Monday – Oct 31, 2016
The annual American Academy of Pediatrics conference last week at San Francisco’s Moscone Center was their most controversial yet, with organizers repeatedly trying to silence human rights activists protesting male infant circumcision outside the event.
The activists – who call themselves intactivists (Intact + activist) believe that “bodily integrity and autonomy are basic human rights” and that “all children have the right to keep the genitals they were born with.”
Despite the massive story here, the press has been silent, missing one of the most high-conflict stories of the year.
On Friday morning, the American Academy Pediatrics abruptly ended a social media outreach event on children & media, when the first caller was an intactivist who asked about circumcision. The conference hashtag, #AAP16, was inundated with anti-circumcision messaging.
The next day, intactivist protesters report that an organizer allegedly screamed at them that they did not have a right to publicly protest and “have to be in the free speech zone.” Intactivists later spoke with local police, who confirmed that they had a first amendment right to engage in peaceful protest.
“I was very concerned for the safety of intactivists, because they [the AAP organizers] were so disturbed,” said Lloyd Schofield, the former proponent of the SFMGM bill, a citizens initiative would have banned circumcision of minors in San Francisco. Lloyd was at the protest to read the words of his friend Jonathon Conte, an intactivist protestor who committed suicide this past year due to grief over his circumcision.
Lloyd Schofield tells Jonathon Conte’s story at 9 min into press conference video.
The day after the AAP shut down their call-in, there were counter protestors with professionally made signs arguing for a parents right to circumcise their children (“My Child My Choice”).
James Loewen, a photographer and documentarian who has been filming the intactivist movement for years, says that when he approached them for an interview, each protestor revealed an 8 1/2 x 11 card with his personal home address and phone number – publicly doxing him. The counter-protestors did not return the next after intactivists discovered the identity of one of their organizers.
Confrontations with a Bio-ethicist
But that wasn’t even biggest confrontation of the conference. When James was filming passing physicians, he caught sight of Douglas Diekema, bioethicist on most recent AAP circumcision task force. James alleges that Diekema grabbed his camera rig and yanked it down, which would have smashed the camera had it not been attached to a harness on James body.
Later in the day, James & Brother K, leader of the intactivist protest group Blood Stained Men, saw Diekema outside the conference. On video, Brother K calls Diekema a coward and says he had “no ethics.” Before entering the building Diekema turned back and said “I have more ethics then you do.”
A woman accompanying Diekema adds “private property, I’m calling the police” despite the fact in video of the incident both James and Brother K are on a public street outside the conference building and do not attempt to enter.
Why does circumcision cause this much controversy?
And why has this story been ignored by the mainstream press?
For 30 years, the intactivist movement has been trying start a conversation about circumcision, and the AAP is has done everything they can to prevent that discussion. Marilyn Milos, the founder of NOCIRC, used to have a booth inside the conference. Now, the AAP yells at protestors across the street.
The last time members of the AAP circumcision task force and Intactivists publicly debated was a 2013 medical conference in North Carolina where Steven Svoboda of Attorney’s for the Rights of the Child was invited to speak alongside Dr. Michael Brady and Douglas Diekema of the AAP circumcision task force. After one debate, members of the AAP turned off the camera recording the conference. (Audio was recorded however, that we are currently in the process of obtaining.)
With more people joining the Intactivist movement every day, and next years conference likely to be even more controversial, this issue needs to be addressed.
Breaking Media Silence
This story has every hot-button issue – sex, politics, religion, children, medicine – yet the media is silent on it. I’ve seen the traffic circumcision stories drive. If newspapers are dying, and new media wants clicks, why are they afraid to cover this issue?
As a filmmaker I don’t shy away from controversy or a good story and the intactivist movement has it all. Right now, I’m now in the final editing stages of the feature-length documentary on American Circumcision. The film will go beyond the mainstream media coverage of the procedure to tell the story of the intactivist movement, and deal with the questions they raise. Do parents decide, or do human beings have the right to make their own choices about their bodies?
We’ve been really fortunate to gain access to AAP policymakers, interviewing members of both the past circumcision taskforce and the current one that drafted the recent controversial circumcision policy statement. This debate is framed against a backdrop of leading voices in the growing Intactivist movement—it’s really their story, and it’s a powerful story you won’t hear anywhere else.
Update (April 27, 2018): 18-months after this story was written, a man named Andrew Gross began posting about this story on an unrelated thread on the director’s personal Facebook page, claiming to be the organizer of the pro-circumcision counter protest. We offered him the chance to make a statement. Here is what he wrote:
I represent the group that held the 2016 counter-protest in San Francisco. We introduced ourselves to several people, including Georganne Chapin and Dan Bollinger. No one “discovered” our identities.
Doxxing involves revealing someone’s personal information to others, typically the general public. When James Loewen refused to stop filming us, we held up his personal information to his video camera. No one else saw the placards. We never said nor suggested that we were distributing his info, nor did we threaten to do so.
Anyone who wants to understand our position on circumcision or the reasons why we protested can find us online at CircumcisionChoice.com and Facebook.com/CircumcisionChoice.
When asked what message he hoped to send by showing James personal information, Andrew said, “The message we hoped to convey to James Loewen was this: Stop filming us.”
Find out more about the circumcision controversy here.