Welcome to the first instalment in our new Day In The Life series, designed to spotlight the important work being done by Mermaids’ staff who, across their different teams, are collectively working towards our goal; a world where trans young people can be themselves and thrive.
To kickstart the series, we speak to the dynamic Lee (he/him), our Youth Rights Advocate Manager. Despite being just three months into the role, Lee has been working hard to amplify the voices of the young people we support, in and outside of Mermaids. Want to know what a typical day looks like for him and what he’s most looking forward to in 2022? Read on…
First thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
I never simply wake up of my own accord in the morning – I’m abruptly woken up by my two children bolting into my room to tell me whatever’s in their heads at “still should be asleep o’clock!” Usually, we’ll have a big cuddle in bed then breakfast. They’re both really excited with it being a festive (chaotic) time of year. I have always had very simplistic Christmases in the past but having children has definitely changed that. There are baubles, glitter and homemade Christmas pictures everywhere I turn!
What does a typical day at Mermaids look like for you?
I always start with a cup of coffee – I can’t do anything before that! Then I spend my first hour checking emails and making a plan for the day. I’ll check in with João (Trans People of Colour Youth Engagement Officer) who I manage, just to make sure they’re good, and then I’ll start the day.
It can be so varied! Recently the focus has been on the ban on conversion therapy; calling up organisations to ask if they need help filling in the consultation or encouraging them to join one of our focus groups. I also bring my youth skills in a bit to support Alice (Local Groups Manager) with new ideas for where to take the youth drop ins – we’re having a bit of a Christmas party (virtually) this week which I really hope to attend.
I was just on the phone with Spectrum Outfitters, a binder company who I have requested deliver a bit of training to our helpline staff, to make sure our advice is legally sound as we offer complimentary binders to the young people we support. No one day is ever the same – which I LOVE.
Of all the jobs I’ve done in the youth sector, this feels like the most important, the most urgent, and the most rewarding”
What makes the work you do at Mermaids so important?
Of all the jobs I’ve done in the youth sector, this feels like the most important, the most urgent, and the most rewarding. I started out my career as a youth cadet in the police but I struggled with the institutionalised attitudes and behaviours and often seeing people at their worst – it was often too late to be restorative. I wanted to work at the other end, supporting people before they become victimised or part of a criminal system. At Mermaids, the work feels different because of the situation with trans lives and the hostility around it.
When I was younger, I felt that in my community people didn’t really understand trans identities but you could remain almost undetected and despite it being difficult there didn’t feel this enormous emphasis on debating your existence. Now, it’s 24/7 social media or the press attacking and stirring up a moral panic. It feels like resistance to trans lives is at an all time high. You also have more people, especially youth, coming out as trans or gender diverse, which means the backlash is inevitably greater.
I had originally thought Mermaids was a small charity predominantly supporting parents but then Verity (Trans Inclusion in Sports Youth Worker) – we were friends before Mermaids – told me about the job they had just got looking at sports inclusion, and I thought it sounded great! Unlike Stonewall [where Lee was working at the time] which has a generalised focus on campaigning for the rights of LGBTQIA+ people, Mermaids exclusively supports and campaigns for trans children and young people and as a trans person myself, that’s really important to me.
What’s been your biggest challenge at Mermaids so far?
Working as part of a team and going back into management! Before Mermaids, I’d been doing gender and sexuality consultancy work as a one-man show. This also meant I was used to doing everything myself and not needing to delegate anything. So, when I started at Mermaids, letting people know where I am and also going back into line managing again (virtually) was a big change. I’m a Quaker and we don’t have hierarchies, so I inherently find them a bit difficult. However, I’ve made the manager role my own and João is such an incredibly competent and experienced person and a dream to line-manage. I see myself as a sounding board to help platform their ideas and make sure they get the credit they deserve. I think we are both learning from each other.
Despite all the difficulties trans people currently face, I am still optimistic for the future and I just can’t wait to see what 2022 brings”
What are you most looking forward to at Mermaids in 2022?
The activist programme for young people! I am honestly so excited about the potential it has! It’s also a brilliant chance for a lot of us to step out of our day-to-day roles which can be quite rigid and use other, creative skills. I feel proud of the organisation in terms of the diversity in skills that we have. Done well, this could be such an important piece of learning for everyone across the charity about the direction we can go in to be a bit braver, more fearless and more radical.
I’m excited to work on a programme that can equip young people with activist skills and see Mermaids thrive in this exciting direction. João has an innate ability to story tell and formulate ideas so beautifully and sensitively. These are skills I don’t necessarily possess and I’m learning a lot from them. That’s what’s great about the activist programme. Staff will be able to utilise skills they don’t normally have in their day-to-day roles, while hopefully learning new ones!
Despite all the difficulties trans people currently face, I am still optimistic for the future. I can’t wait to see what 2022 brings.
How do you spend your time outside of Mermaids?
Football! Watching it, playing it, coaching it. I’m actually off to coach now after work. I coach Sheffield United’s under 13s girls team (my side hustle) and support Leicester City and try and watch all the games I can in person, or, on the telly.
Verity and I met through sport – I was an out trans footballer and Verity an out trans rugby player. We kept crossing paths at events, especially as we’re both youth workers and both live in Yorkshire. Then we went to Trans Pride together in Brighton, which definitely galvanised our friendship!
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