Lloyd Chen and Garrett Weskamp, members of the School of Medicine’s Class of 2023, recognize that when the term “LGBTQ+” is used, the “+” symbol represents a variety of genders and sexual orientations—and may obscure individuals’ unique experiences. One of those grouped communities is intersex, an umbrella term signifying differences in sex traits or reproductive anatomy evident at birth or developed in childhood. Intersex activists work to raise awareness of these anatomical traits, to challenge shame and stigma, and to end surgical interventions on youth without consent.
To help bring awareness to the experiences many intersex individuals have, Chen and Weskamp helped plan the Intersex Advocacy Series, a series of events taking place over the next two days (Nov. 5–6). The events will feature activist Pidgeon Pagonis, co-founder of the Intersex Justice Project, an advocacy group dedicated to protecting the rights of intersex individuals. Pagonis is a leading voice in intersex advocacy and was honored as an LGBT Champion of Change in 2015 by the Obama White House.
Third-year medical students Pooja Podugu and Maggie Linz initially developed plans for the series to take place last spring, but the events were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, several units on campus and beyond have come together to offer this series:
- CWRU’s Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities,
- Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine,
- Case Western Reserve University’s LGBT Center,
- Case Med PRIDE,
- CWRU’s Schubert Center for Child Studies,
- CWRU’s Social Justice Institute,
- MetroHealth Department of Internal Medicine/Pediatrics,
- MetroHealth PRIDE Network,
- Studio West 117,
- The LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland, and
- Colors+ Youth Center.
“We thought that this was an important time to give a greater voice to intersex individuals to share their experiences and their concerns so that the community and our medical professionals can hear from the patients whose lives are irreversibly altered by [the practice of surgical intervention],” Chen and Weskamp said.
The Intersex Advocacy Series begins with a program today (Nov. 5) from 6 to 7:30 p.m. called “Kids Supporting Kids: Understanding and Advocacy for Intersex Youth,” a presentation designed for LGBTQA+ youth ages 18 and under and their families. Together with activist Banti Jaswal, a member of the advocacy group InterACT, Pagonis will discuss the intersex community and how youth can advocate for themselves and for their intersex friends.
On Friday, Nov. 6, from noon to 1 p.m., Pagonis and Bria Grand Royal, director of engagement for InterACT, will present “Intersex Patients: Do No Harm” at MetroHealth’s PRIDE Grand Rounds. They will provide insight into the needs and concerns of intersex patients throughout their lifespans, and will challenge clinicians to advocate for excellent health care for intersex persons.
“We’re hoping that attendees gain a greater awareness of the intersex experience and the issues facing the community,” said Chen and Weskamp. “We came into this partially because of our lack of formal medical education on these topics, and are so excited to learn and hear from our speakers, all of whom are on the frontlines of activism for intersex issues today!”
The series will conclude with “Bringing Cleveland Together to Support our Intersex Community” on Friday, Nov. 6, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. M. Carmen Lane will moderate a conversation with Pagonis and Koomah, co-founder of The Houston Intersex Society, an organization that offers social, educational and support resources in Houston, Texas and beyond. They will discuss life at the intersection of creativity, gender, health care and policy, and share ideas and strategies about how Clevelanders can support intersex communities.
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