It’s black history month, and we’ve been thinking about the significant contributions that black community members have made to intersex activism and human rights. IC4E is grounded in perspectives of color, founded originally as OII-USA by Hida Viloria, a child of South American immigrant parents and long-time activist, twice arrested fighting for equality for people of color (during the anti-apartheid movement and repeal of affirmative action protests). In February 2015, Viloria joined forces with African-American intersex activist Dr. Dani Lee Harris, whom we honor today, and disabled non-binary intersex activist Dana Zzyym, to re-brand OII-USA the Intersex Campaign for Equality (IC4E), with a specific focus on supporting populations further marginalized as people of color, disabled, LGBTQ, and/or poor people within the intersex community.
Indeed, like all U.S. movements that are not exclusively people of color focused, the American intersex movement has also been dominated by the mechanisms of white privilege which marginalize and devalue people of color. So throughout this week we will be honoring black intersex activists whose work has had a powerfully positive impact on the intersex community, as well as the world at large.
We recognize that African-American intersex activists have carried the burden of advocating for intersex rights in a racist society which often excludes their perspectives and/or provides more recognition of, and support for, the work of white peers. We also recognize that black intersex activists have never had the luxury of advocating only for intersex rights but instead, must confront racism daily, and we commend and celebrate their resilience, and brilliance, in doing so.
We begin with Dr.Dani Lee Harris, who we are proud and honored to say is part of our team as IC4E’s Southeastern Regional Representative.
Dr. Dani Lee Harris
Dr. Dani Lee Harris is an Atlanta based author, activist, educator, and retired police officer born in the Bronx, New York. He was raised, with four siblings, by a single mother on welfare in the impoverished Johnson Projects in Harlem NY, and excelled in school despite a childhood surrounded by poverty, alcoholism, physical abuse, extreme domestic violence, and years spent in the foster care system. During his last year of high school, at the age of 17, Dani’s mother passed away from Lupus after being diagnosed with AIDS, and Dani and his older sister raised their younger siblings in order to shed them from further foster care living. At 24, Dani almost became a statistic after being shot in the face at point blank range. Harris survived these challenges, going on to join the law enforcement community and to receive Bachelors of Science, Masters of Human Resource Management, and Doctorate of Business Administration degrees.
In 2008, Harris discovered that he is Intersex, and quickly began speaking out as an advocate on local news stations and in presentations. His brave, groundbreaking work in the Black Southern Baptist community has led to greater acceptance of the entire LGBTQIA population. As Dani shared in an interview, the pastors he has educated, upon learning that Dani is intersex—-and that intersex is a natural biological variation–have found greater acceptance of not just intersex people, but those with sexual orientations and gender identities that are different from the norm, by making them consider that perhaps are all these variances are natural.
Dr. Harris was honored as the first intersex Grand Marshall of an LGBT Pride Parade (as the events were then known), in 2009 in Atlanta. At a time when most American intersex community members were still fighting against inclusion within the then “LGBT” community, Harris was growing this powerful coalition and, in doing so, strengthening the entire intersex movement. Organizations which became “LGBTI” inclusive, such as the International Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), became the first to support the growth of the intersex human rights movement.
Beginning in 2011, ILGA-Europe funded the groundbreaking International Intersex Forums, which instrumentally assisted the growth of a unified international intersex movement. More recently, the Astraea Lesbian Fund for Justice has provided funding to numerous intersex organizations (including IC4E) with their Intersex Fund, created in 2015. None of this would be possible without activists like Harris whose strong community presence and intersectional activism encouraged the LGBTQIA+ community to include intersex issues in the fight to end discrimination against those who challenge sex and gender norms.
In 2012, Dani appeared in the intersex documentary Intersexion, by award winning director Grant LaHood. Harris’s humor, confidence, and proud acceptance of himself have been appreciated and applauded by viewers throughout the world. Whereas many intersex people and activists at that time (and still today), hesitated to define their sex as intersex, adhering instead to the binary model which positions us as either males or females “with an intersex condition,” or, “with intersex traits,” Harris matter-of-factly states, “I’m not male, I’m not female, I’m intersex,” in the film.
In doing so, Harris has helped advance the conceptualization of intersex as its own unique and equal sex, which the medical industrial complex has attempted to prevent for over 60 years by subjecting intersex babies to harmful medically unnecessay surgeries (a.k.a. IGM) which aim to make them male or female . Additionally, by rejecting the term intersex and re-defining us as males or females with “disorders of sex development” (DSDs) in 2006, the medical community continues to portray intersex people as unusual or defective males or females rather than equal intersex individuals.
As stated earlier, African-American intersex activists confront multiple forms of oppression, and in addition to his contributions to intersex activism, Harris has used his experience and insights as a black former police officer to address the issue of gun violence which impacts all citizens of the U.S.. He is the author of Knowledge is Power: What everyone should know about the police (2015). The book addresses questions that we need to answer in order to bring the U.S. to a better place in the relationship between our communities and police departments, and begins the painful process of healing and understanding, with information, stories and accounts that everyone can relate to.
Facing adversity as a member of multiple minority communities, Dani lives to show others how to find inner peace in the midst of personal storms, and how to find their personal passion and serve others in order to live a complete and fulfilled life. Dr. Harris’s life and work are an inspiration to us all, and we thank and commend him for his perseverance, dedication and contributions to making this world a safer place for all.