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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. 

On Thursday 22 September, we were alerted to an upcoming piece in the Telegraph about Mermaids.

We made the decision not to respond to the journalist’s request for comment but wanted to clarify our stance and offer some reassurance to anyone who might have concerns about some of the issues raised.

Access to the forums

We have robust security and moderation processes in place to ensure our forums are a safe space for trans, non-binary and gender diverse young people and their families. In August 2022, an individual – possibly a journalist – tried to gain access to the Youth forums by pretending to be a 14-year-old in need of support, seemingly with the aim of discrediting Mermaids. This person was caught in the moderation process and has since been blocked. Security of our platforms and safeguarding of young people is of the utmost importance to us and we will continue to regularly review our processes and procedures to make sure our forums remain safe and secure. 

Binders

Some trans masculine, non-binary and gender diverse people experience bodily dysphoria, as a result of their chest, and binding, for some, helps alleviate that distress. Mermaids takes a harm reduction position with the understanding that providing a young person with a binder and comprehensive safety guidelines from an experienced member of staff is preferable to the likely alternative of unsafe practices and/or continued or increasing dysphoria. The risk is considered by Mermaids staff within the context of our safeguarding framework. More on binder safety can be found here.

Puberty blockers

Puberty blockers are an internationally recognised safe, reversible healthcare option which have been recommended by medical authorities in the UK and internationally for decades. They have been used to treat precocious (i.e. early) puberty in children, and adults as part of treatment for some hormone-dependent cancers, and for conditions such as endometriosis. They have been prescribed to trans young people since 1988. As noted by GIDS and medical experts, blockers are physically reversible when treatment is stopped. Puberty blockers allow a young person to consider their options while exploring their gender identity, as well as alleviating the distress of gender dysphoria. 

An appeal by Mermaids, supported by Good Law Project and LGBT+ Consortium, along with other leading UK LGBTQIA+ charities, against the decision to award charity status to the LGB Alliance, has had its timetable to trial set out.

The directions order from the Tribunal sets out the next steps for the case to trial. The key points in the order are that:

  • LGB Alliance is now a respondent to the appeal, along with the Charity Commission.
  • The hearing is to take place between March and May 2022 (date to be confirmed).

The decision earlier this year by the Charity Commission to award the controversial group charitable status was met with anger from the LGBTQIA+ community and beyond.

To be registered as a charity, an organisation must be established exclusively for charitable purposes, as recognised in law, and pursue them in a manner which gives rise to tangible benefits and which outweigh any associated harms. 

LGB Alliance’s behaviour does not fit these criteria and they are not who they say they are. It is our belief that they do not stand for LGB rights, but exist to divide our community and denigrate those who support trans people. 

That is why, with the support of leading charities LGBT+ Consortium, Gendered Intelligence, LGBT Foundation and TransActual, Mermaids lodged an appeal, crowdfunded by Good Law Project, on the grounds that LGB Alliance is not a charity. 

Charity exists for public good and LGBA doesn’t offer this

Lui Asquith, Director of Legal and Policy

Lui Asquith, Director of Legal and Policy at Mermaids, said: “Young trans people and children are facing unprecedented scrutiny and scepticism. Much of it is and has been fuelled by an anti-gender movement that is sweeping around the globe, which has money and a platform and insists on pushing an erroneous hierarchy of rights. By its nature it rejects the rights – and in some cases, existence – of trans people.

“LGB Alliance purports to be an organisation that supports lesbian, gay and bisexual people, but it doesn’t. Many trans people are LGB and LGBA actively work to oppose the advancement of rights of trans individuals. 

“It pushes transphobic messages – through the frame of being a ‘LGB support organisation’ – to people in power; they are contributing to the horrendous cultivation of fear-mongering in respect of trans people in this country as well as creating a harmful and incorrect idea that cis-women’s rights are at odds with trans people.

“Mermaids, together with LGBT+ organisations, believe it is not fair on the public to have their donations used to carry out such cruel work – many people who donate to them may not even know their anti-trans rights activity. They are saying one thing and doing another. That isn’t fair.

“It is our view that their work is not only actively hurting LGBT+ people, but people as a whole. Biological essentialism limits everyone – it demands social expectations and denies the freedom to be who you are. 

“We are taking this action to ensure we do not regress as a country – make no mistake, the LGBA registration was a regression – and we are taking this action to show that the LGBT+ community will not be divided. 

“We as a collective will do what we can to ensure organisations that have other motives do not attain the credibility of being a charity. 

