binders trans children mermaids scandal

Binders (pictured) are items of clothing designed to flatten and constrict the breasts, which can cause serious health issues
A scheme to send 'harmful' breast binders to children behind parents' backs, and staff pushing puberty-blocking drugs. Is it time to withdraw its status as a charity?

Like many troubled adolescents, the 13-year-old who logged on to an online forum was looking for guidance and support.

Calling themselves a 'female to male trans' person, they spoke of their physical self-loathing. They were desperate, they said, to wear both a 'packer' — used to create the impression of male genitalia — and a 'binder', an item of clothing designed to flatten and constrict the breasts, and which can cause serious health issues.

'The thing is, my mum won't let me,' they wrote of the binder in 2019. 'She says it's neglect to do it for under-18s.'

No binder? No problem. The chatroom moderator offered to send the item to the troubled teenager — behind their mother's back.

Many would feel that such an intervention was questionable from any source. But this wasn't just an anonymous nobody — the offer came from Mermaids, a registered UK charity for 'gender variant' and transgender children.

It's an organisation that has received some £500,000 in National Lottery funding and more than £20,000 in government grants over the years, including being hired by the Department for Education to provide training on 'gender identity' in schools.

This chatroom intervention is far from the only concerning activity at an organisation that has, in recent years, shot to national prominence, thanks to support from leading corporations and celebrities — including Prince Harry.

An extensive investigation by the Mail can now reveal a consistent stream of questionable — if not dangerous — material being circulated by the charity and those working for it. In the past month alone, its online help centre has told users (who say they are young as 13) that controversial hormone-blocking drugs are safe and 'totally reversible'.

Mermaids repeated such claims when approached by the Mail, saying the drugs are 'an internationally recognised safe [and] reversible healthcare option', yet current NHS guidelines say 'little is known about the long-term side effects'.

Elsewhere on its chatrooms, a Mermaids moderator publicly congratulated a 13-year-old who had written on the website that they were transgender and wanted drugs and 'all the surgeries'. Evidence also suggests Mermaids has been running a free 'binder scheme' since at least 2019, sending the items to adolescents who say their parents oppose the practice.

Mermaids told the Mail it takes 'a harm reduction position... with the understanding that providing a young person with a binder alongside comprehensive safety guidelines from an experienced member of staff is preferable to the likely alternative of unsafe practices... or increasing dysphoria'.

In an instance where a Mermaids chatroom operator believed they were speaking with a 14-year-old, the charity asked that safety guidelines be agreed before the binder was sent.
Dr Hilary Cass Royal College of Paediatrics transgender binders
© Justin Sutcliffe
Dr Hilary Cass, the former president of the Royal College of Paediatrics in 2015
Yet all this comes despite the fact that Dr Hilary Cass, the former president of the Royal College of Paediatrics who is leading a review of trans children's services for the NHS, has described the restrictive garments as 'painful and potentially harmful'.

The Metropolitan Police has also confirmed that if instances of minors using binders are reported, they will be treated as potential cases of child abuse. (Binders have been shown to cause instances of breathing difficulties, chronic back pain, and even changes to the spine and broken ribs.)

Amid mounting criticism — including from author and women's rights campaigner JK Rowling who tweeted on Monday that those who have 'been cheering Mermaids on without doing the slightest bit of due diligence' should feel ashamed — the Charity Commission said this week it would be taking a closer look at Mermaids.

These revelations then will undoubtedly cast doubts over the influence and reach of the charity, whose close-knit relationship with London's discredited Tavistock Gender Identity Clinic has been repeatedly highlighted by former clinicians turned whistle-blowers over the years.

Tavistock is set to close its doors next year, following a review in July by Dr Cass, that found the centre's treatment to be unsafe.

Some critics are now calling for Mermaids to be shut down, too.

'It has always claimed not to give advice for medical issues and yet its chatrooms consistently show people giving advice, often behind parents' backs.

