 4 to 2 with three members not voting. SB 201, which is cosponsored by interACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth, Equality California and the ACLU of California, would have required that any decisions about medically unnecessary surgical interventions in such cases be postponed until the patient is at least six years old.

Approximately one to two percent of people are born with variations in bodily sex characteristics — such as genitalia, reproductive organs, and chromosomes — sometimes referred to as “intersex traits.” A subset of these variations are recognized at birth, while others may go unnoticed until later in life, if ever. Although a small number of infants who are born with variations in their sex characteristics may require immediate medical attention–for example, being born without the ability to pass urine–most children with variations in sex traits are able to live rich, fulfilling lives without any modification of their genitalia or internal reproductive anatomy.

Affirming bodily autonomy and protecting infants born with variations in their physical sex characteristics from emotionally and physically damaging surgeries — which are rooted in homophobia and transphobia and have been motivated by societal biases intended to “normalize” babies who are born with natural variations in their sex traits — is a critical human rights issue. The United Nations, World Health Organization, European Parliament, Human Rights Watch and all major intersex-led groups have urged policymakers to address this issue and protect people from these clear human rights violations.

I’m very disappointed that the Committee voted down this civil rights bill,” said Senator Scott Wiener. “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.”

Not unlike the survivors of so-called “conversion therapy,” people born with variations in their sex traits who are living with the results of medically unnecessary attempts at ‘normalizing treatment,’ often deal with the harmful emotional and physical consequences for the rest of their lives. Meanwhile, parents who have expressed reluctance about surgery for their children born with variations in sex traits are provided insufficient information regarding the extensive risks involved and the alternatives, including delaying surgery.

“Four members of the California Senate Business and Professions Committee voted today to continue allowing pediatric surgeons to cause documented, irreversible harms against children born with diverse sex traits,” said Kimberly Zieselman, Executive Director of interACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth. “Our fight for bodily autonomy is far from over. I’m heartened by the conversations SB 201 started, and by the increased awareness and concern for harmful medical interventions on intersex children.”

“Today, California stumbled as a leader on human rights and LGBTQ equality,” said Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur. “Today’s vote by the California Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee means that the Golden State will continue to subject infants every year to medically unnecessary, harmful and often irreversible procedures aimed at ‘normalizing’ their bodies. We’re grateful to Senator Wiener for leading California — and the country — on this important issue, and we urge senators who voted against protecting human rights today to learn from his example. This fight is not over, and we remain committed to this legislation and ensuring that California affirms and respects the bodily autonomy of all people.”

“We are deeply disappointed in the committee’s decision not to affirm the legislature’s respect for the bodily autonomy and human rights of this marginalized population of children,” said Elizabeth Gill, Senior Staff Attorney for the ACLU of California. “California already prohibits certain other practices with high risks of irreversible harm from taking place during childhood. SB 201 would have been in line with this approach and helped center care on the needs of patients themselves, not the ‘normalization’ of their bodies.”

SB 201 would have echoed SCR 110 (Wiener), which was adopted by the California Legislature in 2018, and recognizes that variations in sex traits are not aberrations to be corrected, stigmatized, or erased but instead are an important part of California’s diversity, worthy of acceptance and celebration.

SB 201 is cosponsored by interACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth, Equality California and the ACLU of California and supported by Amnesty International, California LGBTQ Health & Human Services Network, Gender Health Center, GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality, Human Rights Watch, Lambda Legal, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Center for Transgender Equality, The Palm Center, Physicians for Human Rights, Sacramento LGBT Center, Transgender Law Center, TransLatin@ Coalition, The Trevor Project, USA Children’s Advocacy Institute and Voices for Progress.


Equality California is the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ civil rights organization. We bring the voices of LGBTQ people and allies to institutions of power in California and across the United States, striving to create a world that is healthy, just, and fully equal for all LGBTQ people. We advance civil rights and social justice by inspiring, advocating and mobilizing through an inclusive movement that works tirelessly on behalf of those we serve. www.eqca.org

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