A speech at parliament
On Saturday the 5th of March I was invited to participate in an event at parliament to mark and celebrate the 30th Anniversary of homosexual law reform. I am old enough to have been a young activist while homosexuality was still a crime in New Zealand. So for me it was an honour to be asked to speak as an intersex activist, but also to have the chance to acknowledge and thank the gay men who were so much part of my support network in my youth.
This is a copy of the speech I read in the beehive banquet room at the Anniversary event.
Kia ora whanau
Fellow human beings – it is indeed a great privilege and an honour to be with you all tonight…
This country kid from the King Country, a small remote sheep and cattle farm in a valley called Kirikau.
Yes, my name is Mani Bruce Mitchell. Yes, I am an intersex person.
I am feeling the responsibility for holding this mahi tonight.
I have been since my late teens a ‘queer identified person’ – came out as a young teacher – as a ‘lesbian’ in Whanganui more than 40 years ago. I was at the time teaching up the river at Rana – would travel down the river road – to the then secret group meetings in Whanganui at Terry and Georges place… I have been wracking my brains. How did I even find this group!!??
No google – no internet – and 'homosexuality' as it was known as then - was a criminal activity. What I do remember is how wonderful, and how important it was to find that group – I felt like I had found family. I remember the warm welcome I got there. I remember also going to functions in Palmerston North – cars splitting up – driving around the block checking to make sure we were not being tailed. The fear, the pragmatism and the plain old fashioned guts that meetings, support and social functions involved in those days.
I remember also the bigotry and hate that surfaced and was given VISIBLE voice during the time leading up to the passing of the Homosexual Law Reform ACT. It is wonderful, and slightly astonishing that tonight we are gathered here, in the bee hive to mark this historic event. To have an opportunity to reflect, to remember all the people that were involved in the process of decriminalisation.
So my own story – 20 years ago – 1996 - I travelled to America to attend the world’s first ever retreat for intersex people – 9 Americans and myself representing the world. At that point I had changed my name to Mani – was identifying as, speaking about being a non binary, queer identified - intersex person. It was this retreat, the people that organised it – that gave birth to the modern intersex ‘movement’.
Before I go further – an explanation – what is intersex?
Intersex is an umbrella term describing people born with variations of internal and/or external sex anatomy resulting in bodies that can’t be classified as the typical male or female. We’re usually taught that sex is merely black and white, “male” or “female,” but that’s simply not true. There are a lot of awesome gray areas in the middle that could make someone intersex!
Prevalence: One in Two thousand live births – or to create a visual image the same number of people who are naturally born red heads…..
As an aside I had brown hair and my three siblings and my mum all had red hair!!
For the last 60 years people who are born – identified intersex have been treated under a pathologising medical model that sees the world in very – black and white no grey ways. A model that has seen us ‘sexed’ and our bodies ‘normalised’ with surgery and or the use of hormones.
For many of us this model has been profoundly traumatizing. Our efforts to significantly change this medical model have thus far been futile. This despite a constant self narrative from intersex people – right across the world of the damage – harm this model does to us as humans – to our families.
The international intersex movement had a major step change in in May 2013 when The world’s 1st International Intersex Organising Forum took place in Brussels September 2011. The historic event brought together 24 activists representing 17 intersex organisations from all continents. The event was organised and funded by ilga The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) is an international organization bringing together more than 750 LGBT and intersex groups from around the world.
It continues to be active in campaigning for LGBT rights and intersex rights on the international human rights and civil rights scene, and regularly petitions the United Nations and governments. ILGA is represented in 110+ countries across the world. ILGA is accredited by the United Nations and has been granted NGO Ecosoc consultative status.
The Forum agreed on the demands aiming to end discrimination against intersex people and to ensure the right of bodily integrity and self-determination: 1. To put an end to mutilating and ‘normalising’ practices such as genital surgeries, psychological and other medical treatments, including infanticide and selective abortion (on the grounds of intersex) in some parts of the world. 2. To insure that the personal, free, prior, and fully informed consent of the intersex individual is a compulsory requirement in all medical practices and protocols. 3. Creating and facilitating supportive, safe and celebratory environments for intersex people, their families and surroundings. This newly established informal network will campaign for the respect of intersex people’s human rights on international, regional and national levels.
These international gatherings have continued – with the last and largest in Malta in 2013 – the forum built on, expanded – clarified the first consensus statement. I want to take a moment and acknowledge that ‘shift change’ moment that ilga created – one in recognising intersex – adding I to the alphabet soup. But more in its determination to NOT speak on behalf of intersex people – rather its commitment and strategy that determined intersex people needed to speak for themselves – more that the voice needed to be globally representative.
We have the current Executive Director of ilga with us here tonight. Renato Sabbadina - Renato is here to attend the first ever ilga Oceania conference which will open at wharewaka on Wednesday evening – Renato it seems somehow very ‘right’ that you are here to witness, be part of this historic human rights event this evening.
Our wonderful conference will be held 9-11 March 2016, at the Otago Medical School in Wellington, (yes the irony is not lost on me!), I also want to thank Rawa Keretai my fellow ilga oceania board member. It was Rawa who had the idea to bring our conference to Wellington after the original proposal for Auckland hit an impossible road block.
We had only 8 months to organise the conference out of nothing – no funding – no structure – the fact we have is solely due to extraordinary efforts of the local lgbti community and its allies.
Finally tonight is an honoring celebration. 30 years. I want to make plea that we use this event to launch a renewed vigor and determination to change the things that are NOT right in our community.
I am mental health professional – if you look at the stats even the most privileged members of our community do not reach health equivalency with their cis gendered heterosexual counter parts. Reason discrimination – hate – prejudice – homo – trans phobia minority stress, does damage! Terrible damage. Go out into the margins – into the less visible – the less recognised supported members of the community and the stats are horrifying.
In our schools we have systemic rates of bullying and lack of support. Very few of our nations schools are safe places for our community – our youth suicide statistics are one brutal indicator.
Our prisons in NZ have never been safe places for our community – that has to change.
We have significant access issues to safe respectful health care in so many areas.
We still operate on tiny intersex infants and make their genitals look ‘normal’ The medical model continues to believe in the binary construction of gender. There is still inadequate lgbti training – diversity awareness, – basic information BEST PRACTICE/POLICY in many of our major government institutions…
In fact in some areas in recent years – I would suggest we have gone backwards.
Yes – there have been gains I acknowledge that.
But they are not enough.
We can’t – must not stop.
The lgbti community as a whole represents some 12% of the population – we have nowhere near access to 12% of the nation’s resources.
The reform work must go on. We have people in our community actually dying. People with no sense they belong or access to safe healthy housing, work, a sense of trust, of feeling safe, free from violence, being heard, valued, respected or have any hope for a dignified – purposeful life – or a sense of the future.
Its not time to go home yet..
There is lots to be angry about, disappointed and frustrated with.
There is work to do – LOTS of work to do
Ngā mihi nui
Mani B Mitchell