“Charity exists for public good and LGBA doesn’t offer this.”

A spokesperson for LGBT+ Consortium said: “Registered charities are an important institution for creating positive social and cultural change. It is vital that inclusive LGBT+ organisations can highlight the damaging effect registering those with non-charitable aims can have on real people’s lives.

“We are grateful to Mermaids for being at the forefront of this case. Consortium will continue to support and stand alongside them at every stage of this crucial case when it is heard by the Tribunal.”

A spokesperson for LGBT Foundation said: “LGBT Foundation is one of many LGBTQ+ charities that celebrate our diverse community with integrity and respect. We exist to promote unity and help people live safer and happier lives.

“We cannot emphasise enough the impact that trans and non-binary people have made on LGBT equality. LGBT Foundation oppose rhetoric and ideologies that encourage separation, discrimination and elicit long-term injustice to people in our community.

“We are indebted to Mermaids for their leadership in this case and look forward to it going to the Tribunal.”

The next significant milestone in the case will be 8 October 2021, the date by which LGB Alliance, as a respondent, is required to set out its legal case in full. Mermaids and the Commission will then have the opportunity to make further submissions in response. 

We will keep you updated as the case progresses. Your support in the meantime is much appreciated.

Notes to editors

2. Mermaids is a UK-wide charity (registered charity number 1160575) working to support transgender, non-binary and gender-diverse children, young people, their families and the professionals who support them. Our goal is to create a world where gender-diverse children and young people can be themselves and thrive. Services include a helpline, web chat and online forums for parents and young people, as well as face-to-face meet-ups for peer support. We also provide training into organisations and advocate for a fairer society for trans young people.

3. LGBT+ Consortium is the national umbrella body for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans+ voluntary and community organisations in the UK. It has a membership of over 500 diverse LGBT+ organisations and they work to support a proactively collaborative LGBT+ sector that benefits the diverse communities it serves. 

4. Good Law Project is a not for profit that uses the law for a better world. We fight cases that protect the interests of the public. We had a primary role in overturning the prorogation of Parliament two years ago and more recently have been shining a bright light on Government’s award of PPE contracts and jobs to their friends and associates. 

5. LGBT Foundation is a national charity delivering advice, support and information services to lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans communities. With a history dating back to 1975, they campaign for a fair and equal society where all LGBT people can achieve their full potential. Through their services, they reduce isolation amongst LGBT communities, help people feel more confident and in control of their lives and enable people to flourish. Together with LGBT communities and their supporters, LGBT Foundation is working to secure a safe, healthy and equal future for all LGBT people.

6. This appeal is being crowdfunded.

Today (Thursday 30 September 2021) the Sports Council Equality Group have published their “Review into Transgender Inclusion in Domestic Sport in the UK.”

We are disappointed to read this review, which rather than focussing on bettering its existing guidance for trans people in sport, yet again ignores the lived experiences of trans people, and misinterprets the Equality Act and academic literature.

This report will have ramifications for trans people in the sporting community, and only seeks to cause unnecessary hostility, exclusion and confusion for those wishing to participate in sport.

It is important to remember that the SCEG report only exists as guidance: it is not mandatory. Sports groups and organisations are entitled and encouraged to write and implement their own policies on including trans and non-binary people in sport.

Mermaids will be preparing a longer statement on this report which explains what this guidance means in real-world terms, as well as why this report is flawed. Alongside our colleagues LEAP Sports (Scotland), Pride Sports, LGBT+ Sport Cymru and Scottish Trans, Mermaids offer our full solidarity and support to all trans and non-binary people participating in sport.

If you have any questions or concerns, or you are a National Governing Body needing advice, please get in touch with [email protected].

The Court of Appeal has today told the High Court that it got Bell v Tavistock wrong. Its judgment today overturns a judgment that the High Court made in December 2020. This is wonderful news following almost 10 months of huge difficulty.

Mermaids and most importantly the trans young people and their families that we represent are relieved that the Court of Appeal has today (Friday 17 September 2021) overturned the High Court’s decision from December 2020 that effectively barred trans young people from accessing life-saving medical treatment on the NHS unless they had a court order. 

The decision today has reinstated the test of Gillick and re-emphasised that it is for the clinician together with the patient and the family to make decisions on a case-by-case basis. It was not for the court to make generalisations about consent at different ages, nor should the court be routinely part of the consent process for puberty blockers.

