We know many parents who are concerned about the continuing influence of the lobby group Mermaids in certain schools. In response, we have written the below letter template which will shortly be available as a downloadable via our Resources section. This can also be adapted for use by people who are concerned about their influence in other areas.

Dear [Designated Safeguarding Lead],

I am writing to you because I am concerned about your plans to use Mermaids’ training materials in [school].

Mermaids is a lobby group, about which there is much to say. Most importantly from a schools’ point of view its ethos and training materials contravene this government guidance issued on 24th September 2020. In summary:

  • Mermaids is not a politically impartial organisation.  Any school working with Mermaids would be contravening the Department for Education guidance on the use of external agencies.
  • Mermaids conflates sex and gender and reinforces harmful stereotypes. This also contravenes Department for Education guidance.
  • Its stance on gender affirmation runs counter to NHS advice and overrides safeguarding.

Here follows more details on each of these points. After reading I would hope you would agree that the only course of action is to reconsider the use of Mermaids as a suitable partner for staff training.

How Mermaids Contravenes DfE Guidance

Government Statutory Guidance states that:

“75. Pupils should be taught the facts and the law about sex, sexuality, sexual health and gender identity in an age-appropriate and inclusive way. All pupils should feel that the content is relevant to them and their developing sexuality. Sexual orientation and gender identity should be explored at a timely point and in a clear, sensitive and respectful manner. When teaching about these topics, it must be recognised that young people may be discovering or understanding their sexual orientation or gender identity. There should be an equal opportunity to explore the features of stable and healthy same-sex relationships.”

Mermaids’ resources are not compliant with these reasonable-sounding requirements, as they continually conflate sex and gender. This also means they are not safeguarding compliant.

Mermaids’ ideology and approach are clearly visible on its website, and are not in the best interests of any child. I have provided some examples below:

a) Mermaids makes scientifically confusing statements about the nature of sex and gender, stating:

After all, our gender is decided by other people when we're born, based on the way our body looks. So, a child born with male genitalia, for instance, will be a ssigned as 'male' but may grow up to be a transgender woman or a number of gender identities.

The site also suggests to children that everyone has a gender and conflates sex and gender:

What is gender and what does 'dysphoria' mean?
When you are born, it's decided whether you're a boy or a girl, based on the way your body looks. But for some people, looks can be deceiving and they're given the wrong gender. 
So 'gender dysphoria' is the uncomfortable feeling some people get when their gender is different from the one they were given at birth.

Mermaids’ definitions, resources and entire approach are based on the belief that everyone has a gender identity. However this is just an opinion and is non-scientific. The concept of gender identity is highly debated and politicised. Teaching gender identity as fact takes away any ability to discuss or hold alternative viewpoints, or address how damaging the concept of gender identity could be to children. To pursue a political agenda in this way is contrary to s.406 of the Education Act 1996.

b) Mermaids teaches children to keep secrets from their parents. Their website has an ‘Exit button’ to disguise what the child is looking at.

Why do we have an Exit Button on our website?
Exit Buttons allow people to move quickly to another website. When you click on an Exit Button, it will immediately take you away from the website you’re viewing and open a new one in its place. Mermaids’ exit button links to the Wikipedia homepage.

This is a standard feature on websites offering support to potentially vulnerable people and can be found on other charities’ websites such as Childline, LGBT Foundation, Refuge and Gendered Intelligence.

Mermaids has an Exit Button to help young people accessing our website feel as safe as possible while finding support and information. Ultimately, the Exit Button helps protect someone looking at the website from being accidentally ‘outed’ to somebody who could have a hostile reaction. 

Unfortunately, LGBT+ young people need specific safeguarding measures in place to protect them from abuse – and sometimes, hiding the webpage they were viewing from parents or those that they live with is part of that.

This practice discourages children from talking to their parents and thereby promotes alienation from parents at a time when children are vulnerable. By the time children do speak to their parents about this they may have become committed to an ideology which will have serious long-term consequences for their health.

c) Mermaids teaches visitors to their website that trans-identified children and young people are entitled to violate the privacy of opposite sex children by using their private, single sex spaces. It does this by linking to external news stories, such as this:

If you think trans bathroom access doesn't matter, listen to this girl's story.

d) Mermaids scares parents by suggesting that trans-identifying children who are not ‘affirmed’ by their parents are likely to commit suicide:

An open letter from Mermaids on World Suicide Prevention Day

10th September 2019

Change now to save transgender children from suicide

Mermaids has been supporting transgender children and young people for nearly 25 years. We know that there is nothing more devastating than the loss of a child or young person to suicide. We see, first hand, the terrible psychological trauma suffered by some of our service users because they live in a society that seems unable or unwilling to understand and accept them.

