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On 25 November 2022 we announced that Susie Green had left Mermaids. Following this, various media outlets reported that Susie has resigned from the organisation due to issues in relation to her leadership of the organisation.

This was not correct and this false speculation has been upsetting to Susie, who has been involved with Mermaids for many years. We regret that we did not address this speculation at the time and are sorry for any negative impact this reporting has had on Susie and her family.

Throughout her time with the organisation Susie has shown hard work, passion and commitment in an increasingly hostile environment and as CEO grew the charity from a completely volunteer-run organisation to be the largest trans support charity in the UK.

We would like to again thank Susie for her years of dedication and the support and hope she has given to countless children, young people and their families during her 22 years at Mermaids, in both a voluntary and employed capacity.

In the last week, senior Conservatives, including the Prime Minister, have used their Party Conference to distract from the real social, economic and environmental issues faced by everyone in the UK by repeatedly sharing transphobic rhetoric and undermining the existence and rights of the trans community.

Nothing that has been said is a change to the law, or to the rights of our community, but these statements further legitimise the harassment which many trans young people and their families experience every day in the media, at home, at work, school and online.

Trans young people and their families are asking for easier access to healthcare, supportive schools and the ability to live their lives with dignity and without discrimination, hatred or abuse. This is no different to what any other young person wants and deserves.

We exist to support trans children and young people and their families, and will continue to campaign for a better world for them to grow up in. 

If you’re struggling with the news this week, our helpline team is here for you via phone, email or webchat. We’re open Monday to Friday, 9am to 9pm.

Help us continue to provide supportive, safe spaces for trans children and young people by donating today.

Mermaids has been supporting transgender, non-binary and gender-diverse young people to survive and thrive since 1995 and has been a registered charity since 2015. We’ve experienced significant growth and change in that time, and in 2022-23 our income exceeded £2,000,000 for the first time, while we supported over 10,000 individuals. 

Given this growth, and following our report into equity, diversity and inclusion, which highlighted significant concerns about governance and leadership at Mermaids, the trustees decided to commission a comprehensive, independent review of our governance. We knew that doing so would invite ever more scrutiny into our organisation at an already difficult time. However, we felt it important that we face our challenges head-on.

Trustees met with a number of providers and were reassured by the thoroughness of the approach which the team at NCVO proposed to take. We are pleased today to share their report, which you can read here.  

NCVO’s report has identified many areas we need to work on, and as a board, we have reviewed and accepted all of the recommendations and agreed on an action plan with our leadership team on how we will address them. 

Some of the recommendations had already been completed by the time we received the report, and others have been addressed since. The areas we are focusing on over the coming weeks and months are:

  1. Improving how we explain how our governance works and how decisions are made to staff, volunteers and external stakeholders.
  2. Improving how trustees work with senior staff and their visibility and ability to hear feedback from all our staff and volunteers.
  3. Testing out our new recruitment and induction processes for staff and trustees through a round of trustee recruitment, which is underway.

We look forward to sharing more of this journey with you.

Belinda Bell

Chair of Trustees

Lauren Stoner, Interim CEO at Mermaids said: “We’re really pleased that NCVO’s report shows the strengths of our governance, and highlights the areas where we’ve still got some work to do.

“The team and I are looking forward to working on these areas with our trustees over the coming months, especially as we look to diversify our board with a new Chair and additional trustees.”

Sarah Vibert, CEO at NCVO, said: “Regularly reviewing governance structures and processes is an important part of good charity practices. We encourage all charities to commission a governance review at least every three years, in line with the Charity Governance Code. This will help to ensure that decision making is effective, considered and focussed on the missions, values and long-term health of an organisation. 

“We look forward to seeing how the recommendations of this review are actioned as Mermaids continues to grow and develop as an organisation.”

Notes to editors

1. Mermaids is a registered charity in England and Wales (charity number 1160575) supporting transgender, non-binary and gender-diverse children, young people and their families. We aim to create a world where trans youth can be themselves and thrive.

2. NCVO is a membership community for charities, voluntary organisations and community groups in England. 

3. The report was commissioned in early 2023 following an independent equity, diversity and inclusion review which highlighted concerns about Mermaids’ governance and management. 

