Mermaids marches at Pride in London, 2019. (Barcroft Media via Getty/ Wiktor Szymanowicz)
Trans children’s charity Mermaids has responded to an “investigation” by The Telegraph which suggested the charity was putting children at risk.
On Sunday (25 September), The Telegraph ran a story headlined: “Trans charity Mermaids giving breast binders to children behind parents’ backs”.
The story largely relied on an unidentified adult masquerading as a 14-year-old child to access services from Mermaids, including the charity’s youth forum and web chat helpline.
The newspaper reported an email exchange between the charity and the adult – pretending to be a 14-year-old trans boy named “Kai” – in which staff agreed to provide them with a free binder after they had become “a member of the charity’s online Youth Forum for a month and posted three times”.
Mermaids also reportedly provided extensive information about safe binder wearing, and risks associated with binders, which can reduce dysphoria in some trans people.
The Telegraph expressed outrage that the charity did not grill the “child” on their mental health and require that they inform an adult, even though “Kai” had already described their family as unaccepting.
Although Mermaids refused to comment for The Telegraph’s “investigation”, the charity said in its own statement addressing the issues raised: “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.”
Although Mermaids’ youth forums are designed to be a safe space for young people, The Telegraph also published information about the kind of conversations being had by teenagers, including on the topic of puberty blockers.
Researchers in 2020 found that puberty blockers can be “life-saving” for trans youth, drastically decreasing their chance of suicide, depression and anxiety, and the Endocrine Society describes hormone-blocking medication as a reversible treatment option to “give adolescents more time to explore their options”.
The newspaper tried to paint Mermaids’ forums as unsafe, including quotes from anti-trans campaigners like Transgender Trend founder Stephanie Davies-Arai, and MPs Joanna Cherry and Miriam Cates, who claimed the “investigation” raised “huge safeguarding red flags”.
But the charity clarified: “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.”
The article from The Telegraph has spread like wildfire across social media, stoking unfounded accusations of safeguarding concerns at Mermaids, and was shared by JK Rowling.
I’d be happy to have a chat about what we actually do at Mermaids. But then, real life is never quite as interesting or salacious as fiction, is it?
— Carrie J. Lyell (@Seej) September 26, 2022
In response, Carrie Lyell, head of communications at Mermaids, told Rowling: “I’d be happy to have a chat about what we actually do at Mermaids. But then, real life is never quite as interesting or salacious as fiction, is it?”
Rowling has not publicly taken up their offer.