Hochul signs intersex education and awareness bill

The intersex awareness legislation was led in the upper chamber by out gay State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal.
The intersex awareness legislation was led in the upper chamber by out gay State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal.
Donna Aceto

Governor Kathy Hochul signed a bill Nov. 8 requiring the New York State Department of Health to conduct a public information campaign about medically unnecessary treatments performed on intersex individuals. Hochul signed the legislation on Intersex Day of Solidarity. 

The legislation, S.5399/A.5627, was sponsored by out gay State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal and Assemblymember Rebecca Seawright. The public awareness campaign aims to reduce the harm caused by treatments intersex youth are often subjected to when forced into a male-female binary, while also educating the public about the existence of people that are born with intersex traits. 

Intersex individuals are born with reproductive systems or anatomy that does not fit into a standard definition of male or female. Health experts and intersex advocates have long raised concerns about the long-term effects of genital surgeries — often performed on infants and children — intended to align their bodies with male or female anatomy. 

Medical professionals widely agree intersex surgeries are medically unnecessary. Human Rights Watch wrote in a 2017 report that “operations to alter the size or appearance of children’s genitals risk incontinence, scarring, lack of sensation, and psychological trauma.” Intersex youth also face a high level of mental health challenges. According to the findings of a 2021 survey by the Trevor Project, 48% of intersex youth seriously considered suicide over a 12 month period, compared to 41% of non-intersex LGBTQ youth. 

In a written statement, Hochul said she was proud to sign the legislation on Intersex Day of Solidarity. 

“Every individual in New York deserves to be treated with dignity and respect by our medical system, especially our kids,” Hochul said. “This new law is a significant step forward to raise awareness of the intersex community and ensure they get informed and compassionate medical care.”

Hoylman-Sigal said he is pleased the governor signed his legislation. 

An estimated 400,000 New Yorkers have intersex traits, which are natural variations in sex characteristics,” he said in a written statement. “Contrary to common understanding, there is no evidence that surgical procedures to ‘correct’ infants born intersex benefit children in any way.” 

Erika Lorshbough, who is intersex and serves as the executive director of interACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth, said she was grateful for the bill’s passage.

“Today we remember the struggles for autonomy and self-determination of intersex people around the world, and we celebrate the expression of solidarity by our partners in New York acting to increase awareness and honor the human rights of children with intersex variations,” Lorshbough said in a written statement.

The new policy comes two years after the New York City Council approved a law requiring the city’s health department to develop an outreach campaign to doctors, parents, and guardians of intersex children about medically unnecessary treatments and interventions. 

In November 2019, Hoylman-Sigal announced his intent to introduce a bill banning non-consensual intersex surgery in New York, however that bill does not appear to have been advanced, according to the New York State Senate’s website.