Overall, the number of suicides in the UK fell between 2017-2018 but the number of under 19’s taking their own lives in that period rose by 15%.(1) Meanwhile, research from the charity Stonewall shows that nearly half of young trans people have attempted suicide.(2)

On World Suicide Prevention Day 2019, we’re sending the positive message that simple, easy changes to the way we speak about and treat transgender people can prevent children and teenagers from suicidal thoughts.

This message about suicide is repeated elsewhere on their website:

We love seeing the kids and teens we meet thriving  and enjoying their lives but unfortunately, many of the teens we have interacted with over the last 25 years have struggled with depression, isolation and even self-harm and suicidal feelings. Giving them the support they need is vital if they’re to achieve their potential.

Discussing suicide in this way on a website aimed at vulnerable children is irresponsible and goes against Samaritan guidelines. In reality, as acknowledged by the Tavistock NHS Gender Identity Clinic, suicide among trans-identifying young people is thankfully extremely rare. There is also little evidence that affirmation prevents suicide ideation. The statistics on trans youth suicide have been comprehensively debunked in ‘The Suicide Myth’ by Transgender Trend.

e) Mermaids promotes adult political ideologies such as the idea of a ‘true gender’ which reinforce sex stereotypes:

Under the equality act 2010 any young person has a right to be addressed as their true gender, regardless of any diagnosis or medical intervention and irrespective of age. We have a number of resources that identify the responsibility you have as a school towards these pupils and your duty of care.

This specific point is not in fact stated in the Equality Act and has never been tested in a court of law. In contrast, the right to freedom of belief is protected in the Equality Act (2010) and the Human Rights Act (1998). Teachers have the right to reject the constructions of sex and gender that are put forward by organisations like Mermaids, and may also have concerns regarding the 4000% increase in the number of young people identifying as transgender, particularly natal females who are same-sex attracted, have ASD or have experienced sexual abuse or trauma. They must be able to discuss this using meaningful language.

Mermaids’ training material has been discussed on the Safe Schools Alliance website. The key question which is yet unanswered is how would Mermaids ever identify any child as transgender without reference to stereotypes? Their very ethos relies on children not conforming to stereotypes. 

This is a slide from Mermaids’ training materials which shows Barbie at one end and GI Jo at the other. Are we to assume that all girls who do not identify with Barbie are actually boys?

Image of 12 different outlines of people moving from a curvy female outline on the far left (above a picture of a Barbie doll) to a broad-shouldered male outline on the far right (above a picture of a G.I. Joe doll)

How Mermaids’ stance on Gender Affirmation runs Counter to NHS Advice

Whereas Mermaids contends that blockers are harmless:  

Blockers, hormone blockers or puberty blockers: a type of medication which temporarily stops the production of the natural hormones which progress puberty. They are considered by the NHS Gender Identity Development Service and a body of international research to be a physically reversible intervention: if the young person stops taking the blocker their body will begin developing as it would have done without medical intervention.”

The NHS updated its guidance in 2020, stating that:

“Little is known about the long-term side effects of hormone or puberty blockers in children with gender dysphoria. Although the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) advises this is a physically reversible treatment if stopped, it is not known what the psychological effects may be. It’s also not known whether hormone blockers affect the development of the teenage brain or children’s bones.”

This change was documented by the Support Group Bayswater, no doubt in anticipation of the judicial review of the Tavistock and Portman Clinic which was held over 7th & 8th October 2020 and judgement delivered on 1st December 2020. The outcome of this case is momentous; the High Court stated unequivocally that the Tavistock had experimented on children

Mermaids was refused permission to intervene in the Tavistock case because it had nothing of any relevance to add. However the organisation continues to support and advocate for the use of puberty blockers for children, and so their position is at odds with child safeguarding.

Mermaids’ message is resolutely not factual but is based on stereotypes which should be abhorrent to educators. I am sure you can see that inviting Mermaids to give training contravenes this new Government policy and constitutes a safeguarding failure.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.

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