Intersex people should not live in 'fear of humiliation' - UK minister

by Rachel Savage | @rachelmsavage | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 17 January 2019 19:53 GMT

A baby's feet is tickled in Salisbury in southwest Britain, June 22, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville

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The equalities office said it wanted to hear from parents who had to register the birth of a baby whose gender was not clear, as well as intersex people's experiences

By Rachel Savage

LONDON, Jan 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Intersex people should not live in fear of humiliation or miss out on going to school, a minister said on Thursday, as Britain launched a consultation on improving services and campaigners called for a ban on unnecessary surgeries on babies.

The equalities office said it wanted to hear from parents who had to register the birth of a baby whose gender was not clear, as well as intersex people's experiences of healthcare, education, the workplace and sports facilities.

"It is concerning to think that people in the UK may be afraid to visit the doctor or feel unable to take part at school because they are not receiving the support they need or deserve," equalities minister Susan Williams said.

"Everyone in this country has a right to an education, healthcare and to go about their daily life without intrusion or fear of humiliation."

Estimates suggest as many as 1.7 percent of babies are born with an indeterminate sex, according to the United Nations.

They often undergo surgery to bring the appearance and function of their genitalia into line with that expected of males or females, which research suggests can lead to psychological damage later in life.

"This is the first time, really, that the government has acknowledged that intersex people, or people with variations in sex characteristics, do even exist," said Anick, an intersex activist who only publicly uses his first name.

Anick said he hoped Britain would class being intersex as a protected characteristic, which would make it illegal to discriminate against someone because they are intersex, and ban medically unnecessary surgeries on infants.

"Essentially these surgeries are genital mutilation," he said. "We outlaw FGM (female genital mutilation), so why can't we view intersex surgeries in the same way?"

Last April, Portugal became the second country in the world, after Malta, to ban medically unnecessary surgery on intersex infants.

The equalities office said that it had heard from people who, 20 to 40 years ago, struggled to access psychologists who could have helped them make informed decisions about medical interventions they underwent at the time.

It also asked for people's views on the terms they prefer to use to describe having variations in sex characteristics, not all of which are physically obvious at birth and can include hormonal and chromosomal variations.

"To have a broader picture across the UK would really help support putting into place changes that can make all our lives better," said Valentino Vecchietti, an intersex campaigner.

"What we're looking for ultimately is equality." (Reporting by Rachel Savage @rachelmsavage; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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