IOTM – John Ellis

NOVEMBER 2015: November’s Intactivist of the Month is John Ellis. Most of you reading this have never heard of John Ellis. He doesn’t carry signs at protests or comment publicly on Facebook. But a long list of VIPs certainly know his name. You see, John, a commercial airline pilot who grew up in Montreal and lives in South Florida, makes it his business to write detailed, well-crafted letters to public figures around the world, educating them about infant male circumcision, and asking that they exercise their influence in bringing the custom to an end.

John has chosen formidable targets for his missives — from President Obama (who received his first letter from John when he was a Senator), to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (aka William and Kate), to ACLU president Susan Herman, and to Pope Francis, to name a few.

And, doubtless, because of the substance and seriousness with which he presents his case, John regularly receives personal replies, not simply form letters.

When asked how he became aware and involved in the fight against infant circumcision, John said, “Family members have told me that since I was a young child, I had an interest in fairness. Early on, it dawned on me that we engaged in the routine genital mutilation of boys while protecting girls. It’s just not fair. And it violates the Constitution in both the United States and Canada.”

“Talk about equality in our culture — not to mention in international human rights documents — is based on a foundation of hypocrisy,” John says. “We don’t treat boys and girls equally,” he continues. “Girls get more comforting, while there’s a ubiquitous lack of sensitivity and empathy toward men and their genitalia.”

“Essentially,” John posits, “circumcision constitutes the systematic bullying of baby boys, who are picked on because they cannot defend themselves.”

John’s letters are polite, highly informative and quite personal — for example, noting that William’s mother Diana was adamantly opposed to routine infant circumcision, and congratulating the royal couple on “protecting Prince George…, safeguarding his human rights and guaranteeing his right to security of person.”

Pre-empting medical and scientific arguments, John writes, “If our doctors were right about the perils of failing to circumcise, then European men in general, and Scandinavians in particular (first world medicine and hygiene, but no routine circumcision) should be plagued with male health issues directly attributable to their foreskins. But, of course, this is not the case.”

So far, it appears that none of John’s eminent correspondents has taken up the cause of intactivism. The responses John receives vary from personal and cordial, to cooler and more reserved.

But, “As all of us know,” says Intact America Executive Director Georganne Chapin, “every letter, every conversation, plants a seed, which in turn takes root and grows. John’s persistent outreach, and his clear presentation of facts, law, and ethics around male genital mutilation, are doing their job. The intactivist movement — and American boys — are lucky to have John Ellis working alongside us.”

“The word must be heard and this barbarism must end,” says John. “Intact America is the leading organization fighting to topple the ignorance, blind adherence to herd mentality, and willful disregard of the facts underlying routine underage circumcision. IA does this this by raising awareness, shaming the perpetrators, and assisting victims. Anything we all can do to assist IA in spreading the word brings us a little closer to ending this barbaric behavior. This is why I support Intact America, and encourage others to do the same.”

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.

IOTM – Franny Max

OCTOBER 2015: October’s Intactivist of the Month is Franny Max a powerhouse advocate for the rights of children. Franny first learned about circumcision 12 years ago when, pregnant with her first son, she began researching the topic. “It was really strange, because all the pregnancy and birthing books talked about the ‘Circumcision Decision’.

In fact, in our culture (we are from Europe), we do not circumcise; there is no decision. Everybody in my family and my husband’s family is intact — fathers, grandfathers, brothers, nephews, cousins, in-laws, uncles, on both sides of the family.

“And incredibly,” she jokes, “nobody has died from a diseased or defective foreskin, and nobody has needed to be circumcised!”

“I used to think it was alright to circumcise for religious reasons,” she says. However, the piercing screams of the newborns being circumcised in the NICU, where her younger son was fighting to survive, changed Franny forever. “Here were these babies, wheeled in on an open cart, with an audience of medical and nursing students and residents watching an amateur practice his first-ever surgical procedure on a fragile baby. The parents were not around to witness the surgery or hear the babies’ screams. That’s when I realized the right to your religion ends where another person’s right to bodily integrity begins.”

