INTACTIVISTS OF THE MONTH: Erica DeJoannis, Adam Zeldis, Dan Bollinger and Stephen Patterson

One of Intact America's greatest strengths is the diverse and supportive intactivist community. Our "Intactivist of the Month" series highlights some of the most ardent opponents of infant and childhood circumcision, whose tireless efforts will ensure a future where all babies are kept intact.

By: Sally Parker

SEPTEMBER 2017: Thanks to the hard work of four talented intactivists, Intact America has launched CirumcisionDebate.org, an easy-to-use website that offers answers to newcomer questions.

Erica Dejoannis

September’s Intactivists of the Month are dedicated members of the team that created CirumcisionDebate.org: long-time Intact America supporter and volunteer Dan Bollinger; tech developer and volunteer Adam Zeldis; IA communications associate Stephen Patterson; and user experience designer Erica DeJoannis. 

The effort began more than a year ago with a hard look at Intact America’s current website IntactAmerica.org. Team members determined that site’s content attempted to address two distinct audiences: current supporters who already understood what was at stake with regard to America’s historic penchant for circumcising babies, and newcomers seeking clarity on this issue. They found that most visitors were reading the page titled “10 Reasons to Not Circumcise,” an information page on the topic, while the rest of the site was aimed at activists who already understood the issue and supported the organization’s position.

The team determined two sites were needed – the existing Intact America site (updated) for intactivists, and a new site thatwould break down the debate into small sections that flow logically. Written in a conversational tone, CirumcisionDebate.org: explains what the debate is about, the origins of medicalized circumcision, the purported benefits versus the proven harms, factors expecting parents should consider, and further resources.

“We know people have a lot of misconceptions. We touch on the major ones and show why these are not true or are exaggerated,” Dan Bollinger says. “We kept it to five short pages so you come out at the other end no longer confused, having some knowledge, and also having some sense of the entire picture. So many of the other websites, even those aimed at expectant parents, are so jammed with information it’s like trying to sip from a fire hose.”

Dan, on board with Intact America since its earliest days, was Intactivist of the Month in October 2011. For many years, he has worked tirelessly defending boys’ rights for genital integrity, leading early groups devoted to the cause. He rolls up his sleeves to support Intact America’s focus on strategy.

“IA has always been very good with strategy and messaging,” he says. “From Day One, we’ve used a lot of consultants and done a lot of reading about social change. We know this is paying off for the intactivist movement as a whole.”

The new site will achieve HONcode certification by the Health on the Net Foundation. This stamp of approval for health and medical websites, earned through a rigorous certification process, ensures that the site’s information is medically sound and easily referenced. Each page on the site links directly to the Intact America website for full transparency, and page footers explain the work Intact America does.

The new site also keeps its audience clearly in focus, Adam Zeldis says.

“What people are searching for when they go to the internet is: Should I be doing this to my son?” he explains. “This new website really gets you thinking about what IS the debate here. This is about having a really complete site for the newcomer to the issue.”

Adam, Intactivist of the Month in September 2013, has supported Intact America with technology know-how and strategy input since 2012. He came to the issue as a teen listening to radio DJ Howard Stern deride the practice.

“My first reaction was, ‘What? This is crazy. What is he talking about?’ Then I started reading about it, and it didn’t take long for me to have the same opinion. It just flew in the face of everything I knew to be true about human rights in the culture I was raised in,” Adam says.

The outspoken anger of his youth has matured into a confident voice for the underdog. “This isn’t a trendy issue. Anti-circumcision is still not the prevailing opinion,” Adam says. “That’s where the real work is. That’s why this issue remains important to me. I won’t stop caring about it.”

Stephen Patterson also was a young man when he first heard about the issue in 2009. A college journalism student at the time, he had taken an internship at Intact America. An interest along ethical and legal lines soon turned into a passion to change the game. He returned to campus determined to shed light on the issue, inviting Intact America executive director Georganne Chapin to speak to a group of students about her work.

Stephen joined the IA staff in 2014, and has a hand in every facet of the cause, including donor relations and supporter communications. His contributions to Intact America’s social media presence are important; since he came on board, the organization’s Facebook followers have grown by at least 10,000 to more than 50,000. Stephen helped oversee the development of the website project group, ensuring that all members had what they needed to contribute and to stay on task—no easy feat for a very busy, geographically dispersed group of volunteers.

“All of us being different ages and to be able to work together and be focused, having everything going smoothly, I just think is great. We had a really good working relationship and chemistry,” Stephen says.

User Experience Designer Erika DeJoannis had no knowledge of the U.S. circumcision problem when she was recruited to help. Once she started interviewing the others about the issue and listening to their stories, she jumped on board.

“I’ve seen Erica’s transformation in a year from not having an opinion to working so hard on the site and now being super-informed and vocal on the issue,” Stephen says.

Erica kept the site’s audience at the forefront of the process. She led the effort to organize information with logic, clarity and transparency.

“You want it to make sense to people who are seeking this information. You’re there when they’re ready to come to you,” she says.

Erica test drove the site in one-on-one sessions lasting about an hour. Ten people representing typical users of the site gave her valuable input, and she plans to close the loop with further testing now that the website is live.

“You can really transform it from what your best instincts are. That’s the heart and soul of user design—doing research with real people,” Erika says.

The website team embraced the result of the collaboration process, she adds. “They’re just amazing partners.”

“Erica turned out to be such a star,” Adam adds. “She sat down completely new to the topic, did a lot of research, not just with current resources and people she knows, but interviews upon interviews—her friends, family. She singlehandedly introduced a lot of people to the topic.”

“Little did we know when, in 2016, we undertook to do a total review and update of IntactAmerica.org, that we would end up creating a brand new website. Intact America is laser-focused on reaching a tipping point – that point when a critical mass of people regard the intact male body as normal, and assume that keeping baby boys’ genitals intact is also the normal thing to do. There are a lot of people out there who just need to think the issue through, and learn the facts in order to be persuaded.

“Dan, Adam, Stephen and Erica have done an absolutely amazing job. I ask every intactivist to join me in profoundly thanking them for their work in creating CirumcisionDebate.org, THE place to go for the people we need to reach to get to that tipping point.”

Visit our Intactivist of the Month Archive page to read about previous intactivists we've highlighted.