It has not been fit for purpose for a long time,' says Stephanie Davies-Arai of Transgender Trend, an organisation of parents, professionals and academics concerned about the current trend to diagnose children as transgender.

Set up in 1995 with the stated intention of supporting 'transgender, non-binary and gender-diverse children, young people, and their families', Mermaids has undoubtedly provided vital help over the years to children in need of support on gender-related issues.

Yet it has also long proved controversial, not least for what is seen as its largely unquestioning approach towards young children who are confused about their gender and its promotion of the idea — cited on its website — that children can be 'given' the wrong gender at birth.
mermaids CEO of Susie Green trangender clinics children
© Ken McKay/ITV/Rex/Shutterstock
Concerns about Mermaids were magnified in 2016, following the appointment as CEO of Susie Green, a former IT consultant with no medical training
Concerns about the charity were magnified in 2016, following the appointment as CEO of Susie Green, a former IT consultant with no medical training who had first contacted Mermaids for advice in 1999.

In a story told with almost evangelical fervour by Green — including in a 2018 TED talk — she relates how she helped her son Jack become her daughter Jackie, now 29, by taking her to the U.S. aged 12 for puberty-blocking drugs. When Jackie was 16, Green took her to Thailand for gender reassignment surgery.

Green's appointment caused huge disquiet in many quarters — but this did not stop Mermaid's public influence and prominence from increasing exponentially, rubber-stamped by a lottery grant in 2019 to the tune of half a million pounds.

That same year, the charity received the endorsement of Prince Harry, who met with Green and invited the charity to join his Royal Foundation's work on mental health.

Soon after, the coffee giant Starbucks announced a fundraising partnership with Mermaids. In the background, however, concerns were mounting among clinicians at Tavistock about the influence of Mermaids on NHS practice.

Among them was former consultant psychotherapist Marcus Evans, who had worked at Tavistock for decades but, in 2018, broke cover to emphasise the 'unusually close' relationship between the two organisations, saying that it 'interfered with the ordinary clinical environment'.

The same year, another anonymous clinician said that Mermaids' influence was 'everywhere', with Tavistock staff being encouraged to prioritise a diagnosis of gender dysphoria at the expense of any other mental health condition.

Two years later, it emerged that Mermaids staff had carried out training in 40 schools across the UK, in which they used a graph to explain the 'gender spectrum' showing a Barbie on one side and a GI Joe on the other, and various options in between.

When transcripts of the training sessions were released online, there was strong criticism of the approach, as it appeared to teach children that simply playing with toys associated with the opposite sex somehow rendered them 'transgender', potentially even leading them down a medical pathway.

Mermaids' infiltration of public life was further highlighted earlier this summer with the suspension of Dr Helen Webberley, a self-styled 'passionate transgender advocate' who founded a private online service for transgender care in 2015 called GenderGP.

Screenshots taken from Mermaids' adult chatrooms had shown that anxious parents reaching out to the charity for support were being consistently referred to GenderGP.
Dr Helen Webberley transgender doctor suspended
© Twitter
Dr Helen Webberley was suspended from practice for two months over cases of three patients aged 11, 12 and 17
Dr Webberley was then suspended from practice for two months in June after a tribunal panel found she had put three patients aged 11, 12 and 17 transitioning from female to male at 'unwarranted risk of harm' by failing to provide good clinical care.

In transcripts of the hearing seen by the Mail, Dr Webberley confirms that her criteria for her competence to supply puberty blockers came from what she calls 'self-assessment' and 'consultation' with Mermaids CEO Susie Green.

At the time of writing, Dr Webberley had still not had her licence restored. She also refused to attend a further General Medical Council hearing earlier this month to explain her failure to discuss the potential impacts on fertility posed by the hormones she had prescribed one of her patients.

She has now launched a High Court appeal, declaring on Twitter in August her 'firm belief' that she did not fail the patient in any way.
Graham Linehan critical mermaids trangender

Graham Linehan, screenwriter
Father Ted writer Graham Linehan, who has raised several concerns about Mermaids and transgender issues, calls all this 'extraordinary'. Linehan believes his planned stage show was recently pulled by producers Hat Trick because of his opposition to progressive gender ideologies.

