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The variations of sex characteristics and intersex project

The Project

Acknowledge, Impact, Communicate, Engage, Develop

The Equality Network’s Variations of Sex Characteristics (VSC) and Intersex Project is a national project to facilitate intersex people, equality organisations, government policy makers, the NHS and other service providers to engage together to develop a shared understanding of intersex equality, rights and inclusion priorities in Scotland. Intersex equality has not previously been addressed by policy makers in Scotland. We believe that there is an essential need for engagement between intersex people and government policy makers, equality organisations and service providers to improve policies and practices affecting intersex people’s lives.

The project focusses on connecting intersex people with each other and with intersex allies and various stakeholders, in order to support intersex people’s engagement in equality policy and good practice development.


The intersex umbrella

There is a variety of terminology used with reference to variations of sex characteristics and intersex status. Some people prefer to use the term differences of sex development, some prefer ‘disorders of sex development’, and some prefer to simply describe their specific variation. In common with much international human rights activism we use the term intersex, with the knowledge that some prefer other terms when describing themselves.

We use the word intersex as an umbrella term for people who are born with variations of sex characteristics, which do not always fit society’s perception of male and female bodies. Intersex is not the same as gender identity (our sense of self) or sexual orientation (who we are attracted to) but is about the physical body we are born with. This is in common with Organisation Intersex international Europe (Oii Europe*), Ilga Europe and the United Nations:

“Intersex is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of natural bodily variations. In some cases, intersex traits are visible at birth while in others, they are not apparent until puberty. Some chromosomal intersex variations may not be physically apparent at all.” – The United Nations**

* See here for Oii Europe

** See here for United Nations Intersex Fact sheet

The intersex flag: “The circle is unbroken and unornamented, symbolising wholeness and completeness, and our potentialities. We are still fighting for bodily autonomy and genital integrity, and this symbolises the right to be who and how we want to be.” – Intersex Human Rights Australia, formally known as Oii Australia.


Encourage, Facilitate, Network, Collaborate, Inform, Empower


Our approach

Within this project, representing the diversity of intersex people and people living with variation of sex characteristics is of the highest importance. Raising awareness of diversity, and most importantly, foregrounding lived experience takes precedence. We prioritise the voices of intersex people in discussion, collaboration, consultancy, decision making, and writing of legislation regarding the equality and human rights of intersex people. We endeavor to include intersex people and intersex voices in any conversations, writing, statements, training, engagement and lobbying that we do.

The intersex population and those living with a variety of sex characteristics are an often under-represented and misunderstood community. Like LGBT activists, intersex activists are fighting for bodily autonomy and the rights of people who fall outside of binary sex and gender norms. We recognise and respect that many intersex people do not see themselves as part of the LGBTI community, whilst some intersex individuals do identify as part of the LGBTI community or as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.



Becoming an ally and working in partnership and collaboration with others

One of the most important things for the Equality Network is that we engage with a wide diversity of people who identify as intersex or as living with VSC.

We are actively looking to further our partnerships and to collaborate with all levels of expertise, from those with lived experience to those working in intersex policy, activism, support, advocacy, law, health and research. We do this so that individuals who are living with VSCs or as intersex may feel empowered to participate alongside our other partners in the endeavor to make a difference to the lives of people living in Scotland.

We are very aware that we are not the experts in the remit of lived experience of being intersex. Our expertise is in progressing equality, human rights and social policy improvements in Scotland. Our partners are diverse and invaluable to us, and each have strong potential impact in many areas. These partnerships will allow us to facilitate positive engagement and to contribute constructively to the Scottish Government’s forthcoming consultation on intersex equality in Scotland. We value the expertise of others immensely.


Get involved!

The Scottish Government consultation on the rights of people living with VSCs and intersex people will be opening soon and we want to hear from you. We want as many people involved as can be. Your voice is absolutely vital in making a difference to the human rights of Intersex people and people living with VSCs in Scotland.


We would love to hear from you if you are interested in;


  • Engaging with equality organisations, government policy makers, the NHS and other service providers to develop a shared understanding of intersex equality, rights and inclusion priorities in Scotland.
  • Sharing your voice as an individual who lives with a variation of sex characteristics or identifies as intersex.
  • Promoting the human rights of intersex people
  • Developing the ‘I’ in LGBTI human rights work*


We acknowledge that people may not identify with the LGB or T and this is important to note. This project is not centred on anything other than the diversity of intersex people and their human rights and life experiences.


