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Highlights from the Keele Symposium by Tim Hammond

ARC Newsletter Volume: 
12
ARC Newsletter Issue: 
1
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Features
The Nordic Delegation at The Keele Symposium

Highlights from the Keele Symposium

by Tim Hammond

The 14th International Symposium on Genital Autonomy and Children's Rights took place on September 14-16, 2016 at Keele University in England. The theme was Changing Global Perceptions: Child Protection and Bodily Integrity. Approximately 77 professionals and human rights campaigners attended the event, 23 of whom were presenters. 

DAY ONE of the conference, September 14, 2016 was devoted to Child Protection, Law and Ethics. In her talk about Child Protection, Dr. Jackie Kilding (University Hospital of North Midland) stressed, "Parents only have such rights as are necessary to fulfill their responsibility towards their child." This theme was echoed by attorney Michael Thomson, speaking on Legal Developments and Strategies for Change, in which he noted that understanding the shared rights of children leads to understanding shared harm and helps to build political alliances. Michael reviewed the groundbreaking 2015 legal decision by respected family court judge Sir James Munby in which Munby noted that Type IV female genital mutilation (FGM) (nicking or scratching the female prepuce) is less invasive than typical male circumcision, and that Type 1a FGM (removing the female prepuce) is “physiologically somewhat analogous to male circumcision.” Munby's holding that male circumcision constitutes “significant harm” represents an important first step upon which subsequent court decisions can build to ultimately recognize the damage done by genital cutting of boys.

An insightful presentation titled Genital Alteration: Towards More Empirical, Ethical and Effective Policies by the University of London’s Rebecca Steinfeld addressed the current double standard by which FGM is targeted for elimination as a human rights violation while male genital mutilation (MGM) is tolerated or even promoted as a measure to promote global health. Steinfeld asked, What if instead of framing the argument as an issue of male vs. female, or as religion vs. culture, we focused on consensual vs. non-consensual genital modifications? She proposed four possible alternative approaches to overcome the current inequities involving childhood genital cutting policies by either increasing protection for boys or decreasing protection for girls.

Later in the day, Barrister James Chegwidden presented his talk titled Not Drowning, Paddling: The English Court's Slow Row Towards Genital Autonomy. He discussed several High Court cases, including the now famous judgment of Sir James Munby. James warned that we can't expect massive changes, but can strive for incremental changes that reflect changing social mores. He sounded a hopeful note by citing a judge in one case who used a modern, autonomy-based approach to children's rights.

DAY TWO of the conference, September 15, 2016, focused on Politics and Activism. For this reporter, the most useful information came from the Intersex presentations. Kitty Anderson, Chair of Intersex Iceland (I.I.). , spoke on the topic of Activism, Media and Change in Iceland. She began with a very helpful definition of the term 'intersex'. Kitty defines intersex as anyone 'born with non-normative sex characteristics'. An intersex person can have any gender identity or sexual orientation. To the amazement and delight of most attendees, she stated that in 2016 Intersex Iceland is pushing for legislation based on the concept of the universal human right to bodily integrity, which would outlaw surgical alteration of any non-consenting child's sex characteristics, thereby protecting the child's physical integrity and bodily autonomy. The Icelandic law is being promoted under the theme of 'You shall not cut healthy children' and 'My body belongs to me'. It will apply to genital surgeries done for cosmetic, social, or religious reasons.  To accomplish this, I.I. formed alliances with the Icelandic LGBTI community and the women's and disability rights movements. 

Despite MGM and IGM being entrenched medical procedures, Kitty insisted that they are 'harmful traditional practices' as defined under Article 24.3 of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. Because the medical community is not willing to listen to intersex persons or circumcised men, we need to get the society to parrot what we are all saying and to tell the medical community the same message: don't cut healthy children's genitals! [Editor’s Note: such a tactic cannot yet be used with regard to the U.S. since the U.S. is the only nation that has still not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child.] 

