Updated: Feb 24
We’re sharing this round up of nine important leaders who are helping pave the way for greater intersex rights - as elected officials, artists, athletes and activists!
There are still a lot of misconceptions about Intersex people, and what it means to be Intersex - even within the wider LGBTQIA+ community. We wanted to highlight a selection of Intersex people who are positively impacting the world we live in, as well as those whose legacy is still prominent today.
1. Christiane Völling
Christiane Völling is the first intersex person known to have successfully sued for damages in a case brought for non-consensual surgical intervention described as a non-consensual sex reassignment. She was awarded €100,000 by the Regional Court of Cologne. Völling was born in 1959 with XX sex chromosomes, typically associated with being female, and likely also with congenital adrenal hyperplasia. She had ambiguous genitalia and was assigned and raised male. She had an early puberty with what was considered to be striking physical growth, including beard growth. During an appendectomy, at age 14, the teenager was found to have a full set of female reproductive organs, including ovaries and fallopian tubes. While no testicular tissue was detected, Völling was diagnosed as having a mix of both male and female organs. She was informed of the presence of female organs and told she was 60% female. Völling suffered mental health issues as a consequence. Her female-typical chromosomal pattern was detected in 1977, but the results were not shared with her. Völling continued to live as a man for a time, but later transitioned to live as a woman. In 2006, Völling obtained her medical records and discovered the concealment of her chromosomal diagnosis, and the nature of the surgery in 1977. The court determined that the surgery took place in the absence of any grave or acute health risks. The doctor had no good reason for failing to provide full diagnostic information, in particular as the diagnostic data showed that Völling did not possess mixed sex characteristics, with the potential to maintain one present sex, but actually involved the complete removal of her only present sex organs. Völling was both genetically and physically female.
2. Mark Weston
Mark Weston was an intersex individual who was raised as a female named Mary Edith Louise Weston. Weston was both intersex and trans. Nicknamed "the Devonshire Wonder", he was one of the best British field athletes of the 1920s. He was a national champion in the women's javelin throw and discus throw in 1929 and won the women's shot put title in 1925, 1928 and 1929.Weston became increasingly conscious of feeling uncomfortable as a woman and in 1936 underwent a series of surgeries at Charing Cross Hospital in London to become male. When interviewed by the Western Morning News in May of that year Weston said he was delighted to be now “in my true element.”Weston’s life was touched by tragedy when his younger brother Harry Weston took his own life in 1942, aged just 26. Harry was also intersex and assigned female at birth. Born Hilda Margaret Weston he changed his name to Harry Maurice Weston after an operation to become male at the same hospital as his brother.
3. Small Luk
Small Luk was determined at birth to be male. Following years of suffering and failed surgical procedures, Luk started the organisation Beyond the Boundary – Knowing and Concerns Intersex. She works with others to raise public awareness of issues faced by the intersex community, promote intersex rights and advocate for an end to forced genital surgery and conversion therapy. These procedures are commonplace that many intersex people been subject to around the world - both in the past, and in the present. As well as being an activist, Small Luk is a doctor of Chinese medicine, running a holistic clinic in Hong Kong. She is well-known as the first Hong Kong citizen to publicly acknowledge their intersex status.
4. River Gallo
River is a model, activist and filmmaker. They won a GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) award for their short film Ponyboi. This was the film that they made for their Master's Degree, and was shown at the Tribeca Film Festival. - @rivergallo
5. Tony Briffa
Tony Briffa is a Maltese-Australian politician who is notable for being the world's first known intersex mayor and public officeholder. Briffa was raised as a girl, then lived for a time as a man, and now chooses to live as both female and male. Briffa is one of the first people to be public about a chosen blank, indeterminate, birth certificate. Current co-executive director of Intersex Human Rights Australia, and Vice-President and former President of the Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome Support Group Australia. Take a look at Tony's website here.
6. Morgan Carpenter
Morgan Carpenter is a bioethicist, intersex activist and researcher. In 2013 he created the intersex flag, and became president of Intersex Human Rights Australia. He is now a co-executive director. In 2015, he cofounded a project to mark Intersex Awareness Day. He learned he was intersex as an adult.
7. Betsy Driver
Betsy Driver is the mayor of Flemington, New Jersey, and an advocate for intersex human rights and awareness. She is the first openly intersex person to be elected to office in the United States. Driver was born with congenital adrenal hyperplasia. In her mid-30s, she began learning about intersex people and the surgeries she went through at eight months old. She has stated that she and her mother had been told that she was the only one to have this condition.
8. Gopi Shankar Madurai
Gopi Shankar Madurai is an Indian equal rights and Indigenous rights activist. Shankar was one of the youngest, and the first openly intersex and genderqueer statutory authority and one of the candidates to contest in 2016 Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly election. Shankar's work inspired the Madras High Court (Madurai Bench) to direct the Government of Tamil Nadu to order a ban on forced sex-selective surgeries on intersex infants. In December 2017 Shankar was elected to the executive board of ILGA Asia. In August 2020 the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment appointed Shankar as the South Regional representative in the National Council for Transgender Persons.
9. Sally Gross
Sally Gross was an anti-apartheid and intersex activist. A member of the African National Congress during the apartheid era, and the founder of Intersex South Africa, Gross acted as a mentor to intersex activists around the globe. In 2000, Sally secured the first known mention of intersex in national law, with the inclusion of "intersex" within the definition of "sex" in the anti-discrimination law of the Republic of South Africa. Since then, she helped to draft legislation on the Alteration of Sex Descriptors, and the Promotion of Equality.
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