“The case of Gillick v. West Norfolk and Wisbech Health Authority had decided that it was for doctors, not judges, to decide on the capacity of under-16s to consent to medical treatment. It had been said in R (Burke) v. General Medical Council there were great dangers in a court grappling with issues which were divorced from the factual context that required their determination: “the court should not be used as a general advice centre”. The declaration transgressed these principles.” [Summary, para 12]

This is a victory for common sense and young people’s bodily autonomy and how the Tavistock and NHS England respond to the judgment is paramount.

Finally, nearly 10 months on from the judgment, and six months since a High Court case which ruled in favour of parents being able to consent on behalf of their children to start treatment, trans young people who have been left in limbo and shut off from treatment have been told “it was inappropriate for the Divisional Court to provide guidance on when the court should be involved in decisions over whether the child is Gillick competent”. The Court of Appeal also restated that Tavistock’s policies and practices are lawful.

Trans young people deserve the right to make decisions about their own bodies in exactly the same way as all other young people. But while we celebrate today’s decision, it’s also important that we reflect on what has been a traumatising period for many young people and their families.

We call on the NHS to reverse its position as a priority and with urgency to ensure access to healthcare is reinstated for those that have been left stranded for so long. A period in which no new referrals have been made and young people who were about to start treatment were just left anxiously in limbo, unsure what the next steps will be. This was, and is, totally unacceptable. Today the Court of Appeal has made this clear.

The impact of the initial High Court judgment on children and their families has been nothing short of devastating. In a Mermaids survey, published in collaboration with Gendered Intelligence and LGBT Foundation, parents and young people told us that they felt “distraught”, “scared”, “let down” and “devastated” following the High Court judgment. Sadly, today’s decision can’t undo the damage that anguish has caused.

Ahead of the ruling, one parent told us: “I’m keeping everything crossed for later, but part of me feels the damage is done. 

“The system that was meant to support [my child] is failing her. The people she had finally opened up to and started to trust, have failed her due to the system around them. 

“No one seems to be able to give us any time frames. We are treated with suspicion. I’m treated as neurotic for being panicky and upset and wanting the best possible care and outcome for my child. She’s 13, she’s watching her peers change and progress and she’s praying (and I’m praying) that no more changes happen to her.

“I feel like we did everything we were meant to… We were patient, we listened, we understood the caution they take, we opened up, we followed what they said. [My child] has been persistent and consistent, but I now feel like time is slipping through my fingers and her happiness along with it.” 

A GIDS clinician said: “As a Gender Clinician, I am pleased that the court has overturned the initial ruling. 

“The past 10 months have been extremely difficult for young people accessing gender services. In many cases we have identified a clinical need for young people to access Blocker Treatment or Gender Affirming Hormones but young people have been denied the opportunity to begin these treatments as NHS England amended the GIDS specification based upon the initial Bell judgment.

“Now that this judgment has been overturned, I hope that the NHS will immediately remove the strict conditions that have limited access to treatments for young people. Families and young people need our support and they need it now.”

Susie Green, Mermaids CEO, said: “We welcome this decision and are pleased that the Court of Appeal has overturned what was a devastating decision that has empowered transphobia in the UK and continues to impact the lives of hundreds of young people. 

“Within hours of the initial ruling in December 2020, we saw NHS England change their service specification. Will they do the same now? We need to see definitive and decisive action by the Tavistock and NHS England to address the needs of those young people and their families all over the UK who are in a state of anxiety and distress. We need immediate action to provide urgent access to treatment for all those trans young people who suddenly found treatment options withdrawn without support. 

“What are the Tavistock and NHS England going to do to help those young people access care, allowing them to live their lives instead of waiting around in limbo?”

Notes to editors

1.  Bell v Tavistock and Portman NHS Health Foundation, a case in which the High Court ruled in December 2020 that adolescents younger than 16 years old were unlikely to be able to give consent to take reversible hormones to delay puberty.

2. You can read the initial decision of the High Court in full here or a summary here.  

3. The Court of Appeal decision can be found here

4. Mermaids is a UK-wide charity (registered charity number 1160575) working to support transgender, non-binary and gender-diverse children, young people, their families and the professionals who support them. Their goal is to create a world where gender-diverse children and young people can be themselves and thrive. The charity’s services include a helpline, web chat and online forums for parents and young people, as well as face to face meet-ups for peer support. They also provide training into organisations and advocate for a fairer society for trans young people.5. Please send any interview requests to [email protected].