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
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.
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.
4. The appeal was crowdfunded.