Dr. Mitchell Travis and Dr. Fae Garland presented on the topic of State Responses to Intersex Embodiment, Challenges and Opportunities. They noted the all too common failure of states to protect individuals from the medical profession. Dr. Clare Chambers from the Faculty of Philosophy at University of Cambridge gave a fascinating talk titled Cultural v. Cosmetic Surgery: Challenging the Distinction. She differentiated genital surgeries as cultural (such as FGM and religious MGM) as compared to those that are cosmetic (done for beautification or normalization). She cited examples of Western social pressure on women to attain esthetically pleasing genitals. Dr. Chambers posited that all cosmetic surgery is a subset of cultural surgery because beauty norms are cultural. As one example, she contrasted Western horror at FGM practices − that can adversely affect sexual pleasure and which many African women accept unquestioningly − with the horror expressed by some African women upon learning of the West's casual acceptance of breast implants. 

Before breaking for lunch, a panel presentation involving the morning speakers and titled The Way Forward was moderated by Professor Michael Thomson. Of particular note was discussion on bringing circumcision test cases to court to advance boys' rights to genital autonomy. 

Perhaps most disappointing for this observer − and other attendees with whom I spoke − was the afternoon presentation by Dr. Ann-Marie Wilson, Founder and Executive Director of 28 Too Many, a London-based anti-FGM organization whose talk was titled FGM: Can it Ever be Acceptable? Dr. Wilson spoke at the 2015 Frankfurt symposium, a presentation that seemed to parrot what Western media and women's groups − led mostly by uncircumcised women − have spoon-fed the public.  This year's presentation seemed to be a repeat presentation geared more for newcomers to the issue and, as such, offered most Keele attendees no new information. 

In contrast to anti-FGM organizations that have staked out political positions that refuse taking a public position in support of genital autonomy for boys, it was encouraging to hear a courageous and straightforward presentation on Developments in Finland and Nordic Countries by Tuomas Kurttila, Children's Ombudsman of Finland. Mr. Kurttila drew an extended analogy between past, successful work to stop corporal punishment and the current struggle to protect children’s genital autonomy in Finland.  Mr. Kurttila acknowledged that change is happening in religious communities, consistent with the belief that circumcision cannot be justified before the age of reason and consent. He suggested that families cannot always be trusted to do what's in the best interests of the child, especially in cases involving genital cutting. Mr. Kurttila asserted very clearly that 'It is not proper upbringing to cut children'. 

The day continued with Maryam Namazie, a political activist from the Council of Ex-Muslims speaking on the topic of Council of ex-Muslims and their Role in Changing Minds. Ms. Namazie stated that respect for religion or religious freedom should not be used as an excuse for not criticizing religious practices. She urged that our main concern should be for the rights of the child. 

Dr. Antony Lempert from the Secular Medical Forum rounded out the day with an excellent talk titled First Do No Harm: Variations on a Theme. In it, he reviewed the principles of medical ethics that recognize, among others, autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence and justice. He reminded attendees that, with regard to male circumcision, 'No evidence of harm does not mean evidence of no harm'. 

The day closed with a special screening of a teaser trailer from Brendon Marotta's documentary "American Circumcision" currently in production. 

DAY THREE of the symposium, September 16, 2016, began with a touching memorial by Lloyd Schofield to the life and work of Jonathon Conte (1981-2016). A very moving interview with Jonathon speaking about the pervasiveness of circumcision harm can be viewed at https://soundcloud.com/bdfilm/in-memory-of-jonathon-conte

Margaret Green presented an insightful paper prepared by Glen Poole titled Understanding the Pathways to Male Suicide. Globally, men are 3 to 4 times more likely than women to take their lives (one man every minute). According to Poole, we live in a world where the dominant paradigm says: "Women HAVE problems and men ARE problems."  When men face problems they can no longer fix or cope with, they choose suicide as the only remaining option. Poole's paper suggested that the ability to cope with problems is shaped by early childhood experiences (e.g., trauma, violence, abuse). 

Next up was John Dalton's presentation Genital Cutting and Suicide: Is There a Relationship? Dalton asked if the higher suicide rate among males has any relation to male genital cutting. Can it be empirically proven that suicide is in any way associated with genital cutting? 

