Categorized | Social Entrepreneur

Social Entrepreneur Anne Tamar-MattisAdvocates for Informed Choice

Anne Tamar-Mattis

Who is the person? What is her background?

Anne Tamar-Mattis is the founder and executive director of Advocates for Informed Choice (AIC). Anne has more than eighteen years of experience in community organizing and nonprofit organizational management, primarily with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) and youth communities. She spent six years as the Director of the LYRIC Youth Talkline, a national peer-support line for LGBTQ youth, and she was the first Program Director for San Francisco’s LGBT Community Center. In 2003 she took a brief hiatus to attend law school, graduating from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall) in 2006.

Anne is the author of Exceptions to the Rule: Curing the Law’s Failure to Protect Intersex Infants (Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law & Justice, 2006). Her work in service to the LGBTQI communities has been recognized by Equal Justice Works, Echoing Green, National Lesbian and Gay Law Association, the Pride Law Fund, Uncommon Legacy, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and has recently been honored by KQED (Northern Calif. Public Media) as an Unsung Hero. Anne has been an adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall) since 2008.

Anne has been an involved ally of the intersex rights movement for many years and has worked with intersex community leaders to forge connections between the intersex and LGBTQ civil rights movements. She and her partner of fifteen years, intersex activist and physician Suegee Tamar-Mattis, are the parents of two children.

Name of Social Enterprise?

Advocates for Informed Choice (AIC) is the first and only organization in the U.S. to undertake a coordinated strategy of legal advocacy for the rights of children born with variations sex anatomy or DSDs (Differences of Sex Development).

Date officially launched?

September, 2006.

What came about that made you help in social change?

Experts estimate that 1 in 2000 children is born “intersex” – that is, with sex organs not easily labeled as male or female, due to any of a variety of medical conditions. The public has become aware of this vulnerable population thanks to the Oprah Book Club selection, Middlesex,‘ and to news stories speculating about runner Caster Semenya’s “real” sex. However, such popular accounts rarely reveal the stark vulnerability an intersex child experiences from birth through adolescence. Many intersex children are repeatedly exposed to genital surgeries and other medical interventions aimed at “normalizing” their bodies. The surgeries performed on nonconsenting intersex children are almost never medically necessary and there is no clear evidence of benefit. On the contrary: they often lead to childhoods filled with invasive procedures, physical pain and humiliating medical exams, and a lifetime of massive scarring, painful or absent sexual response, incontinence, depression, sterility, and difficulty forming relationships.

Adults who were exposed to these surgeries as children strongly believe that only the intersex individual has the right to choose whether or not to face such risks. Currently, however, the surgeries are authorized by parents ignorant of their child’s rights, performed by physicians who are unaware of the legal and ethical problems raised by this practice, and carried out with no legal safeguard protecting the child’s best interest.

At stake is these children’s right to make informed decisions about what happens to their bodies and their sexuality. One of the primary reasons given for the medical re-shaping of intersex children’s bodies is avoiding a clitoris that is “too large” or a penis that is “too small” for heterosexual intercourse, and parents are frequently led to believe that surgery will prevent their child from growing up to be gay or gender-variant. A child’s assigned sex is literally inscribed on their body, defining the boundaries of gender for all of us. Sometimes, this sort of thing is hardest to see when it is happening in our own culture: while American reformers have broadly addressed the cutting of girls’ genitals as practiced in some African cultures, Americans have been much slower to address the ways in which Euro-American culture reshapes intersex genitals to suit its norms about gender.

Several legal organizations provide services aimed at the legal issues of intersex adults, but before AIC none had developed the capacity to address the issues of children with intersex conditions or DSDs. For this reason, AIC was founded to focus on children’s legal issues. AIC uses innovative legal strategies to advocate for the civil rights of this unique group of children. Our project:

  • engages parents, doctors, attorneys and intersex activists in strategy discussions;
  • stimulates legal dialogue about the fundamental rights of children born with intersex conditions or DSDs; and
  • employs traditional and non-traditional legal tools to ensure justice for children born with intersex conditions or DSDs.

These activities are grounded in a sense of respect and compassion for the children, parents, doctors, and intersex adults involved.

What free online or offline tools do you use?

In addition to our website, www.aiclegal.org, AIC has a social media presence on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. In addition to traditional modes of outreach like informational brochures and bi-annual newsletters, AIC uses MailChimp for email campaigns and e-newsletters.

How many people are currently working, including employees (freelancers or independent contractors for specific projects)?

AIC currently employs one full-time employee, one half-time employee, three consultants, and a handful of volunteers and interns.

What is the best advice you never got?

That getting a law degree did not mean I had to become a cog in the legal machine. So many lawyers hate their jobs, and yet feel tied to them! But the fact is, if you are willing to forgo a certain kind of prestige and a certain amount of money, there are so many options. I feel incredibly lucky that I can do work that feels meaningful to me and still see my kids at dinner.

What is the one thing that you did right?

When I started AIC I took time to listen to our stakeholders and get our message right before going public with it. So many people who have addressed intersex issues have gone barreling in on the strength of their own ideas, and failed to listen to the real needs and concerns of the people involved. It isn’t an easy thing to do, either, because it is a diverse community with a range of viewpoints. I still get things wrong sometimes, or offend one group of stakeholders when I’m trying to address the concerns of another. However, I try to listen respectfully to all perspectives, and to admit that I can make mistakes. My goal is to establish that I am trustworthy enough that even those who disagree with me on some things will still work with me on points of agreement.

What was the biggest transition you had to make (i.e. new skill set, habits, abilities, focus)?

Definitely going to law school at age 37 (with two small children at home) was the biggest professional transition I’ve made. It was a huge investment of time and energy that paid off in an enormous new set of skills. More importantly, though, I went to a law school with a real focus on social justice. I was privileged to spend three years surrounded by extremely smart people who were working on practical tools for taking ideas about justice and putting them into action.

What can you tell other entrepreneurs who are deciding to make a difference?

Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Learn from others who have addressed problems similar to yours, and look for systems that work and can be imported into your efforts. Collaboration with others is crucial; don’t get too attached to your own ideas and ways of doing things. If you’re really going to participate in changing the world, you need to be able to lead, follow, and get out of the way, and you need to know when to do each.

What book(s) have you read that others should read?

Coalition Politics: Turning the Century by Bernice Johnson Reagon (It’s an essay, not a book. But everyone should read it.)

Fixing Sex by Katrina Karkazis

Blink by Malcom Gladwell

 

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