The i in LGBTi and a Wake up Call to USA LGBTQ Advocates

I have never understood why we in the USA fail this sector of the community | Does the Taboo persist in America? 

By Melanie Nathan, Oct 10, 2014.

Intersex Advocate Mawanda
Intersex Advocate Mawanda

Americans may wonder why African human rights defenders refer to the LGBT community as the LGBTI community.  Whenever I write ‘LGBT’ – for the most part always add  the “I“. People ask me why – this article below by Christine Chisa of Lusaka, for the Zambia Daily Mail, will explain it. I have never understood why we in the USA fail this sector of the community, and I wonder if the taboo described in the article below is as applicable here in the United States and other Western Countries, even amongst our own LGBT. Perhaps those more knowledgeable or with personal experience could weigh in.


The excitement of becoming a parent is like a child waiting for Santa the night before Christmas. Parents while awaiting the arrival of a child hold baby showers, parties, getting the nursery ready.

Some parents paint the nursery themselves, packing their bookshelves with mommy bargain books, and of course picking out the cutest new-born outfits on the planet.

Each night parents wonder when the day will arrive but sometimes the arrival of a new family member is not so simple.

It is a boy!’ or ‘It is a girl!’ is what every parent expects to hear, Intersex is never something that a parent expects.

Intersex is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that does not seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.

Some may ask why a subject of intersex. Often, the birth of an intersex child brings shame and anxiety to the parents and, later, the child.

The intersex person’s family and friends find it hard to cope in a society that presumes that everyone is easily classified as male or female, and that all it takes is one peep at the genitalia.

This brings secrecy and stigma in a life of an intersex child or adult.

For Bwalya Ngenda [not real name] he shared his personal journey as a way of educating others.

Mr Ngenda said in Zambia, Intersex conditions are not discussed openly because it is seen as a taboo to speak about genital abnormality.

“Children often face forced segregation from their friends and told to lie to teachers about their ambiguous genitalia because such a condition is often seen as witch craft and parents are not ready to face being ostracised by their communities,” he said.

At first he had wanted an operation, but he hated going to the public hospital because over and over again she became this guinea pig for the doctors.

“I became so abused by the doctors to a point whereby even when I got sick, and I was seriously sick, I could not go to the doctor.

“The only doctors I could go to were private medical doctors but those were expensive and I could not afford them. I was so angry at myself that I could not go to a private doctor because I needed to get an operation,” he said.

Mr Ngenda said after meeting other intersex people he has realised how privileged he was that he did not undergo the surgery because people who went through it are going through a very hard time because the surgeries left negative effects on them.

Mr Ngenda said in Zambia, the only designated hospitals that deal with intersex conditions are University Teaching Hospital (UTH) and Ndola General Hospital. In Zambia, medical doctors do not perform forced corrective surgery on a newly born baby.

However, there is no system or policy to correct this abnormality as most cases go unreported and families would prefer to suffer in silence than face the humiliation of being showcased around the hospital or in the media.

Mr Ngenda said the lack of psychosocial support from parents and relatives is also a contributor to the distress experienced by children.

He said most often it leads to deprivation of various fundamental enjoyments of any human being such as education, employment, correct legal documents, marriage and parental rights or guardianship. A situation a Human Rights organisation Dette Resources Foundation is trying to correct.

The foundation stresses that intersex children are natural and normal, and are found in all societies.

Foundation Community Co-ordinator Jane Kaluba said “intersex children come with a bundle of rights clenched in their tiny fists fighting to stay alive. They are born free with their unique bodily features, hormones and a blood system that flows like yours and mine.”

She said in the same token, they carry hormones like the rest of humanity.

The only thing that is unique about them is that they find themselves in a world that does not have room for them.

Ms Kaluba said it was a pity that intersex people have no known legal recognition in the Zambian laws.

“Intersex people in our society live a miserable life. They grow up being called derogatory names like hermaphrodites. They are in constant contact with insults. They live in shame and fear. This is because we have refused to accept diversity.

“It is also sad that many parents opt to subject intersexual children to the so-called corrective surgery. The child is boxed into one of the boxes – male or female. The operations are too painful, irreversible, and intrusive and they leave scars,” she  said.

Ministry of Health Deputy Director Technical Support Services, Health Education ,Tasila Pitters said  in Zambia intersex babies and adults though rarely recorded are referred to as  ‘hermaphrodites’, a term rejected by intersex activists because it is considered medically incorrect and leads to increased stigma and shame.

According to the Intersex Society of North America (ISNA), the mythological term ‘hermaphrodite’ implies that a person is both fully male and fully female. However, this is physiologically impossible.

