White House officials met virtually with nearly 20 intersex advocates Tuesday in the Biden administration’s second formal talk with organizers on how to advance intersex rights domestically, and the largest meeting of its kind within the Biden administration.
Intersex advocates who were at the meeting tell The 19th that they appreciate the historic moment, but they want action — especially since they have been calling attention to the discrimination and medically unecessary surgeries that they face for years.
Advocates who spoke to The 19th say that the administration needs to condemn medically unnecessary surgeries and hold medical providers undertaking the controversial procedures accountable, as well as establish regular contact with the intersex community and hire intersex people into federal agencies and the administration staff.
“I just hope that something will come of it,” Georgiann Davis, associate professor of sociology at the University of New Mexico, who was at the meeting. “It’s definitely time to pass the listening stage.”
The White House acknowledged discussing “the toll that non-consensual medical interventions and surgeries performed on intersex children often have on people’s mental and physical health” in a news release following the meeting.
This basic message still serves as one of the first times an administration has openly discussed the issue domestically, said Kimberly Zieselman, the executive director at InterAct, a group that lobbies on behalf of children who are intersex — born with differences in reproductive anatomy or sex traits.
Zieselman and Davis, who have been studying intersex issues and advocating in the space for roughly seven and 15 years, respectively, say they believe Tuesday’s White House meeting was the largest of its kind with any White House or administration.
Time constraints at Tuesday’s meeting, after so many advocates shared what was important to them, meant that White House officials did not have time to actually respond to what was discussed or offer next steps, three advocates who were at the meeting told The 19th.
“Listening sessions or statements or support are important and necessary, but we really need action. And you can’t really get action if you’re not responding to what you’re hearing,” said Davis.
Zieselman said that while she expected the meeting to consist mostly of the White House listening to concerns, she hopes another meeting will take place soon for a conversation on next steps.
“I feel good about the conversation that did happen,” she said. “I can’t say that there was any promise to necessarily do anything” from the White House, she added.
A smaller group of intersex advocates first met with senior White House adviser Reggie Greer on July 8, per a Google calendar invite shared with The 19th. That event served as a precursor to Tuesday’s meeting, which ran over the allotted hour as advocates took turns highlighting the issues most important to them.
Tuesday’s meeting also included Jennifer Klein, co-chair of the White House Gender Policy Council, and Assistant Secretary of Health Admiral Rachel Levine, whom intersex advocates described as especially engaged as she listened.
“Hopefully the next steps will be going beyond listening and moving to establishing a plan of action,” said Alicia Roth Weigel, a Human Rights Commissioner in Austin, Texas, who recently lobbied for the city to condemn unnecessary surgeries and require education on the issue for parents and doctors.
White House spokesperson Matt Hill said in a statement that the administration looks forward to continuing its partnership with intersex advocates and to “ensure they remain a critical part of the Administration’s efforts to advance equality.”
“I’m very excited and cautiously optimistic to see what’s next,” said Zieselman.