Maximo “Mo” Cortez publicly opened up about being born intersex during an LGBTQ discussion panel in 2012.
“I wouldn’t ‘come out’ as intersex until a friend of mine invited me to speak on [that] panel,” Cortez, 35, recalls. “For whatever reason, the parents in attendance at that event were upset hearing about my story.”
Following the event, Cortez, an intersex-bodied transgender man, co-founded The Houston Intersex Society (THIS) with intersex advocate Koomah. While THIS was initially created to be a social support group for people who were born intersex, over time it morphed into an organization that advocates for intersex people in Houston and beyond.
Cortez continued his LGBTQ activism in 2014 when he testified before the Houston City Council and then Mayor Annise Parker, urging them to pass the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and expression, in addition to more than a dozen other characteristics. Cortez says he got serious about being an advocate for queer issues after the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016.
In 2017, Cortez introduced SB 1342 with a coalition of Latinx people, including Koomah and state senator Sylvia Garcia. The proposed bill would have prevented nonconsensual genital surgeries on minors with intersex traits, but it died in committee.
“I am a subject-matter expert on my life experiences as an intersex-bodied trans man,” Cortez says. “I know first-hand how the state violates the rights and bodies of these two marginalized communities, and I want to be the person I needed growing up. I invest in these communities. Together we are better, and divided we fall.”
In addition to being a leader in THIS, Cortez is the former interim vice-chair of the Transgender Education Network of Texas, a board member of Queers with Careers, a founding member of Mayor Turner’s LGBTQ Advisory Board, and a member of PFLAG Beaumont. He also was named Mr. OLTT for 2018.
Because of his work to strengthen and empower Texas’ LGBTQ community, PFLAG Beaumont has named Cortez the 2019 Grand Marshal of its Beaumont Pride Fest, which is set for Saturday, June 8.
“Mo works tirelessly for all marginalized communities, and like so many grassroots advocates, his work is in the trenches,” PFLAG Beaumont education chair Payshunz Nagashima says. “This is the work that creates real change in people’s lives, and is often not noticed by the larger community.
“I want all of Beaumont to meet Mo Cortez, get familiar with his work, and support what he is doing for all of us.”
When Cortez was born intersex in 1984, doctors insisted on performing surgery to make his genitalia appear more distinctly female, but his parents fought their suggestions. Five years later, an anonymous person informed Child Protective Services that Cortez’ mother was raising a boy as a girl. The mother was then pressured to go through with Cortez’ surgery.
As an 18-year-old, Cortez discovered that he was born with an intersex condition while looking at his medical records. Although he faced many challenges while growing up in a conservative Mexican and Mormon household in San Angelo, Texas, Cortez found his true gender identity and began living as a trans man in 2014.
Cortez is now a prominent advocate for both the intersex and the transgender communities. He says he one day hopes to live in a world where nonconsensual gender surgeries are no longer performed on intersex children of indeterminate gender.
“My ultimate dream is to help found a specialty clinic in the Texas Medical Center that will serve as a center of excellence for intersex and trans patients, with [intersex and trans] staff serving as advisors,” Cortez says.
Cortez will be honored on June 8 at this year’s Beaumont Pride Fest. The LGBTQ celebration begins at noon with a march through downtown Beaumont. A free street fair and festival will begin at 12:30 p.m., and outdoor festivities are open to people of all ages.
For more information about Beaumont Pride Fest, visit pflagbmt.org.
This article appears in the June 2019 edition of OutSmart magazine.