California’s Landmark Intersex Rights Bill Just Failed in Committee

And the committee's chair received a $50,000 check from the bill's opponents on Friday.

Above: Intersex rights activist Pidgeon Pagonis speaks during a protest against genital surgeries on intersex kids outside of Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago on July 19, 2018.

A landmark bill that would have ended infant intersex surgeries in California has died in committee, foreclosing an opportunity to advance legislation advocates hoped could serve as a template for the nation.

Senate Bill 201 died in the California Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee on Monday by a 4-2 vote. Three senators did not vote at all.

The vote comes just three days after the California Medical Association, which has vociferously opposed the measure, funneled $50,000 into a campaign fund for the committee’s chair, Sen. Steven Glazer, campaign finance records show.

Steven Harmon, a spokesperson for Glazer, tells NewNowNext that Glazer was “not involved in that independent [campaign] committee’s work.” In a statement released to NewNowNext, Glazer said he does oppose sex assignment surgery on infants born with ambiguous sex characteristics.

“I believe a narrower bill could be crafted to achieve that objective,” Glazer said. “I’m sorry that this did not occur today.”

The California Medical Association did not respond to a request for comment from NewNowNext on whether it had made the donation with the expectation that Glazer vote against SB 201.

SB 201, which had broad backing from LGBTQ rights advocates, would have required doctors and parents to delay medically unnecessary intersex surgeries on infants until the age of six. Such surgeries—in which adults decide to gender intersex children along a binary—are often hidden from them from years. But in many cases, those surgeries have robbed patients of sexual sensation later in life.

A growing chorus of human rights groups have condemned intersex surgeries on babies as physically and psychologically devastating. Human Rights Watch and the United Nations have advocated for the end of such surgeries.

In a statement, bill sponsor Sen. Scott Wiener said he was very disappointed in the committee for voting down the bill.

“Intersex people deserve legal protection, and we are committed to ensuring that protection under California law,” Wiener added. “Today’s vote was a setback, but this is only the beginning.”

Josh Stickney, press secretary for statewide LGBTQ organization Equality California, says advocates are confident that the measure will pass. His group, interACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth, and the ACLU of California could push for its passage next year, he adds. In the meantime, New York is weighing a similar bill.

“We’re still very hopeful, not only about California, but the rest of the country,” Stickney tells NewNowNext. “Yes, California has a history of leading, not just on LGBTQ issues but human rights issues… The votes are there. We just couldn’t get it past our first policy committee.”

Kate Sosin is an award-winning, trans-identified news and investigative reporter.
@shoeleatherkate