Trans charity Mermaids apologises for ‘failing’ staff following internal review: ‘We must do better’

Trans rights protest with trans flag

Transgender charity Mermaids has apologised to its staff for “institutional weaknesses” which left minority members of the team facing discrimination, a ‘concerning’ internal report has revealed. 

In a report released on Tuesday (31 January), the trans children’s charity stated a review of its internal culture “revealed an unacceptable situation” which it is “determined to address without delay” and has already begun to work on. 

This is not the first time the charity’s internal operations have been called into question. 

In December, the Charity Commission announced it had opened an inquiry into Mermaids, where it would investigate potential “serious systemic failing in the charity’s governance and management”. 

Just two months earlier, the charity apologised after it emerged a former trustee participated in a conference organised by a paedophile support group.

The latest report, commissioned in spring 2022 and carried out by the Social Justice Collective, focused on matters related to equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) at the charity. 

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Mermaids’ staff and leadership team spent time with consultants who gathered documents and data around EDI, with a focus on themes including belonging and values, representation and power and progression. 

The consultants subsequently outlined five key areas with recommendations for the charity to improve its EDI culture.  

These recommendations have formed part of Mermaids’ strategic objectives for 2023-24 and beyond, designed to enable “leadership and the board to make rapid, meaningful progress towards being an organisation which embraces equity, diversity and inclusion and tackles oppression robustly wherever it occurs”.

Mermaids staff at a Pride event
Mermaids has apologised to its staff following the internal report. (Wiktor Szymanowicz/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

Addressing the findings of the report, Dr Belinda Bell – Mermaids’ chair of trustees – said the charity’s board has accepted the report’s recommendations, saying becoming an “organisation which embraces equity, diversity, inclusion and anti-oppressive practice” is a “strategic priority”. 

“I want to apologise unreservedly to anyone who has experienced oppression in any form,” Bell continued. “Every member of this board considers equity, diversity and inclusion to be of the utmost importance, and we believe the individual cases that have informed this report are deeply concerning. 

“Every person at Mermaids should feel supported, heard and valued in the workplace, and we take responsibility for the institutional weaknesses that failed you.”

Bell noted the report had “shone a light on representation and discrimination within the organisation” and said Mermaids would work to challenge the issues raised in the report. 

She said: “We know we cannot effectively fulfil our mission to support transgender, non-binary and gender diverse children, young people and their families if we fail to support and actively listen to our marginalised staff. 

“No one at Mermaids should ever feel abandoned or confronted by the stereotypes that we as a charity work so hard to dismantle. 

“Our charity should not tolerate discriminatory or harassing behaviour whatsoever, and we commit to investing in the skills, processes and guidance required to ensure we uphold the highest standards in this regard.”

A spokesperson for Mermaids said: “In 2022, Mermaids decided to carry out a frank and honest appraisal of our internal culture and how we measure up in terms of equity, diversity and inclusion and to understand oppression which our staff experienced. We thank our staff for their honesty and bravery throughout this process.

“An independent external report which we commissioned has highlighted a number of significant challenges for us. Today we are sharing the recommendations from this report and the next steps which the team are already taking. 

“We know we must do better and we are absolutely committed to doing so, and are implementing the report’s recommendations as a priority.”