Breaking the Intersex Silence in South Asia: An interview with Gopi Shankar

By May 15, 2020 Learning, Newsroom, Regional

Gopi Shankar is the founder of Srishti Madurai, a student collective for gender and sexual minorities. Ze is rooted in indigenous traditions of spirituality. Ze is the Executive Board Member and Elected Intersex Representative of Asia region of the International Lesbain, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA Asia) and Board Member of Intersex Asia. Gopi is the recipient of Diversity Leadership Award 2016 from WHRD and the Commonwealth Youth Worker Award. Ze became the youngest candidate and first intersex person to contest Indian state assembly elections, when he contested for legislative assembly in Tamil Nadu in 2016.

For 2020 IDAHOT theme “Breaking the Silence”, APCOM did an interview to highlight the intersex movement in the region.

Gopi Shankar

APCOM: Thank you for your recent TEDx Talks about intersex human rights, “Understanding LGBTQIA Rights in India”. Can you say a bit about this?

Gopi Shankar: I view the TED Talk as an opportunity to spread awareness on intersex human rights. TED Talk is a well-known and popular platform both within India and abroad. World over, there is very little awareness regarding rights of intersex person. Through TED Talk’s platform, I’ve tried to speak about developments in India and elsewhere with respect to different aspects of intersex human rights.

APCOM: Can you let us know about your work on intersex rights in Asia and globally?

Gopi Shankar: For the past nine years, I’ve been working for rights of members of LGBTI+ community across India. Srishti Madurai, India’s first LGBTQIA+ student volunteer movement I started had organized Asia’s first Genderqueer Pride Parade in 2012 and since then, it has conducted over 100 seminars on issues related to gender and sexuality across India which impacted more than two million students in India. The organization has inspired several major changes in India’s legal system by way of research and advocacy. Last year in April 2019, my contribution was recognised by the Madurai bench of Madras High Court in its judgment banning unnecessary sex normalizing surgeries on intersex children. The Court also directed the Tamil Nadu government to pass a government order banning such surgeries. We assisted the government in drafting the executive government order. As a result, the state of Tamil Nadu has become the second legal place in the world to have a legal protection regime for intersex persons.

Srishti Madurai was the first Indian organisation to have represented issues related to intersex human rights and LGBTI+ people living with disabilities in UN mechanisms. In particular, we presented a jointly written report at UN’s Committee on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) on 2nd September 2019. In its concluding observations, the Committee recommended the government of India to “adopt measures to prevent sex assignment or “sex normalizing” surgeries, bullying and stigmatization against intersex children, ensuring their rights to preserve their physical and mental integrity.”  I’ve been actively working on creating a space for people belonging to diverse SOGIESC identities in India. The organisation has also participated in advocating for a national level legislation for human rights protection of transgender and intersex people.

APCOM:  Can you explain a bit more about the pronoun ‘Ze’

Gopi Shankar: The pronoun Ze is preferred by persons who do not wish to identify themselves with heteronormative notions of sex and gender identities. Each word we speak should carries a meaning and life in it thus Ze represents the key word which gives lingual visibility/life to Genderqueer people. Ze is preferred by persons as it does not carry any presumptions about a person’s gender identity.

APCOM: Where can we get more information on Intersex in Asia? 

Gopi Shankar: Srishti Madurai has published an Information Toolkit on Intersex Human Rights in India. It is a compilation of our reports, academic papers and parliamentary submissions. We released the toolkit last year when we organised the First National Intersex Human Rights Conference on 22 December 2019. I’ve shared it for your reference.