Tommi Paalanen, Chair of the Committee on Sexual Ethics of the Finnish Association of Sexology, and Advisory Co-Chair of the Sexual Rights Committee for the World Association for Sexual Health, then spoke regarding Professional Ethics in Health Care: What is Harm? Paalanen began by asserting that 'freedom' means that the individual has the right to direct one's own life, and that all interventions against such freedom must be reasonably justified. He added that when one's actions harm other people, such actions cannot be justified and prohibitions against such harm must be enacted. 

Holly Greenberry from Intersex UK then spoke about Moving Towards a Psycho-Social Framework. Parents and caregivers need more education to realize that their children are eventually going to want to make their own fully informed decisions. Children do not need to be irreversibly sex assigned, mutilated, sterilized, hormonally infused and left with physical and emotional scarring. These amount to torture as defined by the United Nations. 

Dr. Comfort Momoh spoke on the topic of Consequences of FGM and Deinfibulation and began with a basic review of the types of FGM. She warned that all forms of FGM produce harm. This observer notes that if this is correct (e.g. removal of the female prepuce), then by definition, so too must male circumcision be harmful. Next Dr. H. Eli Joubert spoke to the issue of Considering the Psychosexual Impact of Circumcision. Through his work at the University of Surrey, Dr. Joubert works with men experiencing sexual dysfunction, including those affected by circumcision. He asserted that sex happens in the mind AND with the body and that if we are to be activists for genital autonomy, we need to be activists for the creation of care services for affected individuals.

Finally, Tiina Vilponen from Finland's Sexpo Foundation spoke about Counseling and Psychological Damage. In terms of effective counseling, Tiina offered the following guidance: Believe what your client says, be present, persist with your client, ask questions directly, see the person as a whole human, empower your client, be on your client's side, and uphold your client's rights.  Tiina closed her talk by reminding the audience that even if a government acts tomorrow for the sake of future children (e.g., by banning genital cutting), there are still victims from yesterday and today for which we need to develop services. 

The Keele symposium offered the opportunity for old friends to renew acquaintances and for new activists to meet.  Like most symposia, some presentations were definitely better than others. This particular symposium was more or less marketed as primarily focused on Europe, and thus many usual attendees were not present from North America.  Still it offered rewarding talks and useful connections.

Mini Memoir of Early Activism by Chelo Jacob

ARC Newsletter Volume: 
11
ARC Newsletter Issue: 
3
ARC Newsletter Section: 
Feature Articles
Chelo Jacob

December 17, 2016

Chelo Jacob is a 66 year old activist who lives in San Rafael, California. Here's a short reflection on witnessing the early years of genital integrity activism:

I became interested in the genital integrity movement early, as I have known Marilyn Milos (Executive Director of it Genital Autonomy America, fka NOCIRC) since 1972, quite a while before NOCIRC was started.  I remember that she first called the organization "Informed Consent", as she thought that parents just needed to be informed about what circumcision really is and it would stop as simply as that.  I wasn't especially active in the early days, as I was living in Southern California and raising my young son.  Unfortunately, the movement was too late to save him; it was before Marilyn's and my awakening.  No one told me about the horror of circumcision, I had to read it in my newborn son's face when they handed him back to me after his surgery.

Later, my son and I helped Marilyn organize a mass mailing by zip code, which took hours. We sent NOCIRC pamphlets to Senators, Congressmen, and people on an ever growing mailing list, but Marilyn's infectious enthusiasm and passion kept us going.  I also remember being at the first International Symposium on Circumcision, where we came together officially for the first time to discuss elements of the issue, and hear from doctors such as the late Paul Fleiss.

I also remember protesting at the AAP early on and one of the doctors asked Marilyn if she was trying to cause violence and she said "No, I am trying to prevent violence!"  I remember walking with a group of the California Medical Association headquarters in San Francisco, along with moms and babies in strollers and being stopped from going up to their offices.  The march in Washington on the Capitol was also memorable; we received a lot of interest from school children passing by as they toured the grounds. 

Most recently I went to stand alongside other intactivists at the American Academy of Pediatrics conference in San Francisco. I was with Jonathan Conte and others at the ferry building to honor the anniversary of the Cologne court decision in favor of banning circumcision.

