deregister charities, trans children, free speech

UK Trans children charity fails in attempt to strip charitable status from LGB Alliance

The transgender children’s charity Mermaids has lost its attempt to have charitable status stripped from the gay rights organisation LGB Alliance. The ruling prompted the Charity Commission to note that charities must be respectful of opposing views. Mermaids, which supports transgender, non-binary and gender-diverse children and their families, appealed in June 2021 against the commission’s decision to grant charitable status to the LGB Alliance.

Tribunal judges Lynn Griffin and Joseph Neville rejected Mermaids’ challenge, concluding after seven months of deliberation that the law did not permit Mermaids to contest the commission’s decision to register LGB Alliance as a charity.

This is understood to be the first time one charity has attempted to remove the legal status of another, and the judges’ decision has significance stretching beyond this case. If the court had decided that the commission was wrong to award charitable status to LGB Alliance, it could have made other charities vulnerable to legal challenges by institutions with conflicting outlooks.

Responding to the ruling, the Charity Commission said: “We understand both charities hold opposing views, but when engaging in public debate and campaigning, they should do so with respect and tolerance. Demonising and undermining those who think differently is not acceptable behaviour from any charity on our register.”

In the hearing last autumn, the two organisations set out opposing views. The legal discussion pitched the LGB Alliance’s position that there are only two sexes and that gender is a social construct against Mermaids’ position that the gender identity of trans people should be affirmed. The case focused attention on increasingly divisive debates over sex and gender identity, and the legal definitions of same-sex attraction.

LGB Alliance stated it believed the issues faced by “people who are attracted to the same sex are different from those of transgender people”. Mermaids claimed that LGB Alliance mischaracterised its activities and encouraged other organisations not to support or work with it, and was “pushing back against organisations who advocate for ‘trans equality’”. It argued that LGB Alliance was using its charitable status to secure “enhanced credibility for views with which Mermaids profoundly disagrees”.

The judges said it was important that “competing views, opinions and policies are publicly debated and exposed to public scrutiny”, and ruled that charitable status does not come with “any freedom from criticism or debate”.

“When competing views, opinions and policies are publicly debated and exposed to public scrutiny, the good will over time drive out the bad and the true will prevail over the false,” the judges wrote.

Kate Barker, the chief executive of LGB Alliance, said: “We are absolutely delighted with the news that we will retain our charitable status. Two years ago, we were clear that Mermaids had no standing to challenge our registration, and today the tribunal has confirmed that we were correct. But the cost to us and to our supporters has been huge.

“Our legal fees amount to more than £250,000 and that money has come from small supporter donations. So, while our win is great news for lesbians, gay men and bisexuals, we can’t help but reflect on the fact that a sum like that would have been better spent on projects such as our helpline for young people.”

The question of Mermaids’ legal standing to contest LGB Alliance’s charitable status was considered by the judges alongside a more substantive assessment of whether LGB Alliance qualified for that status. Because the two judges agreed that Mermaids had no grounds to bring the case, they were not obliged to deliver a judgment on whether LGB Alliance met the threshold required to be granted charitable status, by demonstrating its purpose to be “exclusively charitable for the public benefit”. The two-judge panel said they had been unable to reach agreement on this matter.

Mermaids said it was “disappointed” by the tribunal decision and was taking legal advice on a possible appeal. In a statement, the charity said: “Mermaids is proud to have been able to speak up authentically for the trans community in court, and to have demonstrated that the LGBT+ sector is united in its trans-inclusive approach, which we believe to be a victory in itself.”

A Charity Commission spokesperson added: “We welcome this judgment. As the judges confirm, it is not the Charity Commission’s role to regulate public debate on sensitive issues on which there are deeply held, sincere beliefs on all sides. Our role is to apply the law, and we consider that we did so in registering LGB Alliance as a charity.”

Since the hearing concluded last November, the Charity Commission has separately opened a statutory inquiry into Mermaids, assessing whether the governance and management of the charity is appropriate in relation to the activities it carries out, which involve vulnerable children and young people.

Originally published at Trans children’s charity Mermaids fails to have charitable status stripped from LGB Alliance | LGBTQ+ rights | The Guardian

Scroll to Top