A Mermaids tale

Last year, there was a concerted smear campaign by anti-trans activists against the Mermaids charity. It began with misleading articles in major newspapers such as The Sunday Times (articles that have since been corrected after IPSO found them to be based on false allegations) and culminated in an organised campaign to get the Lottery fund to cancel its grant to the charity.

The campaign was extremely ugly. I’ve seen Mermaids’ CEO repeatedly libelled online, and the charity itself described in such a way you’d think it was harvesting humans for their blood. That’s not as bizarre an image as it might sound: some of the anti-trans mob are anti-semitic too and claim that trans organisations are funded by The Jews for reasons far too insane to detail here.

The campaign was spearheaded by two people: an obsessive, washed-up sitcom writer and an obsessive, washed-up newspaper journalist. The writer urged the notoriously transphobic members of a particularly toxic section of Mumsnet to bombard the Lottery fund with complaints. Bombard they did.

The lottery fund has now investigated all the allegations and published its report. Over 40 pages it makes it very clear that the anti-trans activists’ claims run the gamut from utterly unsubstantiated to ideologically-driven bullshit.

I’m not going to go through the whole thing line by line (it’s here if you want to do that.) It appears to be pretty balanced: there are areas where Mermaids can clearly do better,  and it makes recommendations in those areas.

But the takeaway here is that the lurid allegations against the charity, the terrible things that  the campaigners allege, are not true. The charity doesn’t push anybody towards medical treatment or refer anyone to anything. It doesn’t use false statistics to exaggerate the mental health issues of trans children. It doesn’t provide misinformation about sexual development and it doesn’t conflate gender non-conformity with being trans.

There was lots of innuendo, but no actual evidence.

There’s a lot of innuendo about. This weekend, the Sunday Times published tennis star Martina Navratilova’s thinky thoughts about trans people – thoughts, you’ll be amazed to discover, that weren’t very trans-friendly. Navratilova is on the advisory board and is an ambassador for the Athlete Ally LGBTQ sports charity. Or at least she was until they fired her this morning. In a statement, the charity explained that her comments were “based on a false understanding of science and data, and perpetuate dangerous myths that lead to the ongoing targeting of trans people through discriminatory laws, hateful stereotypes and disproportionate violence.”

A “false understanding of science and data” perpetuating “dangerous myths” is something you see a lot of in the specific allegations the Lottery fund considered and rejected.

It’s not just an important report for Mermaids. It’s important for LGBT people generally, because the same “protect the children” mob also wants to pressure organisations to defund any charity that is trans-inclusive – a list that doesn’t just include trans charities (Scottish Trans Alliance, Gendered Intelligence etc) but also any charity that is trans supportive – so Stonewall and even the disabled kids’ charity Allsorts are on the online activists’ hit list.

That collection of targets gives the lie to the claims of “reasonable concerns”. There’s nothing reasonable about this. It’s hatred.

Some trans people are, understandably, experiencing schadenfreude: the campaign didn’t just fail, but it was directly responsible for a crowdfunding campaign that put another quarter of a million into the charity’s coffers. But while it’s fun to see bigots thwarted, this isn’t the last such campaign we’ll see.

This hatred isn’t driven by facts, but faith. The response to the Lottery fund’s report isn’t “well, they’ve investigated it and it turns out we were wrong!” but “Let’s find out where these people live and make their lives hell.” Some of the activists are discussing making crank calls to the Mermaids’ helpline to make the phone lines unavailable. Others are claiming conspiracy or continuing to peddle the most vicious libels.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve seen it before. Many anti-trans activists are very friendly with US right-wing evangelicals of the anti-abortion, restrict-women’s-rights variety; some of the higher profile figures in the anti-trans movement are also demonstrably racist and islamophobic. Their hatred, these tactics, won’t suddenly go away. They’ll be used against other charities too.

The message to other charities from this campaign is simple: if you aren’t on the same side as the evangelicals or the far right, it could be you.