4. Anyone interested in becoming a Mermaids trustee can apply via mermaidsuk.org.uk/recruitment-growth. Applications close on 10 September 2023. 

5. All media enquiries should be directed to [email protected].

In June 2021, Mermaids, supported by a coalition of LGBT+ organisations, appealed the decision by the Charity Commission to register LGB Alliance (LGBA) as a charity. We argued that LGBA shouldn’t be recognised as a charity because it was focused on hostile anti-trans activism and not (as it claimed) on the promotion of lesbian, gay and bisexual rights. 

The hearing took place over seven days in September and November 2022, and the Tribunal handed down its decision on Thursday 6 July 2023.

Their decision is that Mermaids doesn’t have legal standing to bring the appeal. Standing in this context is not well-defined, and we always knew this was a complex aspect of the case.

Because they found against us on standing, the Tribunal didn’t have to rule on the main issue in the appeal – namely whether or not LGBA should have been registered as a charity to begin with. 

But the two judges indicated that they had given that question careful consideration and had been split on the answer. That is, one of the judges agreed with us that LGBA should not have been registered as a charity, and one disagreed. 

We don’t know the details of their reasoning, but we think that is a really significant outcome. Had we been found to have standing, there is a chance that the tie would have been resolved in our favour and we would have won the case. 

That puts a huge question mark over LGBA’s status. In addition, key points of our evidence about LGBA were accepted by both judges. They agreed with us that some of LGBA’s output on social media went beyond the boundaries of civilised debate, and they accepted our evidence that LGBA had progressed the “pro-LGB” activities it claims to be focused on “only to a limited extent”. They suggested that a combination of public scrutiny and oversight by the Charity Commission would “deter LGBA from crossing the line” in future.

We are glad to have been able to shine a light on the harmful nature of LGBA’s activities and the need for ongoing scrutiny, and we are pleased that one of the judges accepted our evidence that LGBA should never have been registered as a charity. But we are disappointed that the Tribunal wasn’t able to go further.

If we don’t meet the test for standing in this case, it is hard to imagine that anyone could have done. In effect, that means that the decision to register LGBA as a charity cannot be challenged by a third party, even though the judgment confirms that there are serious doubts over whether LGBA should have charitable status. 

We are taking legal advice on whether to appeal the finding on standing. In the meantime, our focus remains on channelling all of our energies into the urgent, critical challenges facing trans young people today. This includes demanding access to timely healthcare and robustly challenging forthcoming trans guidance for schools which, if reports are true, could have devastating consequences not only for trans children and young people, but any young person who doesn’t conform to gender norms.

Thank you to everyone who has supported our case, and to all those who continue to stand up for trans young people in an increasingly hostile climate. We are grateful for the support and solidarity of the LGBTQ+ community and LGBTQ+ organisations across the UK and globally, who resist attempts to divide our community. Together, we can create a better world to grow up trans. 

Frequently asked questions

What is “standing”?

In legal terms, “standing” means whether the person (or organisation) bringing a claim has the right to do so. In this case, the question was whether Mermaids had been “directly affected” by the Charity Commission’s decision to register LGBA as a charity. “Directly affected” is not defined in the relevant statute (the Charities Act 2011) so it is open to interpretation in different ways.

In 2021, LGBA asked for a separate preliminary hearing to determine whether or not Mermaids had standing. We argued that the issue of standing was inextricably linked to our broader points about LGBA’s activities, and the Tribunal agreed, which is why the matter of standing was decided as part of a full hearing looking at all the issues together. 

Why did the judges find that Mermaids doesn’t have standing?

The Tribunal didn’t consider that LGBA’s attacks on Mermaids, and their attempts to undermine our reputation, amounted to the kind of “direct affect” that is required by the Charities Act 2011. They also concluded that, because many of LGBA’s criticisms of Mermaids had pre-dated LGBA’s registration as a charity, the decision to register LGBA was not in itself the cause of the impact – indeed they thought that it might have reduced the impact, by constraining LGBA’s conduct.

