Co-Chair of Intersex Aotearoa (IA), Dr Rogena Sterling, discusses the evolving goals of IA as the national organisation advocating for our Intersex community.

For so many years, Intersex people have been invisible in society. Although they have existed since time immemorial, societies, especially Western ones based on binary, heteronormative structures, have had no room for intersex people. This has had impacts on them medically, socially, and legally.

The Intersex Trust Aotearoa New Zealand began to speak for these people from 1996. After some changes in the organisation, including the resignation of Mani Mitchell (the former executive director and founder), 2022 signalled a time for a review of the direction that the organisation was going in and a move to the future – the next 20 years.


Moreover, 2022 was an important year to welcome Tu Chapman onto the Board and as Co-chair of the organisation. This was the first time that a Māori intersex person was appointed to the board, which was a huge step forward for the organisation.

The Board decided to rebrand as Intersex Aotearoa (IA) as the operational name of Intersex Trust Aotearoa New Zealand. Rebranding as IA enabled easy recognition of the organisation and its focus within government and society.

The Board, with the support of Community Think, worked through strategic directions to improve the lives of intersex people/Ira Tangata and advocate for intersex people and their whānau. As an intersex-led non-profit organisation, it aims to advance advocacy and support for intersex people and their whānau.

The Board came up with three pou to centre the focus of the organisation: advocacy, education, and community building.

The first pou was advocacy, which focuses on legislative change – changing systems, laws, and policies that affect intersex people and their whānau. The aim is to have a strong presence on working groups, leading to the improvement of the lives and well-being of intersex people. We have been focusing on Statistics New Zealand and the Department of Internal Affairs as beginning places to make some changes to intersex people’s existence and recognition. Though there have been some positives, such as the census, there is still work to be done to ensure that the community is reflected as appropriately as possible. We continue to work with the Human Rights Commission on issues affecting our community as well.

The second pou is education. Education is a necessity to ensure visibility, consciousness, and the mind’s awareness of the existence and knowledge of intersex people within society and their needs for well-being. We are beginning to develop resources for the general public and medical professionals to bring awareness of the public to our community, which has been hidden for so long.

The last pou is community building. This pou enables connection, support, and engagement with the community. We want IA to be inviting to intersex people and reassuring to others who have veered away in the past. There is a strong focus on peer support for intersex people of all ages and from all backgrounds. There is a developing basis of peer support, and IA is working with existing organisations to extend resources for the community.

As the only intersex-led and national-reaching organisation in Aotearoa, IA lobbies for systemic change within education, healthcare institutions, and social environments to make Aotearoa a safe place where intersex people can thrive.

The Board members look forward to an environment where all intersex people/Ira Tangata can grow and flourish and participate in society as fully enabled citizens.

Article | Sam Sutherland.  Photo | Sam Sutherland.