The Mermaids charity found itself at the heart of the very charged debate pitting trans rights advocates against gender-critical feminists.

Mermaids, which is funded primarily by donations but also receives grants and training payments, says it provides support for transgender children and their families, as well as facilitating their acceptance into society.

In recent weeks, Mermaids has been the subject of a slew of newspaper articles that have questioned its safeguard policies, prompting the Charity Commission to open a “regulatory compliance case”.

This is not a formal investigation and it is not a finding of wrongdoing. But pending the commission’s scrutiny, a number of organizations have suspended their dealings with the mermaids – the National Lottery Community Fund has suspended future payments and the Ministry of Education has withdrawn it from its mental health and wellness resources for schools.

For Susie Green, CEO of Mermaids, the focus on the charity reflects an attempt to discredit it and make it look “dangerous”.

“This negative media…has had a direct impact on young people, their families, our staff, our volunteers and all we try to do is help children be happy – that’s all – and to help parents support their children appropriately.”

Critics accuse the charity of going beyond simple support, of encouraging children to make the transition simply because they deviate from gender stereotypes and when they are too young to understand the consequences potential. They argue that a scrutiny of the charity by the commission is well overdue.

While the debate over trans rights has grown increasingly fierce in recent years, Mermaids predates this.

Founded in 1995 and staffed entirely by volunteers until 2016, Green became its first staff member. It is headquartered in Leeds, with an office in London, and has around 44 staff and 60 volunteers.

The work of the association is in the spotlight like never before.

Chest belts

The case opened by the Charity Commission came after The Telegraph published an article in September alleging that Mermaids offered to send chest straps to children against their parents’ wishes.

Breast binders come in different forms; there are commercially made garments that flatten the breasts to minimize their appearance. Some people use strips of cloth or tape to tighten their breasts.

The Telegraph said staff at the charity’s forum had agreed to send a chest-flattening device to an unidentified adult posing as a 14-year-old girl wishing to transition.

Dr Hillary Casswho is undertaking an independent review of the quality of care for children with gender dysphoria in England, described the devices as “painful and potentially harmful”.

The Telegraph story acknowledged that Mermaids staff had asked the person to read a safety card, and in a statement after the story was published, the charity said it was “taking a position harm reduction”. Green argues that providing a well-fitting binder must be better than “a youngster taping himself”.

A follow-up article by the Telegraph went one step further, with the headline: “Breast tied could be child abuse, police say amid ‘growing horror’ at trans charity Mermaids.”

Green says the second story confused breast bandaging with breast ironing and FGM (female genital mutilation) – and led some parents to fear they would be considered child abusers if their children used the bandages.

The Metropolitan Police later said the provision of breast bands was not a criminal offense and that they supported ‘transgender and gender diverse people who freely choose to wear a breast band’.

The Charity Commission has opened a fileexplaining that he did so because “concerns have been raised with us about the mermaids’ approach to protecting young people”.

Compliance cases can be triggered by media coverage. Some 5,324 were concluded in 2021-2022. The commission could still decide to elevate this to a formal inquiry, known as a statutory inquiry. These are much rarer; there were only 45 last year.

Green says Mermaids spoke to the regulator in 2020 about providing workbooks and the charity’s forum, following previous complaints. She says the commission was satisfied then and that “our processes have improved.”

A resignation

The Telegraph story was followed by an article in the temperature reporting that a Mermaids trustee, Dr Jacob Breslow, an associate professor at the London School of Economics (currently listed as being on sabbatical), gave a presentation in 2011 for B4U-ACT, an organization that aims to promote “a science-based understanding of people…with an attraction to children”.

In a description of his presentation, Breslow wrote: “Many tend to start with the link between pedophile lust and harmful and abusive relationships and acts, and end up proliferating, rather than challenging, sexual intelligibility and normative sex.”

Breslow quit when The Times contacted Mermaids – and the charity issued a mea culpa. “Had we found out that he attended this event, we would never have offered him a director role because we would have considered it inconsistent with our goals, views and values,” says Green.

“But we did an improved DBS [Disclosure and Barring Service check], we did a general search on Google and the Internet. We did a search on social networks [and it] did not come.

“We are now in a position as a charity where we have to consider doing external third party checks due to things that might happen in someone’s story not showing up at a regular search. We asked the NSPCC if they could recommend anyone to do these and they said no – no other charity does this for them.

Since the articles were published, Mermaids says its helpline received 130 abusive calls or messages between September 27 and October 27 (80 of which were reported to police), including accusations of pedophilia or child molester, up from 29 in the previous six years. month.

Gender Identity Clinic

When the NHS announced it was close its gender identity clinic (Gids) for children at the Tavistock and Portman NHS foundation trust in July – it will be replaced by regional centers – gender-sensitive feminist Kathleen Stock tweeted: “The sirens must fall next.”

Mermaids critics argue that an organization that has influence with children and public and private organizations, including Gids, deserves scrutiny without the inquisitors being accused of transphobia.

Asked about the line between worry and transphobia, Green said, “If it’s their child, and they’re trying to figure out the best thing to do to support their child, then it’s absolutely up to them to consider. what exists, to make decisions with their child about what best serves their child to make them happy, to support them, to make them feel loved and affirmed and to know that they are doing their best for their child to keep them in security.

“That’s fine, but when it comes to other people, it’s just this assumption that a cisgender result is better than a trans result.”

Mermaids itself has come under attack, appealing the Charity Commission’s decision to grant charity status to new gay rights organization LGB Alliance, which has criticized what it describes as a gender ideology. It is understood that this is the first time that a charity has tried to deprive another of its legal status.

And he’s been accused of mistakenly thinking he knows better, including in the area of ​​puberty blockers.

The Times claimed that the charity’s forum staff promote puberty blockers as “a safe and reversible treatment, despite the medical consensus that the long-term impact on adolescent development remains unknown”.

The NHS website says little is known about their long-term effects, adding: “Although Gids advises that this is a treatment that is physically reversible if stopped, it is not known. what the psychological effects may be.It is also not known whether hormone blockers affect the development of the brain in adolescents or the bones of children.

Green argues that the fully trained Mermaids staff define the options and would be investigated if they went beyond that. She argues that puberty blockers are safe, pointing out that, despite what the website says, the NHS still prescribes them.

However, since an interim report from Cass was published this summer, the NHS has decided to only prescribe them in a formal research setting, which Green says is “inappropriate”.

She admits the difference between what the NHS website says and the sirens is confusing, describing it as “frustrating”.

“If you look back, blocking drugs were first used in the 1980s for cisgender children to stop them going through precocious puberty. And it’s been used since then, so we have adults who had this treatment from the age of three, four or five. And then when that was removed, normal puberty resumed, and they now live their lives like everyone else… I think 1988 was the first time it was used [for trans children] by the Dutch, always for the same thing, to suspend puberty.

Green insists Mermaids has not prompted Gids to prescribe the drugs in the past.

“It would be really strange if the biggest charity that supported trans children had no relationship at all with the only NHS service that provides support for children and young people. But we have no say in how they work, how they prescribe, what they do in terms of process.