Celebrities and organisations have some explaining to do: why did they support this group for so long despite the red flags?The scandal of trans charity Mermaids is a warning to us all
To have a child is to be vulnerable; to accept that your heart will wander around outside your body for the rest of your life. It is to confront the impossible truth that you cannot shield them from the world.
Imagine now that child comes to you, distressed by their sex, feeling they do not conform, they no longer want to be a boy or a girl. You do not know what to do. You turn to the internet and there you find Mermaids, “helping gender-diverse kids…since 1995”.
A charity invited to parties at No 10 Downing Street and to give evidence to MPs, lauded by celebrities such as Emma Watson, receiving National Lottery Funding and major corporate sponsorship. All have given their stamp of approval, helping take it from a charity receiving £127,000 in 2017 to £1.85m in 2021.
This charity tells you that if you do not affirm your child as trans then they may commit suicide. Mermaids CEO Susie Green talks about taking her child to the US for puberty blockers aged 12, oestrogen aged 13, and to Thailand for surgery on their sixteenth birthday. She declares “I have my daughter, whole and alive, but if I had refused to listen then it’s very likely that I would have a dead son”. While one has to respect this as her experience it is not necessarily a template for everyone else.
On the forums users direct you to private online clinic GenderGP as a fast-track to hormones for your child. Founded by Helen and Michael Webberley, the latter was struck off the UK medical register for “wide ranging failings”, and providing treatment without adequate tests, assessments or examinations. The former suspended for putting patients at “unwarranted risk of harm”.
Elsewhere on Mermaids website and forums, staff without medical qualifications declare puberty blockers totally reversible, and persistently laud their “hugely positive impact”. This is despite increasing concern that puberty blockers affect brain and bone development and lock children on to a medical pathway.
Online, children are allowed to advise other children on treatment and surgery, while Mermaids staff despatch breast binders, without parental knowledge, despite Mermaids being aware that 97 percent of adult users experience health impacts including pain, rib fractures, changes to the spine, headaches, respiratory and skin infections and muscle wasting.
I wish I could say that Mermaids explores with parents why there has been a dramatic increase in children with gender distress, or shows curiosity as to why two-thirds are teenage girls, or same-sex attracted, or that more than a third have autistic traits. But discussion of the Cass Review is studiously narrow, and Mermaids’ Chair has declared it ‘not Mermaids’ field’. No space is preserved to explore whether something else might be going on and that a child may not be ‘trans’.
And it is this failure which makes organisations’ support for Mermaids so worrying. They have failed to look beyond the surface.
Why does Mermaids feel the need to curate information? Why is acknowledging uncertainty, and concerns so difficult? Why is there not more caution when the unnecessary, lifelong medicalisation of children is a potential outcome? Why are they challenging the much needed new charity LGB Alliance in court?
And now it has been revealed that Mermaids, appointed a trustee who gave a presentation at a conference discussing access to professional help for “people who are attracted to children”. Last year he asked, “is it really that children or young people having sex is the problem?”.
Taken together, Mermaids’ practices are questionable. Combined with an evangelical approach, and the brushing away of concerns as “smears” or “transphobia”, and Mermaids is a siren for the unwary.
Nikki da Costa was Director of Legislative Affairs at Downing Street. The fee for this article will go to Aurora New Dawn, a charity for victims of domestic abuse, sexual violence and stalking