'You now have a situation where a doctor has put on record that she is prescribing hormones to children on the recommendation of a former IT worker with no medical background,' he says of Webberley.

'That would be bad enough, but underpinning it all is that Mermaids appears to be giving children the impression that they will feel happier if they brutalise themselves with medication that might leave them sterile or with other long-lasting effects. These kids don't know what they're doing and we'll be picking up the pieces for years,' he says.

For its part, Mermaids claims on its website that its approach to physical intervention has always been based on a staged model of care, and highlights that 'not all' adolescents they see consider physical interventions.

Nevertheless, Linehan is not alone in his concerns.
james esses lawyer child avocate against transgender
© Philip Ide/The Daily Mail
James Esses lost his role as a volunteer counsellor with the charity after raising fears over the way children confused about their gender are rushed into changing sex
Barrister James Esses — the co-founder of Thoughtful Therapists who was last year ejected from a Masters' degree in psychotherapy for openly discussing fears that gender-questioning young people were being automatically encouraged to transition — says he has been inundated with messages from parents concerned at what their children had been exposed to in Mermaids chatrooms.

'In one screenshot shared by a parent, a Mermaids moderator in discussion with a young person referred to basic biology as 'blah blah blah',' he says. 'It's a sentiment you see frequently — that the 'science' is wrong.'

Meanwhile, the charity's podcast She Said They Said — said to be designed for primary school children upwards — also contains a number of misleading or factually inaccurate statements alongside content that few would consider suitable for children.

In one instance, a trans model talks of wearing their 'femme pants' (a term used in the trans community to describe the act of wearing feminine clothing) and embracing their 'inner sex siren'.

Elsewhere, one presenter suggests that 'men have ovaries and women have prostates — it's just science' and that puberty-blockers are 'fully reversible' but 'natural puberty isn't'.

In another episode, a guest described as a 'non-binary doctor' complained about the fact that biological sex is taught in medical school in a 'matter-of-fact way', while another speaker refers to the 'growing sisterhood' of young people (meaning trans men) who have gone through breast removal and were 'all fine' after surgery.

'One of the most chilling things I came across was a suggestion on their podcast that if parents are not fully supportive of a decision to transition that 'family isn't blood' and that children should create a 'misgendering jar' at home so that they can 'monetise pain',' says Esses.

'Alongside their frequent promotion of the idea that the world is at war with trans people, this is little short of brainwashing.'

Nor is Mermaids averse to waging its own war: the charity has recently mounted a legal challenge to the Charity Commission's decision to award charitable status to the LGB Alliance, an organisation centred on advocating for the rights of people who are attracted to the same sex, and who believe that medicalising children who question their gender can amount to a form of gay conversion therapy (i.e. just because a young boy might be effeminate doesn't mean he is 'trapped in the wrong body', he might simply be discovering the fact he is gay).

The five-day hearing started earlier this month and has featured several fraught exchanges, including one in which LGB Alliance co-founder Kate Harris was reduced to tears during cross-examination by a barrister acting for Mermaids.

Harris was being questioned on whether the word 'lesbian' could apply to someone who was a woman as a result of gender reassignment. She asked if that meant 'a lesbian can be a man with a penis?'.

The hearing has now been adjourned to November but, whatever the outcome, there are many who now believe it is Mermaids that should be stripped of its charitable status — and who welcome scrutiny from the Charity Commission.

'It styles itself as a support group, but it is actually a political group — it wants to change society and legislation according to its ideology,' says Stephanie Davies-Arai. 'It has no authority to advise parents on what to do with their children.'

'Mermaids joins a long line of British scandals happening in plain sight,' Graham Linehan adds. 'It is promoting damaging concepts and interventions for children, and it is doing it publicly time and again. How much more of this do we have to see before it is stopped?'