Franny is active both on-line and in real life. She helped run a huge letter-writing campaign to the Colorado Senate to not resume funding circumcision. She created one of the first ever intactivist petitions to the La Leche League to include information about how circumcision harms breastfeeding, and she runs a successful Facebook page about the topic. Franny is also the brainchild behind Intactivists Stop Circumcision and its sister groups, as well as the hugely successful “Circumcision Resources” pages, with over 165 Facebook pages in cities found all over the world. You can find an index to those pages on her website here.

Franny has demonstrated with the Blood-stained Men since 2013, and has organized protests against Oprah Winfrey’s Foreskin face cream (Skinmedica) in Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal; she also organized local protests against Bono’s support of mass circumcision in Africa, which ironically, is likely to increase the spread of HIV/ AIDS.

Franny’s favorite chant is, “If you cut something, you make it smaller, not bigger. If you cut a loaf of bread, you have a smaller loaf of bread. Same thing with circumcision! Circumcision makes the penis smaller! Do you think your son is going to thank you for carving him a smaller penis?”

Asked about Intact America, Franny said, “IA is an amazing professional organization, promoting genital integrity for all children. I was thrilled to be with IA at this year’s NYC Pride event, where many people said we had the best float. As a leader in in the fight to obtain equality and protection for baby boys, IA has a polished website with excellent resources, a great Facebook page with excellent memes, and huge daily engagement. All of this is invaluable for the credibility of our movement.”

“The feelings is mutual,” says Georganne Chapin, Intact America’s Executive Director. “Franny has this unbelievable energy — whether marching, talking to onlookers, writing Facebook posts, or coming up with new ideas, Franny is unstoppable. And she’s fun to work with! It’s impossible to quantify the contribution she’s making to our cause, but certainly thousands of intact boys owe her a debt of gratitude.”

IOTM – Rosemary Romberg

SEPTEMBER 2015: September’s Intactivist of the Month is Rosemary Romberg, mother, grandmother, author, and pioneer of the intactivist movement. As a young mom in California during the 1970s, Rosemary felt “giddy with excitement” over the births of her babies and the sisterhood with other new mothers. She embraced natural childbirth and breastfeeding and became a childbirth instructor, happy to share these joys.

Her first two sons were born in the hospital. “The entire new baby experience was filled with soreness, exhaustion, and a flurry of new sights and sensations. A sore episiotomy, adjustment to a non-pregnant body and lack of sleep, breastfeeding, a new baby — this strange little character, belly-button stump drying up, and sore circumcision site (“must apply petroleum jelly till it heals”). A whirlwind of sensations, sore and achy but honey-sweet, mixed together in this awesome concoction.”

As her family grew, so did Rosemary’s awareness of the “vast disparity between our ideals for birth and the medicalized/ritualized hospital experience.”

Baby number three, also a son, was born at home. “Here he was — peaceful, perfect, snuggling by my side, sometimes squeaking, total uninterrupted bonding. I’d finally discovered how it should be.” But then, scarcely remembering her other babies’ circumcisions in the hospital, Rosemary believed this new little boy “had to match his daddy and his brothers.”

“Why didn’t I fight?” she asks. After handing him over to a doctor to be circumcised, Rosemary and her husband returned to find their precious newborn bloody and agonized. “My world had gone gray, changed forever.” She began to wonder, “Why on earth are we doing this to our babies?”

After moving to Bellingham, Washington, Rosemary began to research circumcision, finding that most books on birth gave it only a vague sentence or two. She interviewed friends, and published an appeal in Mothering Magazine. Slowly, others came forth with ideas, medical articles, and personal stories.

In 1985, one intact son and daughter later, Rosemary’s book Circumcision: The Painful Dilemma, was published. Her sixth child, a daughter, was born in 1989 in Anchorage, Alaska, where Rosemary still lives.

Like many newly awakened intactivists, Rosemary had been “quixotic enough to believe that once all of the information was out there, infant circumcision would quickly come to an end.” “Sadly, I found that while many agreed with me, the concept of circumcision has a great stranglehold on the American public.” Feeling that “every circumcised baby was a personal failure,” Rosemary took a break from the work in the 1990s.

Ease of the internet and the encouragement of friends brought her back. “An advantage of being a writer is that one’s work keeps doing its job long after the author has gone on to other things.” She is updating her book and other writings, but she says her main role is to encourage and support others who are advancing the cause. “My love and support go out to them, especially the newer generations who will get this job done when, once and for all, doctors, mohelim, and others put down their knives and spend their energies helping and healing, while the rest of us love and nourish our precious babies.”