But this situation is beginning to change, largely due to the work of intersex activists. In South Africa, there is a lot more known about intersexuality than there was twenty years ago.

Intersex South Africa an organisation that offers support to parents and intersexed people firmly believes that children who are born intersexed should not undergo surgery because there is nothing medically wrong with them.

Intersexed people can live full and fulfilling lives, including creating positive sexual and social relationships with others.

Intersex conditions are not black magic but nature`s proof of the many possibilities under the sun. No child chooses to be born different from others and no family should suffer in silence because of what nature has determined.

Recently the Washington Blade reported that our friend, intersex advocate, Nikilas Mawanda, received asylum in the U.S.A. This was a perfect opprtunity to inform America about that which Mawanda stands for and how to effect this advocacy more in an inclusive way.  Unfortunately this is how The Blade reported it:

The U.S. has granted asylum to a Ugandan LGBT rights advocate who fled persecution in his homeland.U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on October 3 granted final approval to Nikilas Mawanda’s asylum request. Whitman-Walker Health, who represented Mawanda through the process that began in late May, made the announcement in a press release.

“The asylum process and the four months I had to wait anxiously were very emotionally taxing for me, but I’m so relieved this day has finally come,” said Mawanda.

Cori Alonso-Yoder, a staff attorney for Whitman-Walker Health, applauded the decision to approve Mawanda’s asylum request.

“We are thrilled that our government has offered him the necessary protection to remain active in the quest for universal human rights, regardless of gender or sexual orientation,” said Alonso-Yoder.

and … ”

“Mawanda is the second Ugandan LGBT rights advocate to receive asylum in the U.S. in recent weeks.

Mawanda, as the Blade notes, is the executive director of Trans Support Initiative-Uganda, a group that advocates for transgender and intersex people in Uganda. I met Nikilas in March and when I did he was speaking to us  about his advocacy for intersex people as well as his own personal experience.

Nikilas Mawanda is first and foremost renowned for his advocacy on intersex issues.

Imagine how surprised I was to note the Blade’s failure to acknowledge that, and to fail the “I” in the acronym in the very article that refers to Mawanda’s advocacy.  Almost like a slap across the face. Wise up America – there is a portion of our community we are ignoring. In this regard Africa is way ahead of us.

Do not retort with the argument that we should then add “Q” etc. The great importance of adding the “I” is that this is not a chosen label, but rather a clear ‘birth’ right and designation. I am not derogating from the use of “Q” in the acronym, I am just saying that not having the “Q” in there as a matter of habit, is no excuse for not having the “I” as a matter of imperative necessity. You would think the Blade would have had the sensibility to respect the designation of the very person it writes about and that it would have the foresight to carpe diem!


5 thoughts on “The i in LGBTi and a Wake up Call to USA LGBTQ Advocates

  1. great Article I remember in 2006 when i proposed the addition of the I on the LGBT acronym members of my community didnt really support it and many where very naive or ignorant about why i wanted I included.but slowly with more discussions I explained why it was important for us to Include I one of the very basic reasons I argued was that if they dont see the I they may continue to hide believing we are not advocating for them.Also members where skeptical since they believed that Intersex pple are not free with being included for fear of calling them homosexuals/transgenders.It was a long and healthy discussion though and finally the community began to embrace the I.guess what after we added the I many intersex people came out and by 2007,the Intersex organisations opened up in Kampala.By the way the govt of Uganda has also been “helpful” when it comes to intersex even if ofcos they lack alot of information and are till forcing people to choose.Good start for you to bring this topic and discussion out in US.The world needs to start taking Intersex issues seriously.We had to practically save a member who was to be burnt alive after the village found out they are intersex.I had to raise this issue at the African Commission session as it was terrifying.they had poured petro on them and tied them on a tree ready to burn them since they believed this person brought all the misfortune the village was having.shame shame.

    1. Thank you for embracing this kasha and for taking the lead in Africa – where we always find the inclusion of the INTERSEX community.

  2. Reblogged this on JerBear's Queer World News, Views & More From The City Different – Santa Fe, NM and commented:
    I know how disenfranchised I feel when Q is left off of LGBT as I identity as Queer so this post has made me rethink the initials and I will now be adding I, for intersex to the lineup. There is a move afoot to come up with another umbrella term which I have always considered Queer to be but given the continued resistance to than in some quarters I guess some new term is needed. In any case, here’s more…

  3. Thanks for this.

    I try my best to use LGBTI consistently when I write. However, I question the use of Q in LGBTQ; some understand it means Queer, while others say it means Questionning; the point being that it is not consistently used.

    I far prefer LGBTI as it is more inclusive.

  4. Pingback: Intersex Awareness day | Nicky's World

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