Why haven’t the judges ruled on whether LGBA should have been registered as a charity?

We and LGBA had asked the judges to consider setting out their conclusions on whether or not LGBA is a charity, even if they decided that Mermaids didn’t have standing to bring the case. The judges, however, were unable to reach agreement on whether or not LGBA is a charity. There is a mechanism for resolving “ties”, but it didn’t need to be used because the judges had already agreed that we didn’t have standing. They therefore didn’t think it was necessary or appropriate to set out their respective conclusions on this issue.

What does this mean for Mermaids? 

This decision has no reflection on Mermaids, the work we do or the people that we exist for. We will continue to focus on providing the highest quality support to trans, non-binary and gender diverse children and young people, their families and the important people in their lives, and to making the world a better place to grow up trans.

Will you appeal the decision?

We are taking legal advice on a possible appeal.

What happens now? 

Mermaids will continue to focus on the critical, urgent challenges which trans young people and their families have told us they’re experiencing. This includes accessing healthcare, being safe and affirmed at school, and living their lives with dignity and respect.

Notes to editors

1. Mermaids is a registered charity in England and Wales (charity number 1160575) supporting transgender, non-binary and gender-diverse children, young people and their families. We aim to create a world where gender-diverse children and young people can be themselves and thrive.

3. The appeal was supported by a number of organisations, including Good Law Project and LGBT+ Consortium.

4. The appeal was crowdfunded.

5. All media enquiries should be directed to [email protected].

In 2022, Mermaids decided to carry out a frank and honest appraisal of our internal culture and how we measure up in terms of equity, diversity and inclusion and to understand oppression which our staff experienced. We thank our staff for their honesty and bravery throughout this process.

An independent external report which we commissioned has highlighted a number of significant challenges for us. Today we are sharing the recommendations from this report and the next steps which the team are already taking. 

We know we must do better and we are absolutely committed to doing so, and are implementing the report’s recommendations as a priority.

Earlier this year Mermaids decided to carry out a frank and honest appraisal of our internal culture and how we measure up in terms of equity, diversity and inclusion.

As part of this process, we commissioned an independent external report which highlighted a number of significant challenges for us.

We know we must do better and we are absolutely committed to doing so, and will be implementing the report’s recommendations as a priority.

The charity has an unwavering commitment to safeguarding which is, and always will be, our top priority.

We will continue to cooperate fully, openly and with complete transparency with the Charity Commission as its inquiry gets underway.

Mermaids CEO Susie Green has left the charity after six years in charge.

Chair of Trustees Belinda Bell said: “The Trustees are very grateful to Susie for everything she has done over the last six years to support trans, non-binary and gender-diverse young people and their families, and to build Mermaids into the organisation it is today.

“We wish her all the best for the future.”

An interim CEO will be appointed shortly. 

Mermaids would like to update our service users and allies in light of recent events.

Firstly, we have regrettably continued to receive a high volume of distressing, and in some cases threatening, calls, emails and web chat contacts as a result of some of the recent coverage.

We must protect our staff from this unacceptable abuse, and therefore we will be closing the helpline service tomorrow (Wednesday 12 October) in order to give them respite. We will be resuming a normal service as soon as we can, but we are operating in a particularly challenging environment at present and there may be further interruptions to our usual service.

We are taking all possible steps in response, including referring all contacts of a criminal nature to the police.

Secondly, The Times newspaper published an article today about a former member of staff. While we can confirm that the person referred to no longer works for the charity, we are unable to comment further due to the need to maintain confidentiality.

We note claims in the paper that an anonymous person has made a complaint to the Charity Commission but we have not been informed about it directly and so are not aware of its precise nature. Should the Charity Commission have any questions for us then we will of course answer them.

We must apologise for the need to write again with news of this nature but remain enormously grateful for your support as we navigate this challenging period.

We want to update you about the position in relation to Dr. Breslow, the former Trustee of Mermaids who resigned his position this week.

We have explained that it was only on the 3rd October that we became aware of his participation in a 2011 conference that would have disqualified him from becoming a trustee. Once notified, we immediately launched an investigation and Dr Breslow tendered his notice that same day.