“Intact America is a powerful organization that has done much to educate the public about the highly questionable, traumatic, and dangerous practice known as circumcision,” says Rosemary. “After once believing that my written words and efforts alone could open the eyes of the world and eliminate this cruelty, I’ve long realized that I am just one bit player in what is turning into an avalanche of outraged voices and actions. My deep appreciation goes out to Intact America for being a major part of this avalanche.”

“It’s impossible to quantify Rosemary’s influence,” says Georganne Chapin, executive director of Intact America. “Her early writings about circumcision sowed the seeds for so many others, including myself, who then became intactivists. When we look back on this deplorable custom as ‘something people used to do to babies,’ the name Rosemary Romberg will feature prominently among the credits.”

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.

IOTM – Dr. John Trainer

AUGUST 2015: August’s Intactivist of the Month is Dr. John Trainer, physician and father of five. As a resident in Family Medicine, Dr. John Trainer was taught to perform routine infant circumcision — “one of literally dozens of procedures that residents learn,” he says. “Residents endure the pressures of stress and fatigue rendering some too tired to stop and ask questions like, Why are we learning and doing these things?”

When Dr. Trainer completed his residency and began practice in Jacksonville, Florida, he didn’t give the matter of circumcision any thought.

His first encounter with an anti-circumcision ideology was in 2012, when he discovered a post by Jennifer Andersen in her blog, Our Muddy Boots, in which she writes: “There is a sentence that many who describe circumcision use, “The more you know (about circumcision), the more you’re against it.”

Dr. Trainer believed that he knew a lot about circumcision, and he was not against it. But he made an agreement with himself to keep an open mind about the procedure.

In 2014, the Florida case (Hironimus v. Nebus) of estranged parents fighting over a shared custody document ended in a court order to circumcise a 4-year-old. This jarred Dr. Trainer who, as a father, thought “This is a huge procedure to perform on a child who is old enough to remember it.”

Around the same time, the CDC released its draft document validating circumcision for teens and adult men as a means of reducing HIV transmission. Dr. Trainer looked at the CDC’s own source data, and was shocked to see such an influential organization recommend a surgical procedure that provides less protection than a simple condom.

It was then, he says, that the “scales fell from my eyes.” Circumcision now seemed absurd. Dr. Trainer’s professional presence on social media quickly evolved to reflect his new understanding. And his contacts within the intactivist community started to grow.

In early summer 2015, a surgeon in South Florida proposed to circumcise the Hironimus boy. As the intactivist community flooded DiMaggio hospital with protests, Dr. Trainer made a brief post on Facebook, observing that to proceed with this procedure, on this child, would represent a serious breach of medical ethics. Dr. Trainer publicly committed to report such actions to the Florida state board of medicine.

Happily, the surgeon and his hospital stepped back from their plans. But along the way, Dr. Trainer’s voice caught the attention of a newspaper editor from Fort Lauderdale. His interview with the paper garnered tremendous attention on social media. And it caught the eye of Georganne Chapin, Executive Director of Intact America.

Speaking about Trainer, Chapin says: “Unfortunately, most physicians are loathe to speak out against the practice of circumcising babies and children — even though they know it is not necessary and that it can cause harm. Dr. John Trainer is a rarity, and we salute him for his willingness to not only change his own opinion, but to openly call out his colleagues who continue to cut the genitals of helpless children.”

“I have learned so much in a short time,” says Dr. Trainer. “There is a very important role for grassroots activism — face to face, friend to friend, our message will spread. That is the place for emotion and anecdote. But there is also a need for an organized source of factual information, presented with gravitas. IA provides that source. I am so grateful for every person who stands up for genital integrity. But I am also grateful for the corporate presence that lends another dimension to our fight.”

IOTM – David Grant

JULY 2015: This July we honor David Grant, intactivist and volunteer extraordinaire, whose on-the-ground organizing made Intact America’s presence at the 2015 NYC Pride March a rousing success.

David was born in South Carolina in June 1969 – just weeks before the Stonewall Riot and one year before the first Gay Pride March. “I always felt great inspiration about being born in a year that shook the world,” he says, “and in times of self-doubt and fear, I use that to pull me out.”

