Friday, 21 December 2018

Mermaids Press Release

Mermaids often receives emails from journalists asking questions about the work we do. Today we received a request for information from a Times journalist regarding a recent Mermaids diversity training session that was recorded without the knowledge of the trainer.

In the interests of transparency and fairness, and to ensure informed public discussion, we have published the full press query and our answers below.

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Dear Susie,
I hope you are well. I'm a journalist at The Times. We've become aware of a recording made during the recent Mermaids session at Newman University in Birmingham.
During the session, [our trainer], the lady leading the discussion makes a number of claims.

She claims: "Your gender identity is formed between 18months and three and a half. We know who we are. That’s in our brain.

She claims that 45% of young trans people commit suicide.

She also suggests that teachers and educators do not have to inform parents, if they are making referrals for trans students over 16.

At one point, she appears to discourage educational professionals from cooperating with the parents of trans pupils.
"Sometimes school may be the only place they can be themselves.
"Sometimes because they can’t be out at home and if the parents find out it can be a safe issue. so you have to be very careful when talking about your cases."

The person who made the recording was told to "take a step down academically" when he scrutinised some of the claims. He felt the seminar was like "a cross between a time share pitch and an evangelist meeting" and felt very alarmed that educational and safeguarding professionals were being told not to think too hard about the claims being made.

How do you respond to these claims?
Grateful for your response,

Thanks very much
Lucy Bannerman

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Mermaids Responses....

The Times: Our trainer states: ‘Your gender identity is formed between 18months and three and a half. We know who we are. That’s in our brain.’

Mermaids: This statement is corroborated by the following studies, and the Olson study (2018) also cites numerous additional studies over the past 20 years confirming gender identity in children:

Young children between 18 months and 3 years learn how to use the words 'man' and 'woman' to identify themselves and others (Berk, 2013: 531). In this early stage of childhood, children already relate toys, clothes, colors, and behaviors to gendered identity and express their preference ( Eichstedt et al., 2002). https://www.researchgate.net/publication/223581699_Of_bears_and_men_Infants'_knowledge_of_conventional_and_metaphorical_gender_stereotypes

By the age of 3 children show preferences for those that share their gender/sex https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/cdev.12758


The Times: Our trainer claims that ‘45% of young trans people commit suicide.’

Mermaids: This is incorrect. Mermaids, in partnership with Stonewall, references the 2017 School Report in relation to suicide and self-harm statistics:

Unfortunately, the high rates of attempted suicide and suicidal thoughts amongst trans young people are real. The stats quoted from the Pace report are backed up by other more recent research into the experiences of trans young people.

Stonewall’s School Report found that more than two in five trans young people (45 per cent) have at some point attempted to take their own life. For lesbian, gay and bi pupils who are not trans, one in five (22 per cent) have tried to take their own life. In comparison, the NHS estimates that in the general population thirteen per cent of girls aged 16-24 and five per cent of boys aged 16-24 have made such attempts.
Moreover, the report found that LGBT pupils who were bullied at school were significantly more likely to have attempted to take their own life than those who haven’t (37 per cent compared to 17 per cent).

The same report also revealed that nine in ten trans young people (92 per cent) have thought about taking their own life, far higher than the estimate from Young Minds for young people in general, where one in four young people have had these thoughts. And it is also higher than the already high rate for lesbian, gay and bi pupils who are not trans: seven in ten (70 per cent) of whom have thought about taking their own life. It also revealed alarmingly high rates of self-harm amongst trans young people (84%) and lesbian, gay and bi pupils who are not trans (61%).
Our 2017 research is largest data set for trans young people in Britain, but similar rates can be found in other studies for example:
Life in Scotland for LGBT Young People found 59% of young trans people disclosing that they had self-harmed. When asked whether they experience suicidal thoughts and actions, 63% of transgender young people said that they had.

The research consistently demonstrates this is a real problem that thousands of trans young people are facing every day, impacting on their lives and the lives of their family and friends. Sources:

1. School Report
In 2016 Stonewall commissioned the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge to conduct a survey with young people who are lesbian, gay, bi or trans (LGBT), or who think they might be, on their experiences in secondary schools and colleges across Britain. Between November 2016 and February 2017, 3,713 LGBT young people aged 11-19 completed an online questionnaire, and this report presents the findings of this survey, that group included 594 trans young people aged 11-19. With over 3,700 respondents and nearly 600 trans respondents, it is the most comprehensive survey into the current experiences of LGBT pupils in Britain today

2. Life in Scotland for LGBT Young People
Lough Dennell, B.L., Anderson, G., and McDonnell, D. (2018). Life in Scotland for LGBT Young People. LGBT Youth Scotland. Based on responses from 684 LGBT young people in Scotland.


The Times: Our trainer also suggests that ‘teachers and educators do not have to inform parents, if they are making referrals for trans students over 16’.

Mermaids: This statement is in line with Gillick competency. If a child is Gillick competent and is clear they do not want their parents to know of the referral, it would be good practice to document this request and make reasonable adjustments to this effect, to safeguard the child. Any information to be shared with their parents or carers should always be discussed with the child, and their consent should be sought.


The Times: At one point, our trainer appears to ‘discourage educational professionals from cooperating with the parents of trans pupils’.

Mermaids: This statement is taken out of context; many parents are supportive of their transgender children but some are not. Disclosure of a young person’s gender identity to a professional in itself does not constitute a safeguarding risk. However, if the young person does not have supportive parents, then disclosure of their gender identity would constitute a potential safeguarding risk. The Albert Kennedy Trust https://www.akt.org.uk/ has documented the following regarding LGBT young people becoming homeless:

The study found that the main reasons were parental rejection, abuse within the family or being exposed to aggression and violence.


The Times: The person who made the recording was told to "take a step down academically" when he scrutinised some of the claims. He felt the seminar was like "a cross between a time share pitch and an evangelist meeting" and felt very alarmed that educational and safeguarding professionals were being told not to think too hard about the claims being made.

Mermaids: The attendee seemed to feel he was entitled to dominate the meeting and his queries were paramount. Our trainer attempted to ensure the session ran to time in the interests of all who attended.

We are incredibly proud of our diversity training sessions and the professional and approachable way our staff deliver them. However, our greatest endorsement is the many parents, children and teachers who tell us how our sessions have helped them better understand the difficulties trans children face, and how to support them to make their lives easier. Our charity aim is to improve the lives of transgender children, and one of the key ways we do this is through giving information to those people who come into contact with young gender-questioning, trans and non-binary people.

If you are a teaching professional, this guidance provided by the National Education Union is also helpful: https://neu.org.uk/advice-and-resources/equalities/supporting-trans-and-gender-questioning-students