“The Government has decided that because people with intersex variations face issues that are distinct from those experienced by transgender people, we should consult separately on each set of issues. We will publish a consultation later this year seeking views about how we should address the issues experienced by intersex people/people with variations of sex characteristics.” – The Scottish Government, 2018


The Gender Recognition Act reform consultation opened at the end of 2017 and is now closed. The intersex equality consultation is due to be published soon. The forthcoming consultation is an important step towards government recognition of the specific needs, rights and issues that intersex people and people living with VSCs face in Scotland. This is what we are working towards.


We are currently trying to…

  • Facilitate dialogue with intersex individuals in Scotland. We aim to do this by carrying out forums, events, and training opportunities with intersex individuals in Scotland, who we believe are the most important people to be engaging with when it comes to understanding the life experiences, medical experiences, wants, needs and issues surrounding living with an intersex variation.
  • Develop training programmes with intersex individuals taking the lead in how these training programmes should be delivered. We also wish to enable intersex individuals to deliver workshop facilitation for schools, GP staff, midwives, doctors, employers, public bodies etc. These training programmes and workshops intend to inform regarding best practice, equal opportunities and support for intersex people.
  • Create leaflets and training recommendations as well as information for potential intersex equality allies. These will be used and distributed in workplaces, schools, higher education institutes, informal education institutes, surgeries, hospitals and parliamentary offices. They will include information for NHS nurses and clinicians, police, teachers youth workers, social workers, MSPs, government officials and civil servants. They will contain information as prescribed by intersex individuals on best practice, equal opportunities, key issues, the law and legislation as it stands, changes to be made and how to support a young intersex person.
  • Gather significant qualitative information regarding the experience of intersex people in Scotland and the UK.
  • Ensure that the voices of intersex people and groups are heard and seen in newspaper, TV and radio coverage. We also wish to ensure that an objective and balanced picture of intersex people and their human rights concerns is depicted as per the United Nation’s Intersex Factsheet on Free and Equal United Nations for LGBT Equality


International context:

In 2014 Intersex advocacy and activist groups gathered together in Riga and developed these four objectives for intersex equality work internationally:

  1. “To challenge the definition of sex as consisting of only male and female and promote the knowledge that sex is a continuum, as is gender.”
  2. “To ensure that intersex people are fully protected against discrimination.”
  3. “To ensure that all stakeholders that have a specific role to play in intersex people’s wellbeing such as, but not limited to, health care providers, parents and professionals working in the area of education, as well as society in general, are instructed on intersex issues from a human rights perspective.”
  4. “To work towards making non-consensual medical and psychological treatment unlawful. Medical practitioners or other professionals should not conduct any treatment to the purpose of modifying sex characteristics which can be deferred until the person to be treated can provide informed consent.”

for more info on this meeting see: https://oiieurope.org/statement-of-the-european-intersex-meeting-in-riga-2014/

Some intersex policy and support groups in the UK

  • Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome Support Group – click here
  • DSD Families – click here
  • Hypospadias UK (for men and boys with hypospadias) -click here
  • Intersex UK  – click here  and on Twitter follow them @IntersexUK here
  • Living with CAH – click here
  • Mayer Rokitansky Kuster Hauser website UK (Vaginal Agenesis, Mullerian Aplasia or Absent Vagina) – click here
  • Oii UK – click here
  • Turner Syndrome Support Society UK (for girls and women with Turner Syndrome) – click here
  • UK Intersex Association – click here
  • UK Klinefelters Association – click here 


Helpful sources of information and advice for people living with VSC and those who identify as intersex, as well as for those who wish to be a good intersex ally


“No body is shameful!”


  • Inter/Act – Advocates for Informed Choice – “Promoting the civil rights of children born with variations of sex anatomy”  – click here
  • Interface Project – “No body is shameful!” – “Founded in 2012, The Interface Project communicates the lived experiences of intersex people by recording the voices, transcribing the words, and publishing the stories of people born with a variation of sex anatomy […]”- click here 
  • Ilga Europe – click here 
  • Intersex Issues, a short list – click here
  • ‘How to be a great intersex Ally’ – Ilga Europe – click here

Keep an eye out here for new articles, links and books…