In Memory of Jonathon Conte
On Monday, May 9, 2016 the intactivist community was forever changed by the loss of one of its most dedicated and endearing members, Jonathon Conte.
Jonathon was a well loved leader of Bay Area Intactivists. He was known for being passionate, dedicated, clever and fearless. He was a mentor to countless activists. He stood up for the truth while remaining patient and respectful toward those he was educating.
We will continue to fight for the rights of children in Jonathon's honor. We will fight harder. We will be braver. #ForJonathonConte
"I want to thank all of you for the love and support expressed over the past days. I, as well as the entire intactivist community are grieving the loss of a gentle warrior. Jonathon dedicated his life to the rights of all children to keep their bodies whole. His personal suffering was the catalyst that motived him to prevent others from going through that same suffering. Tragically, his suffering got too great to bare. I, as well as all of you, have to go through the grieving process of this immense loss. We can gain strength with the connection we all feel towards Jonathon. Feelings, emotions are really raw now, but once we heal we will be left with Jonathon's legacy. This legacy is his gift to all of us to pass on. He was your fearless intactivist and he was my dear soul mate. Rest in peace gentle warrior." - Christopher Holden
"Jonathon Conte was my friend, I've hugged him too many times to count and I'm glad I did. He was a light in this world that we needed so desperately. We needed it to shine for the boys who suffer every day by genital cutting. We cannot let that light go out. I'll light your candle if you'll light mine." - Danielle Cruzen
My heart is heavy today, Jonathon. You were my first mentor in this cause. You knew how to talk with anyone, no matter how ignorant or angry they were, and turn them into a higher-order thinker. I will continue to look up to you and learn from your teachings. You were a true friend and I admired your passion, intellect and prowess. Forever and always you will be with me on the front lines. I hope you've found peace, and I hope you know how much we all will miss you. I love you, Jonathon!" - Brian Herrity
Friends, I am shocked, saddened, and outraged to report that a man I loved, respected, and emulated took his own life last night. Jonathon Conte fought the demons of circumcision alongside all of us with a passion and determination that inspired me personally to become a bloodstained man. I rededicate myself to this struggle so that future men may be freed from this criminal sexual assault on their bodies, their souls, their hearts, their dignity, their very lives. -Brother K
"It is 4:45 am here in Virginia Beach and I can't stop sobbing for my friend Jonathon Conte. I woke up in the middle of the night just feeling something was wrong, and I grabbed my phone from its charger in the bathroom. When I saw Marilyn's post about our ever-bright-light Jonathon taking his own life, I collapsed. So many of us have considered taking our life over the pain in the world that circumcision brings. I myself have struggled with that weight over and over, but you pray that none of our friends resort to this. Jonathon took with him future decades of sparing boys, but left an amazing legacy of pushing the envelope and making a real difference. I will always remember our shared work, our shared fun, his laugh and the admiration I had for everything he did and the person he is. Not was. Is." - Jason Fairfield
"Yesterday morning I woke knowing I would not be able to attend the 50 protests 50 states 1 day event happening at the State Capitol buildings nation wide. I really wanted to attend but the drive time with 3 small children was just not feasible. So I opened my FB to post in the event that I was unable to make it. With one click I was brought to tears. An amazing, gentle, soft spoken, unwavering intactivist, Jonathon Conte, had ended his own life. He had battled depression, and much pain an suffering (some of which was directly associated with his own genital mutilation). I decided in that very moment, in honor of his dedication in the fight for all children to be protected from genital mutilation that I would take to the streets in Monterey, CA as a single protester (in true Jonathon Conte style). Jonathon had a way of taking to the streets alone with his gentle fluidity of accurate information. He could talk to anyone and people really listened. I was lucky enough to meet, protest with him and watch him in action at the Super Bowl protest. I was in awe of his smile and approach-ability. With his loss this human rights movement will not be the same. Many children have been saved from forced genital mutilation directly because of him and his tireless efforts to end this atrocious act on children in America. Rest in Paradise Jonathon, you will surly be missed. You efforts will continue through us until all children are protected! I promise you that!" - Laura Schmidt