I know that we are making a difference.  Before I could even talk to my younger stepbrother 14 years ago about the upcoming birth of his son, he said he could never even think of circumcising his son and that all of his friends felt the same way.  It was music to my ears.

I am so proud to be a part of this heart-centered work to protect children and I feel that everyone involved is a part of my family.

Thank you again everyone, for all that you do!
With Love and Appreciation,
Chelo Jacob

Interview with Tim Hammond

ARC Newsletter Volume: 
11
ARC Newsletter Issue: 
3
ARC Newsletter Section: 
ARC Activities
Tim Hammond
Tim Hammond

Interview by Aubrey Terrón and Steven Svoboda

1.     How old were you when you realized that circumcision was something about which a male should decide for himself?

In 1988, at age 32, I embarked on my personal foreskin restoration efforts after watching an episode of the Phil Donahue show when Phil interviewed Marilyn Milos along with Richard Steiner, who talked about his surgical foreskin restoration.  See it on youtube.  

Marilyn and Dr. Dean Edell articulated the belief that circumcision should be something about which the owner of the penis himself should decide. That was a concept that really resonated with me at a time when I was becoming more aware of how I had been violated by my circumcision.

2.     What was the nature of your very first act as an activist for genital autonomy? 

After seeing the Donahue program, I contacted Marilyn, who put me in touch with Wayne Griffiths, who she said could talk to me about his own manual foreskin restoration methods. After discussing this subject with Wayne, I suggested that he and I begin a support group in San Francisco. We initially called it ReCAP (Re-Cover a Penis) [Note by Steven: a summer 1990 ReCAP meeting at Wayne’s place in Concord, California was my very first exposure to activism], an organization that later evolved into the National Organization of Restoring Men (NORM). Any interest I had in restoration was based on my own quest for personal healing from circumcision.  My activism for children grew out of my frustrations with foreskin restoration and my discovery of very strong emotions of sadness and anger about my own circumcision that, up to that point, I never knew I had. In 1992 I founded the National Organization to Halt the Abuse and Routine Mutilation of Males (NOHARMM), a non-violent, educational and direct-action network of men working together to end routine infant circumcision through a model of education and empowerment of other men. 

3.     Your video Whose Body, Whose Rights? (WBWR?) is now a classic for the movement. Is there a way new activists can see it or share it? 

The idea for creating WBWR? began after I researched existing parent-oriented videos about circumcision and found that they were not giving parents the full picture. They all talked about the “pros” and cons of circumcision.  Unfortunately, they did not include any discussion of the practice’s anti-sexual history, of foreskin functions, of harm caused by circumcision, of foreskin restoration, nor of legal, ethical and human rights considerations. I wanted to make a video primarily directed at men, especially new fathers, to wake them up and to break the cycle of abuse of boys. The original working title of WBWR? was 'And Suddenly Men Began to Scream', after a quote from Marilyn Milos, "I began my work to stop the screams of babies and then men began to scream." 

A great deal of time and talent was volunteered on WBWR? by videographer Lawrence Dillon and by voice talents Wayne Griffiths and Troy Christian, who is Marilyn’s son.  There were still a lot of unavoidable expenses. Through a tedious and time-consuming appeal to movement supporters (remember, this was decades before Kickstarter and GoFundMe existed), I was able to raise half of the approximately $25,000 that it ultimately cost to produce WBWR?  Hanny Lightfoot-Klein (author of Prisoners of Ritual) graciously introduced my film to her friend and philanthropist Lawrence Rockefeller, who indicated that he was willing to fund my project.  Rockefeller also expressed some displeasure with the working title and asked me to consider a different title before he would fund my project. I must have come up with over a dozen different alternative titles. I ran many of them by my friend, videographer James Loewen. After much consideration, we agreed that the title ‘Whose Body, Whose Rights?’ captured the essence of the documentary. Because there was so much content to WBWR? and because we received feedback from childbirth educators that a shorter video was needed for use with parents, I chose to break the video into two parts. Part One outlines the problem, while Part Two explores what’s being done to address solutions.

