Taking forward UNISON’s work on intersex equality

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2016 National LGBT Conference
28 July 2016
Carried as Amended

Conference notes that momentum for the recognition of human rights and equality for people born with intersex bodies (variations of sex characteristics) has increased greatly over the last 2 years. Whilst this has mainly been positive, there continues to be confusion and misunderstanding of what intersex means and a lack of focus on everyday issues, especially workplace issues, that people born with intersex conditions face.

Conference further notes that many intersex people are concerned that growing numbers of organisations are using the word ‘Intersex’ in their name and policies without real understanding of what it means or the competency to work for intersex equality. Conference believes that adding “I” does not on its own make lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) groups more inclusive; rather it risks the erosion of intersex voices.

Conference welcomes the definition of intersex agreed by the Scottish Equality Network UK working group on Intersex Human Rights and Equality in June 2016. This describes intersex as ‘an umbrella term used for people who are born with variations of sex characteristics, which do not always fit with society’s perception of male or female bodies. Intersex is not the same as gender identity or sexual orientation.’

Conference congratulates Malta – the first and currently only European country to explicitly provide protection to people born with intersex conditions from being discriminated against and surgically altered on the ground of ‘sex characteristics’ (Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act 2015). This progressive legislation is valuable in lobbying for strengthened laws in other countries, for example for a new protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.

Conference also notes the latest United Kingdom findings and recommendations of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, published in June 2016. The report condemned the continuation of ‘medically unnecessary surgeries and other procedures on intersex children before they are able to provide their informed consent which often entail irreversible consequences and can cause severe physical and psychological suffering’. UNISON members include parents, carers and family of children that have been, or could be, treated this way.

Conference welcomes UNISON’s developing work on intersex equality, especially the focus on the workplace and the bargaining factsheet setting out common workplace issues and advice for reps.

Conference therefore calls on the national LGBT committee to:

1. Continue to consult on workplace issues with members who come under the intersex umbrella and with intersex organisations who support UNISON’s values, promoting understanding and awareness throughout UNISON;

2. Support lobbying led by the Scottish Equality Network UK working group for the inclusion of ‘sex characteristics’ as a protected characteristic in the 2010 Equality Act;

3. Promote UNISON’s role as an ‘intersex ally’ supporting people born with intersex bodies, their families and friends as well as those in the NHS who advocate for change, in their campaigns for human rights and equality and an end to unnecessary medical or surgical treatment during infancy or childhood.