"RIP Jonathon Conte. I didn't know you that well because the closest we ever got to meeting was when we talked on the phone (I was trying to pin down Medicaid statistics and you wanted to help), but I know your passing leaves a giant void not only in the Bay Area but around the country in the world of intactivism. It makes me sad because you won't get to witness the end of circumcision, which I'm convinced is right around the corner. It makes me sad because I know that your constant outings on your bike were getting through to many many people. It makes me sad because from now on whenever I create an event I can't look forward to a message from you saying that you posted it on your list of upcoming events. It makes me sad because I was looking forward to meeting you this Fall at the AAP convention protest." - Moe Love
"Eli and Penny Ungar-Sargon just called to tell me that Jonathan Conte took his own life just hours ago. I am dazed, horrified, and unbelievably saddened. I'm sure every other possible emotion is playing its part as well! Jonathan's pain was deep and he wasn't able to even talk about it. My heart is in great pain...witnessing the effect of what we do to our children...and the adults they become. Jonathan did all that he could to make the world better for the babies coming into it but he was not able to overcome the world into which he arrived. Tomorrow I will demonstrate with others on the steps of the Capitol in Sacramento. I demonstrated with Jonathan from 11-2 on Saturday and then we had lunch. Tonight his body has been excused from service...and Jonathan is on his way to who knows where... Bless him, again and again, bless him! Love for your light and your life." - Marilyn Milos
"The intactivist community is completely devastated by the loss of Jonathon Conte. This was a man who dedicated his life to ending the forced genital cutting of infants and children- male, female and intersex. His calm manner and intelligent factual approach is something many of us in the community emulated and strived to be like. I know the words 'sorry for your loss' are intended to help us through the grief, but somehow those words are not enough for Jonathon. It's not just our loss this time. This man truly made the world a better place every minute he was in it. The loss is beyond comprehension. I know Jonathon's pain was far deeper than anyone was aware of, or he would not have been able to do this. I also know a great source of his pain was caused because by the forced genital cutting he was subjected to as an infant, and endured as a man. That's why he dedicated his all too short life to ending this devastating practice and sparing other children the pain he suffered. Suicide is another hidden complication of circumcision." - Cynthia Maloney
"If you were my son I would be as proud as any mother could be. I would go to the ends of the earth to prove how much I care. I would apologize often. I would ride beside you in support as you spread truth to the masses. Anything I could to make things right & let you know how much you mean to me. Whatever it took to earn your forgiveness, that's what I would do... As a regret mom, not a moment passes where I don't have remorse for what I allowed. I'd give anything to go back to that day and do things differently. I hope my son will find it in his heart to forgive me for my ignorance. We continue this fight in your name. Rest in peace dear, Jonathan." - Niki Sawyers
"You were an absolute inspiration to me. You helped me so much at my first GIAW. I just watched and learned from you as you changed your tactics from person to person. Your best advice to me was to "meet people where they're at" and it was such a tremendous help to me through my next few years of Intactivism. You were a beautiful soul and I am going to miss you dearly. Rest in peace, my sweet, dedicated friend. I hope you aren't hurting anymore. Don't you worry, we will keep fighting harder than ever to end this nightmare of forced genital modification. I love you." - Kelly Heitzman
"I realize that half of you probably have no idea why there is a picture of another man in my profile image. Let me explain. His name was Jonathon Conte, and he was an intactivist who thought in a very similar way to myself. Earlier this week he lost his battle with depression. It's starting to look more and more like a major contributing factor to his depression was that he thought in a way very similar to myself. I did not know him well, but I had been able to interact with him online just enough to know we operated on the same frequency. Jonathon hated that he was circumcised. He felt violated, he knew what had been taken from him, and he knew that he would never be right, that he was mutilated. It was likely that thought, persisting in his head that led him to take his own life. I don't want to shame anyone. You will make mistakes as parents, some small, some big. One mistake that will reverberate through the rest of your child's life however, is robbing them of their autonomy and their whole body. It isn't fair, but you won't get a balanced assessment from most American medical staff. You