Drivers on Broadway on Friday likely saw a band of protestors dressed in stark white shirts and pants with graphic red bloodstains strategically placed over the genital area of their bodies.
Some wore cowboy hats and bandanas for their Texas visit, the beginning of what they’ve deemed the Gulf Coast Circumcision Crisis Tour, a traveling protest headed toward Tampa, Florida and an American Academy of Pediatrics convention that starts Nov. 2.
The Galveston protestors waved red, white and black signs proclaiming “Stop Cutting Baby Penis” and “Intact Genitals Are a Human Right.”
One male driver of a black pickup truck pulled out of the Big Lots parking lot and yelled out the window: “Are you kiddin’ me?”
These island visitors were not kidding. They were part of a national organization, Bloodstained Men, that exists to raise awareness around the issue of infant circumcision in the United States, the only industrialized country in the world where removing the penile foreskin shortly after birth is a routine, non-religious surgical practice, according to the World Health Organization.
Harry Guiremand, a Bloodstained Men demonstrator and self-proclaimed “intactivist” (intact plus activist), traveled from his home in Kapaa on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, to be part of the tour.
“We’re doing this because American pediatricians have failed to join the rest of the world concerning the unnecessary practice of infant circumcision,” Guiremand said.
He was joined by male cohorts from Houston, Austin, New York, Illinois, California, Oregon and Vancouver, British Colombia in Canada, and one woman, Dani Alexander of Spring.
“I’m down for the day because it’s important to educate people about this,” Alexander said.
The mother of a four-year-old uncircumcised boy, Alexander said her husband is uncircumcised as well. She said she was shocked to hear, when she was pregnant, about the prevalence of routine circumcision in the United States where between 77 and 80 percent of males are circumcised, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, down from 83 percent in the 1960s.
Alexander said she thinks the decision parents make is often based on misinformation, like the claim that uncircumcised boys will be ostracized for the way their genitals look or that cleaning uncircumcised babies is difficult.
“It’s often based on society’s ideas of what male genitals should look like,” she said, “when American men’s don’t look like the rest of the world’s.”
The exception to this is Jewish and Muslim populations where infant circumcision is a predominant religious practice.
Alexander and Guiremand both took issue with the notion that the healthy thing to do for boys is to alter their genital anatomy soon after they’re born. The American Academy of Pediatricians’ 2012 comprehensive study of infant circumcision concluded that benefits of the surgery outweighed risks, though “those benefits are not great enough to recommend universal circumcision.”
Guiremand said he became interested in the issue back in the ‘90s when genital mutilation of females under 18 in the United States became illegal by federal law.
“There was an effort at that time to make the discussion gender-equal, about boys too, but it failed,” Guiremand said.
Female genital mutilation is defined by the World Health Organization as “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genitalia, for non-medical reasons.”
The choice of whether to be circumcised belongs to the person whose genitalia are at issue, Guiremand said.
“It should be a personal choice when he’s an adult, not a personal choice made by his parents when he’s born,” he said.
The Academy of American Pediatricians’ stated position on choice is that “the final decision should still be left to parents to make in the context of their religious, ethical and cultural beliefs.”