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  • Read our full response to the DfE’s new schools guidance on RSE lesson planning here.
  • Read our article on the relevance of clothes and toys to gender identity here.
  • Details of the Mail on Sunday request for comment can be read for context below.

In response to the Mail on Sunday article published Sunday 27th September 2020: no teacher has ever been encouraged by any LGBTQ+ organisation to state that ‘tomboys’ should be transgender. The suggestion is discrediting to the teaching profession and we call for the Mail on Sunday to explain its journalistic basis for this assertion. We have explained the facts to the Mail on Sunday and we are disappointed to see our accredited, respected and long-standing charity and our children and families presented so inaccurately. We take hope and spirit from the extraordinary young people who stand resilient and dignified in the face of such an onslaught from those who cry victimhood whilst shouting down young people without a voice.

We are working hard to make room for a sensible, kind, reasonable conversation and it is becoming increasingly clear that we will not be met with such generosity of spirit from those determined to keep newspapers and their personal ideologies afloat on the already exhausted backs of transgender and gender-diverse people. We will take this moment to restate our determination to hold ground in a space open to reasonable conversation. We will not be pulled into rancorous debate for the sake of recreational argument. If those seeking an online feud spoke to young people and families every day as we do, they would behave with equal restraint.

We turn to the detail…

The DfE’s guidance relating to gender, covers classroom talks and lesson materials for school pupils in England and Wales. We do not offer classroom talks or lesson materials for school pupils in England and Wales. Therefore, speculation that Mermaids might be ‘barred’ from schools is inaccurate.

We offer fully-evidenced, CPD-accredited training for professionals including teachers, created with support and guidance from Goldsmiths University of London.

‘Mermaids is a highly-experienced organisation at the forefront of best practice for children and their families, led by principles of participation, empathy, and open mindedness. Their consistent message of care is informed by the fact they have their finger on the pulse of international research into best practice. Their courage and persistence is admirable in the face of constant misrepresentation about these facts in social and mainstream media.’

Dr Anna Carlile, Head of the Department of Educational Studies at Goldsmiths

Unfortunately for school staff, the DfE guidance uses rather vague language, though it does state: ‘All pupils should receive teaching on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) relationships during their school years.’ From our interpretation, this guidance counsels teachers against suggesting that transgender children play with particular toys and clothes, based on traditional gender stereotypes. We would join the DfE in opposing any such suggestion. We published an article earlier in the summer, discussing this important question but put simply: 

Due to the gendered society in which we live, transgender children can sometimes express their gender identities through toys and clothes along with many other factors. However, such things have never been the primary or sole reason for a child being considered gender-diverse. 

To suggest that parents are somehow forcing children to be trans against their will, solely because they wore a dress or picked up a toy car is a reflection of how little transgender, non-binary and gender-diverse young people are understood. Our position has not changed, though we acknowledge that our expression around such issues has improved. We would call on those taking an interest in gender issues to listen carefully to the voices of transgender children, young people and their families and cease the trend towards fevered accusations towards vulnerable families.

There has been much excitement in certain quarters around a particular slide which was used in Mermaids training a number of years ago. This slide was a small part of a wider training module, presented at the time by our training team as a tongue-in-cheek, knowingly-over-simplified look at various gender expressions. It was designed specifically to invite the delegates to consider how difficult it is to place oneself in stereotypical boxes. Perhaps it is ironic that this slide has been so successful in achieving its intended aim of creating debate. We are disappointed that it is still being used to encourage an inaccurate view of our charity. Our training is regularly reviewed to reflect the most up to date language and research. At any point in time, images can be taken out of context and used by those seeking to skew debate.

There is an understanding in schools across the UK that unrelenting, misinformed attacks on trans lives might sell newspapers at a time of great public fear and division, but they bear little relation to the truth of the matter. School staff do a wonderful job supporting gender-diverse children and young people at school, who are simply trying to focus on their education. We thank school staff for their messages of support over the last few days and hold great pride in our hardworking teachers who face an increasingly difficult job trying to stand up for the welfare of their students, in spite of the extraordinary challenges posed by the Covid-19 outbreak.

We repeat our call to those active on social media and in the British press: please, listen to transgender people, before you tweet, talk or write about them.



The DfE guidance, published on Thursday, notes teachers in England must not “reinforce harmful stereotypes” and resources used to discuss topics involving gender and biological sex should be “age-appropriate and evidence based”.

There has been social media attention calling for mermaids to be barred from any role in education.

Reference the 12-point “gender spectrum” running from a Barbie doll in a pink dress at the “female” side to a GI Joe in military fatigues at the “male” end.

Reference to Mermaids tweet, with the (now refuted) suggestion it evidences a change of position for the charity: ‘Children should be encouraged to wear what they want, play with what they want without putting stereotypical adult gender conforms on them if a girl plays with cars and boy’s with dolls leave them alone, if only people would’