I completed WBWR? in early 1995 and it won several film festival awards and was sold in VHS format to the home and educational markets (schools and libraries) through the University of California/Berkeley Media Distribution Cooperative. It was also picked up and aired by numerous PBS stations and community access stations around the country, including KQED in San Francisco, who aired it twice (1995 and 1996). KQED was kind enough to share with me their telephone logs and letters from the public that they received after each airing. The response was overwhelmingly positive, with the general feedback being along the lines of, ‘Finally, someone is talking sensibly about this issue!’  I still remember, however, one letter in particular from a viewer in Oakland, California. He railed against the film’s ‘stridency’ and rather prophetically asked KQED’s General Manager, “Can you imagine this becoming a political issue?”  See it on youtube.

A DVD of the program can be purchased at www.circumcisionvideos.com. The same site also carries a DVD that contains ‘Whose Body, Whose Rights?’ along with the groundbreaking mini-documentaries ‘They Cut Babies Don’t They?’ (a profile of Canadian intactivist James Loewen), ‘Nurses of St. Vincent’ (profiling the courageous Santa Fe nurses who took a collective stand against newborn circumcision), and ‘Facing Circumcision: Eight Physicians Tell Their Stories’.

4.     Do you have a favorite “saved a baby” moment? 

I’ve never spent much time trying to save individual babies. My net was always cast much wider, as I strove to empower others to speak out, to form groups and to create events to make this a legitimate social issue and political cause. I did, however, save the son of two friends, a lesbian couple with whom I worked on LGBT issues in my hometown of Rochester, NY. I appealed to their feminist principles as women claiming control of their bodies, an approach that resonated with them. After all, if they had circumcised him, they would have been hypocrites to claim a right to control their own reproductive organs and yet would deny that same right to their son.

5.     We know you sent your Global Survey of Circumcision Harm to the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) in 2013.  Did the CPS respond to you? Do you feel that their policy was impacted in any way? 

I sent the CPS a professionally printed and bound, fully tabbed copy of the 78-page report of findings from the survey that I conducted over a 15.5-month period in 2011 and 2012. The report contained the responses of 1,008 men from eight nations. Most respondents were from the U.S., but there were also 80 from Canada and even 10 from Israel. The report included photos of damage that more than 100 men submitted with their completed questionnaires. The report contained only two of the five photo galleries of harm that are on the website (circumcisionharm.org).  I also included a copy of my earlier harm survey of 546 men that was published in 1999 by BJU International, here.

Since I wasn’t really expecting a response from the CPS, with James Loewen’s help I recorded on youtube an open letter to the CPS to document that I sent them the report. That way, there would be a historical record that they were put on notice that long-term harm exists.  See it on youtube

The CPS, of course, never responded. Realistically, had they confirmed receipt of the survey, they would have then been on record as possessing evidence about the long-term harm. As expected, there was no mention of long-term circumcision harm in the CPS’ most recent policy statement of 2015, here.

What I find particularly damning to the CPS is that two provincial medical societies, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, had previously acknowledged not only long-term harm but critical issues of human rights!

Caution Against Routine Circumcision of Newborn Male Infants (2002)
College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan, here.

Circumcision (Infant Male) - Professional Standards and Guidelines
College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia (2009), here

In 2014, I also sent a copy of the Harm Survey findings by registered mail to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  At the time, the CDC’s proposed recommendations about circumcision were open to public comment. Despite being put on official notice that the harm exists, the CDC also ignored this issue without including it when they published their pro-circumcision guidelines.

Despite my earlier skepticism about trying to convince the medical or academic communities to recognize the harm of circumcision, in 2015 I compiled the survey findings into a journal article, and with the help of co-author Dr. Adrienne Carmack, we started submitting the manuscript to journals such as BJU International, Advancements in Sexual Medicine and the International Journal of Men’s Health. While these journals turned us down, our article was recently accepted by the International Journal of Human Rights. The title is ‘Long-term adverse outcomes from neonatal circumcision reported in a survey of 1,008 men: An overview of health and human rights implications’. The exact publication date has not been set, but we expect it to be published in early 2017.