have to seek out the information yourself to know what the rest of the developed world has always known. Circumcision robs it's victims of their whole bodies. It causes physical and psychological trauma that will never heal. You might be thinking that you know a guy who's circumcised, and he's fine. Maybe you are a guy who's circumcised and you think you're okay. I can tell you that there's enough of an education deficit in America regarding the natural male anatomy, that learning the truth of it is enough to drive you to suicide. The men like Jonathon, like myself, who feel this way have nowhere to go. Our society shames men who share their feelings and treats genital mutilation like a punchline. Even therapists almost never understand because they have no idea how much they don't know on the topic of circumcision. They downplay it and try to shift the focus to a topic that is more comfortable for them. I cannot stress enough how important it is to keep your children whole. You are their caretaker, not their owner. I assume that if you're still on my friends list you already oppose genital cutting. This is great, but you have to speak up. You know something that most people around you do not. In their ignorance, these people are hurting children and creating more damaged men. For Jonathon, do not stay silent. Share your knowledge with as many people as you can in whatever way you can. This barbarism cannot continue." - Ryan Lewis
"Long before you knew him as Jonathon Conte the activist. I knew him as Jonathon my friend. Jonathon has been protecting others and saving lives for a long time. I say that because he saved mine. We went to high school together. I was a new transfer student and it was my junior year. I did not really know anyone at all. I was a military brat so my family moved a lot but this move was really hard on me. I have always been the "big girl". I was always teased or made fun of which made me not really trust anyone. So I have always been use to keeping to myself. Over the years the moving and teasing did take a toll on me and has taken me to dark places that I am not proud to say I have been. It was during the darkest time I could remember that I met Jonathon. I came to school that day and I always would go sit outside my first class before it started. On this day though the teacher next door saw me and said "Hey it is hot out here why don't you come and sit inside my classroom if you like?" I told her thank you and came inside. I walked in and saw him I bowed my head and sat down. He stood up and came over to me stretched his hand out and said "Hi I'm Jonathon." I remember looking up and seeing "That smile." (Those who knew him know that his smile was so pure and never fake.) You could just feel it and it made you smile back. So I shook his hand and introduced myself and then he sat down next to me and talked to me. From that day on every morning we would meet in that classroom. Then the semester changed so our classes changed and we could not meet up as often. That did not stop us though we wrote notes and left them for each other. Later that year I became sick and I missed about a month of school. Jonathon still kept writing me and he sent the notes to me through a classmate that lived near me. Our friendship grew and our senior year we even got to share a class together. He did not know it but that day we met for me was to be my last. I really did not want to be here. His kind nature kept me here. He made me want to stay. After high school like many we parted ways but I never forgot him. We found each other years later in California. I tried my hardest to meet up with him again. I wanted to tell him and thank him for what he did. Jonathon was an amazing human being. He was an angel and anyone that had the pleasure of knowing him was truly blessed. I miss him and I love him very much. I like many others will never forget him. Rest in love my friend until we met again." - Chella Hatton
"Jonathan Conte was an inspiration to me. In the short time I had known him I saw in him great compassion and tireless effort for spreading the message of human rights and genital autonomy. I would often see him at protests or riding his bike with a trailer of intactivist signs on display. I will never forget his smiling face, his calm and positive demeanor or his message. It is with profound sadness that I contemplate his loss as I attempt to wrap my head around his surreal exit. I will miss him and my heart goes out to his partner, friends, family and those who knew him." - Jeff Wilson
