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Celebrating Intersex Awareness Day 2019

The Houston Intersex Society events planned this weekend.

The Houston Intersex Society cofounders Koomah (left) and Mo Cortez have several events planned for Intersex Awareness Day 2019.

Four years ago, The Houston Intersex Society (THIS) cofounders Mo Cortez and Koomah requested to have City Hall lit in the colors of the Intersex Pride flag to mark Intersex Awareness Day. 

City Hall was lit in purple and yellow on October 25, 2015, making it the world’s first illumination of a government building for the annual international observance to end shame, secrecy, and genital surgeries on intersex children. This lighting of City Hall became a tradition, and in 2017, Mayor Sylvester Turner proclaimed October 25 as Houston Intersex Awareness Day. 

There are several events planned for this year’s Awareness Day, according to THIS. In addition to City Hall, the seven bridges over the Southwest Freeway will be lit in the Intersex Pride colors on Friday, October 25. Cortez and Koomah will also keynote the Gender Infinity Conference and discuss intersex issues at the University of Houston-Clear Lake on Saturday, October 26. Then the group will present an Intersex Awareness Day variety show in partnership with Gender Reel Houston at Houston Media Source on Sunday, October 27. 

Note: Houston recognizes October 25 as Houston Intersex Awareness Day instead of the internationally recognized October 26 because that was the date City Hall was first illuminated for the first time.

“Intersex infants, youth, and adults are still subject to various medical abuses, gender-based violence, and lack of legal protections,” THIS tells OutSmart. “Our community is often misunderstood and invisible. Intersex Awareness Day is an opportunity to acknowledge and make space for this vulnerable segment of the community and advocate for our human rights.” 

Cortez, a trans man, and Koomah, a genderqueer person, both attended the Montrose Center’s HATCH youth program as teenagers, but never knew each other as intersex-bodied until reconnecting years later in 2012. 

“Due to shame and stigma, we never knew the other was intersex because neither of us were out and open about it,” Cortez and Koomah say. “We spent our teen years unnecessarily isolated. We founded the group that very day [in 2012] so that no one else would feel the same isolation.” 

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. In addition to educating the general public through visibility and art events, the group has been able to educate medical students, medical providers, and lawmakers on intersex issues. 

Houston City Hall lit in the Intersex Pride flag colors.

These topics will be discussed at the Gender Infinity Conference on Friday and Saturday, where—in addition to their joint October 26 keynote—Cortez will present an Intersex 101 workshop and Koomah will host a workshop on intersex bodies and person-centered care. 

Sunday’s variety show features a mix of short films, music, and live performance made for, by, and about intersex people and their allies. The show will be taped, and approximately the first 20 attendees to arrive will get to be a part of a live studio audience. 

While Intersex Awareness Day is extremely meaningful to THIS, the group wants folks to be cognizant of intersex-bodied people and the issues that they face year-round. “Intersex people are diverse and have varying genders, sexualities, and gender expressions; just like endosex (non-intersex) people,” THIS says. “Some of us are cis and some of us are trans. Some of us have a binary gender, and others are non-binary. Intersex folks are frequently left out of discussions regarding asylum and immigration, bathroom bills, reproductive justice, body autonomy, etc. These are all intersex issues as well.

“We encourage readers to be mindful about using our existence to further discussions of gender and sex as spectrums, or trans rights without any intentional consideration or discussion about issues that directly impact intersex individuals.” 

Intersex Awareness Day started as a protest outside of the American Academy of Pediatrics Conference in Boston in 1996, with intersex advocates denouncing the genital surgeries that are forced on many intersex infants. The annual observance commemorates this event, and encourages the community to be visible, protest ongoing medical abuses, and to demand justice for intersex bodies. 

What: Houston Intersex Awareness Day 2019 Events presented by THIS
When: October 25–27, 2019
Where: University of Houston-Clear Lake (2700 Bay Area Blvd.), Houston Media Source (410 Roberts St.)
Info: facebook.com/pg/houinter/events/ and intersexday.org

For more information about THIS, visit intersexhouston.com, or like the group on Facebook.

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Lourdes Zavaleta

Lourdes Zavaleta is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.
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