“I knew as early as I have memories that I was gay, and though I had loving parents, I knew my answers lay elsewhere.” So at the age of 17, David jumped on a Trailways bus to New York City.

His intactivism started years later with a tiny mention of Intact America in Next magazine, a popular weekly that covers NYC gay nightlife. In a small column, it briefly mentioned actor Alan Cumming’s appearance at a local club, where he “suddenly” brought up the subject of foreskin and talked about his support for a group called Intact America.

“Alan talked about the way the foreskin enhances sexual pleasure, things I didn’t know,” says David. “I immediately got on my computer and found Intact America’s website. My life would never be the same. I refer to it as the deeply personal, ‘Killing Me Softly With His Song,’ effect. When I read about the harm from circumcision, it was my own story. All the complications… I knew them well because I lived them, and still do.”

From that time, David joined intactivist campaigns, demonstrations, and protests. “You name it, I do it. Online and on the street. I strike from all angles with my own money, my time and – believe me – my own blood, sweat, and tears.”

NYC Pride Parade 2015

NYC Pride Parade 2015

“For the most part the gay community is very open to the intactivist message. What we have in common is questioning social norms and religious bigotry, and we fight for the same cause: Neither our parents, nor our culture, nor any religion owns our bodies, and only we can decide what to do with them. So, as they say, we are family. Also, gays have always been parents, but today it’s openly and legally accepted. Tragically, though, it’s still quite legal to cut children’s genitals if they are male. LGBT American parents, just like ’straight‘ American parents, are faced with the same question of keeping their boys whole or taking a knife to them.”

Protest Group
In 2006, a small group of Intactivists were approved to enter the New York City Gay Pride parade – among them, Julia and Emily Legutko, who later took up the Intact America banner. This year’s march, on the heels of the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, was the largest ever. David’s organizing skills and passion were much in evidence, as this former kid from South Carolina directed Intact America’s demonstrators, float drivers, disc jockeys, parade assistants, demonstrators, and dancers through the complexities of an event attended by more than a million people. The resonance of Intact America’s message was abundantly clear, and the sparkle in David’s eyes – as he danced and twirled and strutted his banner – was priceless.

“When I came to New York, all my dreams were here, just waiting for me,” says David. “The greatest of them was Gregory, my boyfriend of 23 years, who supports my intactivism, and whose love is as constant as the North Star.”

“The moment I heard Alan Cumming’s words and discovered Intact America, there was a realization inside of me that would reshape my future. I knew I had been treated like cattle, put through a slaughter house, carved up and branded with a scar I will carry to my grave. But I will not go quietly to the grave with this indignation. I will do everything in my power to stop another child from being sent to the meat factory. And one day we will prevail.”

“The day David Grant discovered intactivism was the day our burden became easier to carry,” says Georganne Chapin, Intact America’s Executive Director. “With friends and supporters like David, we simply cannot lose.”

[sc name=”iotm”]

IOTM – Men of the Intactivist Movement

This June, as Father’s Day approaches and as the Hironimus v. Nebus case continues to stun and appall us, we want to honor the Men of the Intactivist Movement—fathers, grandfathers, brothers, uncles, every man who believes in standing up, speaking out, and fighting for the rights of children to their own bodies.

As we struggle to comprehend the near desperation of Dennis Nebus to have his four-year-old son’s foreskin removed, we must remind ourselves of the groundswell in our nation against this practice.

We must look at all the men who speak out to protect not only their own children, but children everywhere, children yet to be born. To ensure, as New York City intactivist and Intact America volunteer Adam Zeldis has said, that there will be “no more boys like me.”

As Anthony Losquadro, founder of Intaction, said in his speech at a 2010 Massachusetts legislative hearing: “I am here to give others the chance I never had. I’m here to give American newborns the chance to be brought into the world in peace, without being immediately introduced to pain and suffering. The chance to be left alone.”

As Greg Hartley, member of Intact America’s steering committee, has said: “Parents authorize circumcision of their children based on ignorance. Most cut men believe that they are normal… but they have no basis for comparison… Knowledge is power—we can stop the cycle of genital cutting.”

So, to the Men of the Intactivist Movement, thank you from Intact America! With all of you by our side, we might not win every battle, but together we ARE winning the war.