6.      What area of activism do you think holds the most immediate promise?  Long term?

I think there are multiple answers to this question, depending on where in the world you’re talking about. If it’s Europe, I think the answer can be found in better education of medical professionals about long-term circumcision harm and conservative foreskin treatment alternatives, and holding doctors accountable to a higher level of medical ethics and human rights. Among the Jewish community, even in Israel, I think the answer will be found in the majority of Jews discussing non-cutting alternatives and in greater recognition that the human right to bodily integrity applies as much to Jewish boys as it does to Jewish girls or to children of either sex in Africa. But for U.S. doctors, especially the obstetricians and gynecologists that perform most of the infant male circumcisions in America, I’m confident the answer will be found in litigation and court decisions that will make it unprofitable for them to continue. I sincerely hope that instead of looking at an infant’s penis and seeing a quick surgery that with even a few being done every week can easily translate to a $30,000 automobile each year, they’ll contemplate a judge’s gavel leading to professional dishonor and financial ruin. This is where I’m looking to ARC to lead the way - and I’m eager to assist - in creating a system to identify young plaintiffs who are aware of and can document their harm and are about to reach the age of majority so that they can file a case within the allowable statute of limitations.

7.     Is there something other activists can do to help you in your current endeavors? 

Right now I’m working on several projects.  One is an outreach effort to historically liberal, progressive Christian denominations who have not been afraid to stick their neck out and speak in favor of social justice and human rights issues (women’s rights, gay rights, an end to human trafficking, etc). One goal is to have the national office of such denominations endorse the 2012 Helsinki Declaration on Genital Autonomy. 

Another project I’m working on is a media guide to circumcision and human rights. I’m also working at the regional level (Southern California) to plan events in the Los Angeles area to mark World Genital Autonomy Day each year on May 7th, here

I also invite Southern California activists to contact me to coordinate an activist presence in the L.A. Pride Parade and Festival each June.

8.     Does your gay activism affect your activism on behalf of genital integrity, and if so, how?

Some might wonder what in the world LGBT issues might have to do with activism. Well, gay men are just as much victims of circumcision as straight men. Same-sex couples these days are also having or adopting children, so they are confronted with ‘the decision’ just as straight couples are. Many activists who’ve work on other social justice and human rights causes (e.g., animal welfare, women’s rights, civil rights, and gay rights) can easily see the intersectionality or common ground among all of these issues. Steven Svoboda and other activists acknowledge that the activist movement is following a similar trajectory as the LGBT movement and we have much to learn from LGBT political experiences. LGBT history is full of experiences with medical and religious communities attempting to control, suppress and sometimes even eradicate our ‘undesirable’sexuality, much the way these institutions have attempted to eradicate the ‘undesirable’ foreskin. I think we’re also more politically fearless than most people in calling out institutions, beliefs and practices based on religion that harm others (intentionally or not). LGBT folk - I believe - can become some of our most socially, financially and politically potent allies. I explain this further in a brochure that we at CHHRP created called ‘Circumcision and the LGBTI Community’. Found here

9.     As founder and Executive Director of NOHARMM you were ARC's mentor in our early years. What have you learned about the movement in the intervening years? When you think back to the days when you and Steven worked together learning to track monthly donations using index cards, what has changed since then, in yourself, in Steven, in ARC? 

I think both Steven and I have expanded our awareness beyond male circumcision. Although our particular problem in the U.S. happens to target boys, speaking from a legal and human rights perspective, I think this is best addressed as a children’s rights issue that involves all children. I also believe Steven, Peter Adler and other ARC attorneys have done an amazing job at defining what the legal and human rights issues are. I think the next step for ARC and its lawyers is to design and find funding for a national program to find suitable young male plaintiffs who know they’ve been harmed (and can have it professionally documented) in order to bring legal action against their circumcisers and the facilitators (i.e., hospitals and insurance companies). The parents could even be co-plaintiffs on the grounds that they were fraudulently solicited to consent to their sons’ circumcisions. Ideally, this would be a case against ‘Big Circ,’ much the way we’ve seen lawsuits against “Big Pharma’ and ‘Big Tobacco’. I mean, just look at the magazine ads from the first half of the 20th century where doctors were endorsing cigarettes! You can’t convince me that they weren’t aware of the science behind the dangers of tobacco smoking, and I think the same holds true today for circumcision. Even if many of today’s doctors take a ‘neutral’ stand on circumcision, the very fact that they raise the issue with parents and are willing to do the circumcision sends a tacit message to parents, ‘It must be a good thing if the doctor is offering it.’

