Sexual orientation and gender identity
Sexual orientation and gender identity

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Sexual orientation and gender identity

4 People with intersex conditions and the law

Read the intersex fact sheet [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]  produced by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR, n.d.).


The OHCHR fact sheet estimates that the number of people with intersex conditions may be as high as 1.7 per cent of the population. The UK population was estimated by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to be 64.6 million in mid 2014. Applying the 1.7 per cent estimate, this would mean that almost 1.1 million of the UK population could have intersex conditions. Later, in the section on current issues for those with intersex conditions, you will hear and see the estimate of 1 in 2000 being born intersex – this is the same as the lowest estimated percentage given in the OHCHR fact sheet, above. This estimate would indicate that assuming the UK’s population is 64.6 million, approximately 32,300 would be intersex. 

Estimates as to the percentage within the population who are homosexual vary widely. The ONS’s 2013 Integrated Household Survey found that 1.1 per cent of the population identified themselves as gay or lesbian; a further 0.4 per cent identified themselves as bisexual (ONS, 2013, s. 3). This would suggest that the number of people with intersex conditions may be greater (1.7 per cent) than the combined number of homosexuals and bisexuals (1.5 per cent). However, other estimates suggest that the percentage of homosexuals making up the population is much higher. For example, a Guardian article, ‘Gay Britain: what do the statistics say?’, (Chalabi, 2013) cited UK Treasury estimates of the percentage of gays and lesbians making up the population as being around 6 per cent – a figure in line with Stonewall estimates of 5 to 7 per cent.  So, while it is possible that the number of people with intersex conditions exceeds the number of people who are homosexual, this is probably unlikely. According to the OHCHR fact sheet, the lower-end estimate as to the number of people born with intersex conditions cited above was 1 in 2000 (i.e. 0.05 per cent). This figure is far lower than  any of the estimates as to the percentage of the population who are homosexual. 

The number of trans people in the UK is equally unclear. In 2003 figures from the Inland Revenue and Department for Work and Pensions indicated that there were about 4000 trans people in the UK – figures broadly in line with estimates of about 5000 from the DVLA and HM Passport Office (Reed et al., 2009, p. 14). By December 2014, 3779 people had been registered in their acquired gender under the Gender Recognition Act 2004 (UK Trans Info, n.d.). 

These figures for trans people (i.e. about 3000 to 5000 people in the UK) are lower than the estimated number of homosexuals (possibly around 5 to 7 per cent of the population), and far lower than the top-end estimate of the number with intersex conditions (i.e. up to 1.7 per cent of the population). Taking the lowest estimate quoted by the OHCHR fact sheet as to the prevalence of intersex conditions (i.e. 0.05 per cent, indicating about 32,300 people), the number of trans people in the UK could be fewer than the minimum number estimated for those with intersex conditions. However, the estimate of the number of trans people may in fact be significantly lower than the actual number, as many people may view themselves as trans but have yet to seek official recognition in what they consider to be their true sex/gender.

Number of court cases

Whether you take the upper or lower estimate, you would expect that the UK courts would have been called upon to adjudicate on a number of intersex-related cases. This is particularly likely given the concerns expressed in the UN fact sheet, referred to above, about the plight of those with intersex conditions. Certainly, if you compare the number of people with intersex conditions with the number of trans people, you would anticipate that the number of cases brought by trans people to be much lower. However, this is not the case.


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