"As a child, I grew up believing that my body was whole. I grew up assuming that my penis looked and worked the same as any other. I grew up thinking that the scar on my genitals was just a natural part of my body and that all men had it. I grew up figuring that the soreness brought on by clothing and masturbation were normal aspects of being a guy. I never questioned why so many types of underwear were painful, I only found it strange that anyone could manage to wear them. I was about 14 years old when I learned that part of my penis had been cut off. It seems like this is something that one might realize earlier in life and yet I never did. I was never taught about normal male anatomy and no one ever explained to me that I had undergone genital surgery as an infant. When I learned the devastating truth, my stomach sank and my throat closed up. It wasn't easy for me to accept reality. Even though I understood that part of my body had been removed, I was in denial about the implications of this fact. I battled with depression, particularly whenever I had to see my penis. Each time that I got undressed to take a shower, I would see the scar and I would be reminded of what was stolen from me. Each time that I urinated, I would be reminded that I would never know how my body was meant to look and how my body was meant to feel. I felt violated and helpless. I felt embarrassed and angry. I felt robbed and betrayed. I felt incomplete and damaged. And yet, I was incapable of verbalizing any of this. I was paralyzed by embarrassment of my condition and by fear that others would neither understand nor sympathize. It took over a decade of trying to cope with my emotions before I gained the strength to take a closer look at the issue. I read about the functions of the intact penis. I studied the numerous physical, physiological and psychological problems that result from male circumcision and I began to recognize many of them in my own life. I learned of the way that babies are restrained during the surgery and the various techniques that are used to rip, clamp, crush, and cut their tiny bodies. I came to understand the greed, arrogance, and ignorance that perpetuates the genital mutilation of children... So now I speak out. Because I don't want any other child to have to make the same painful discovery that I did: That they were denied their human right to keep the whole body with which they were born." - Jonathon Conte, AAP Conference, New Orleans, 2012
Jonathon On Mobile Intactivism
"I was recently asked for how long I have been doing my bicycle intactivism. The earliest photos I found are from 2011 but my materials, approach, and messaging have evolved dramatically since then. It started with a simple, hand written, double-sided sign. Perhaps my first sign was the one pictured below but I can't be certain. The earliest change was to bump up the lettering thickness and the size of the sign itself in order to improve legibility. Shortly thereafter, I switched from hand written to printed signs. The sign size and lettering continued to increase in size.
Lights were added to the signs in order to make them more eye-catching at night. I have not yet come up with a solution to improve the sign illumination to the point that my signs are visible at night without any external light sources. Fortunately, there is usually enough ambient light in the city at night to read them.
Thanks to Jason Yuen, I got a bicycle trailer (originally designed for carrying children) and I adapted it to display three additional signs while I am riding. Later a flag was added to the trailer with a light at its base to illuminate it as well. I added a video camera to the rear end of my bike in order to capture the reactions of those around me. One surprising aspect of the camera is that I have managed to capture many reactions that I had no idea were happening at the time. So reviewing the video after a ride can be surprising even to me despite my being there when it was recorded.
The most recent addition to my bicycle intactivism set up is a battery-powered Bluetooth speaker for playing music while I ride. Not only does music make for a more enjoyable ride but it increases the likelihood that those nearby will turn and notice the message on the signs. I always try to have Bay Area Intactivists leaflets and stickers with me when I am riding with my signs so that I can offer them to those who are interested. I have learned that although people frequently take photos of my bike signs while I am riding, they are much more inclined to do so if I park my bike in a busy spot and move away from it. For whatever reason, an unoccupied bike is less threatening.
The messages on my signs have shifted away from euphemism (e.g. "circumcision") and I have tried to make them more gender neutral as well. Since I want all children—male, female, and intersex—to be protected from genital mutilation I have sought to reflect that in the messaging. Initially I only used the signs on my bike once a month during SF Critical Mass. Now I use them more frequently such as when I ride to nearby Bay Area Intactivists events, during busy events in San Francisco (e.g. New Years Eve, Bay to Breakers, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, etc.), or just for weekend jaunts in the city. One of the reasons I continue to share stories about my bicycle intactivism is to encourage other intactivists to recognize and seize new opportunities. If you have any questions about where my intactivist materials were acquired or how they were assembled just let me know and I will do my best to answer them."