10. You lived in Canada for a number of years. Did your life outside the US affect your view of activism and activists in the US, and if so, how?

Having lived for the past eight years in Canada (Vancouver) I became aware of a very different sensibility about activism for genital autonomy. Since infant circumcision is no longer paid for by any provincial health plan, profiteers have sprung up to take advantage of this void by offering circumcision as a private, outpatient clinic ‘service’ to parents. The most notorious entrepreneur is Jewish mohel and physician Neil Pollock who runs a chain of circumcision clinics in British Columbia. Although there have been some organized street protests outside his clinics, I’m not aware of any sustained effort at this. However, under the 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms - which is similar to but stronger than the U.S. Bill of Rights - gender equality is supposedly a right of all Canadian citizens. Canada has a federal anti-FGM law that protects girls. So, any young man who was circumcised in Canada without medical indication and who becomes aware of and can document his harm can bring a lawsuit against the hospital and/or medical or religious circumciser within one year of turning age 18, based on harm done to his body and the violation of his Charter rights to equal protection based on gender. All it would take would be for one or two aware and courageous young Canadian men to become plaintiffs in such a case. As well, Canada has ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC), as has every other nation in the world except the U.S.*. In this way, Canadian activists potentially have two means of engaging the government on this issue. 

In the U.S., I predict the change must eventually rise to the level of the courts. Just as with the issue of marriage equality, the issue of children’s genital autonomy will entail a divisive political fight with human rights advocates on one side. On the other side will be the medical community trying to protect its prestige and profits, plus Jews and Muslims claiming ‘religious freedom,’ Christian fundamentalists claiming ‘parental rights’, and political conservatives claiming ‘judicial activism’ and ‘government intrusion’ into private family life. That said, this is not an issue we should shrink from. It just needs to be approached in a very careful, well thought out, and strategic manner. And that of course will not happen unless we come together to design the road map for change.

 * If you support U.S. ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, visit childrightscampaign.org.  If you want to read the absurd arguments from those who oppose the UNCROC visit noCRC.org.  

11.     What are you most excited about in activism?

I’m most hopeful when I see the young people at high school and college level who grasp that this is a legitimate issue of gender equality and human rights.  While having a presence at baby fairs is important, we can no longer confine ourselves to that brief nine-month window of opportunity. We need to transform the dialogue into a legitimate society-wide debate over children’s rights vs. parental responsibilities and the limits of religious freedom.

12.     What are you most concerned about in activism?

I’m concerned that some of our organizations don’t seem to have clearly defined strategies. As well, many activists rely too heavily on either social media or street protests as the only means of change.  We also need to focus on creative ways to fund our movement. One way that I recently discovered was 1% cashback credit cards.  I convinced and helped ARC to sign up for these programs. Anyone who applies for these cards can now designate 1% of their cashback rewards to go to ARC. [Editor’s Note: Details regarding this program are available here: ] This is a start, but we need to combine our skills and talents to search for more ways to fundraise. 

I believe public support for our message will be easier to secure if we focus—as ARC is doing—on protecting all children, male, female and intersex. I believe the physicians within our movement need to be better organized and aggressive in terms of creating lobbies within their respective fields to educate their peers about foreskin anatomy, development and function, conservative treatment alternatives to circumcision,  and pushing for resolutions that recognize the ethical and human rights dimensions of non-consensual genital cutting of children.

I also believe that some activists need to do a better job at policing themselves on social media. When I speak to non-activists about our issue, I often hear impressions of activists as “rude bullies” who try to make circumcised men feel bad about themselves or make parents feel bad about choosing circumcision.  There are methods of accomplishing ‘change without denigration’ that can be more effective than some techniques now being used by some U.S. activists.