We want to apologise for the distress and concern this news has caused.  It is clear that Dr. Breslow should never have been appointed to the board, and as Chair of the trustee board I am horrified that he was.

Many of you naturally have had questions about how this could have happened, and we want to set out the background in some more detail. 

All trustees and staff are subject to background checks including enhanced DBS searches, social media reviews and other due diligence. On this occasion we also placed weight on the fact his employer is a globally renowned institution that would have carried out its own checks. 

Clearly none of this was enough.

You will want to know what steps we are taking to ensure we are more rigorous in future. 

First, we are commissioning a review of our trustee recruitment process to be carried out by an external expert body. We will enact its recommendations.

Second, we are evaluating our policies and procedures, again in conjunction with an external expert body.

Third, we have updated the Charity Commission on the matter and the steps the charity intends to take to ensure there is transparency about what happened.

We should also say that Dr. Breslow was a trustee for a very short period of time, during which he had no interactions with any of our young people or families and only attended one regular quarterly board meeting.

Mermaids will continue to provide a wide range of support to the thousands of young people and families who need us. We want to apologise for shaking your faith in us.

Belinda Bell

Chair of trustees

Mermaids’ response to false claims in the media this week about the organisation and the services we provide

We’re in the midst of a targeted, cynical attack on Mermaids and the services we provide, which seeks to distract us from the important work that we do, and to discredit the organisation. While aimed at Mermaids, we believe this to be an attack on the trans community as a whole, and an attempt to undermine the rights we have fought – and will continue to fight – so hard for. 

This particular smear campaign began with the publication of a Telegraph “investigation” on Monday 26 September. The Telegraph alone has published at least five pieces about Mermaids this week, with further pieces expected criticising vital services including our Binder Service and Name Change Clinic. The Daily Mail has published a similar investigation, and we’ve also been made aware of further articles in The Times this weekend containing spurious accusations about our online forums. 

We stand by our statement released on Monday, and felt it important to reassure the families and young people that need us, and the wider community, that we will not be bullied or intimidated by those with an anti-trans agenda. The services that have benefited thousands of people will continue. 

With regards to our online forums, we have robust security and moderation processes in place to ensure they are as safe a space as possible for trans, non-binary and gender diverse young people and their families. 

These concerns were warranted as in August 2022, an individual posing as a young person in need of support was able to gain initial access to the forum. Contrary to media reports, a binder was not sent. They were held in the moderation process and subsequently blocked. 

Security of our platforms and safeguarding of young people is of the utmost importance to us and we continue to regularly review our processes and procedures to make sure our forums remain safe and secure. There are several layers of moderation checks before anyone can gain access to the forum, and anyone found to have fraudulently gained access to our platforms will be reported to the police immediately as a safeguarding concern.

All of our moderators receive comprehensive training, including safeguarding training, and everyone using the forum has to comply with a strict code of conduct, which prohibits the sharing of personal information, including online identities. 

We know there is a wealth of misinformation elsewhere on the internet, and so we seek to provide a space for young people to access support from trained professionals in a safe, protected environment. 

The safety and well-being of our service users is paramount, and our systems are designed to automatically flag anything that may be a concern. If a young person is identified as being specifically vulnerable, their post will not be shared, and in line with our safeguarding procedures, this will be escalated and actioned accordingly.

As we stated on Monday, we take a harm reduction approach to our Binder Service, and we are thankful that the Met Police have confirmed what we already knew to be true – that supplying or wearing a binder is not a crime

We take our responsibility to protect young people’s right to autonomy seriously, and services like our Name Change Clinic are fundamentally grounded in their legal rights.

As a result of the anti-trans media this week, and a number of vexatious complaints, we have received a letter from the Charity Commission seeking clarification on some of our policies and procedures. This is a relatively routine procedure known as a regulatory compliance case, and we will be replying in due course. 

In the meantime, we continue to provide a wide range of support to the thousands of young people and families who need us.

We are proud of the services we deliver, and are grateful for the outpouring of love and support we’ve seen this week. 

Thank you for standing with Mermaids, and standing with the trans community.