Mermaids was once, not long ago, the darling of the charity world: Starbucks sold Mermaids-branded cookies and famous faces including Emma Watson queued up to support the transgender organisation. But 2022 was the year Mermaids hit the rocks. The Charity Commission launched an inquiry into Mermaids last month after identifying concerns about its management. The charity which, a few years ago, could do no wrong in the eyes of corporations and policy makers faces an uncertain future. Despite what Mermaid’s dwindling band of supporters might say, this is good news.
Homosexuality was legalised in England and Wales 55 years ago. The Sexual Offences Act 1967 permitted homosexual acts between two consenting adults over the age of 21. Arguably that – and subsequent liberalisations – really only benefited men; sex acts between women were never criminalised.
But what does it mean to be a lesbian in 2022? This week* Kate Harris – a lesbian and co-founder of the charity LGB Alliance – broke down in court under cross-examination from a male barrister. Michael Gibbon KC, counsel for the charity Mermaids, put it to her that ‘lesbians can include someone who is a woman as a result of gender reassignment.’
Which toilets should transwomen use? Transsexuals have used women’s facilities for decades – without problems, or so we are told – but appeals to history provide poor support to arguments. Even asking the question provokes strong emotions, but we need answers if we hope to defuse what has become a febrile territorial dispute over women’s spaces.
The shameful treatment of Alexander Bramham at a Pride event in Manchester on Saturday ought to have been a wake-up call to everyone. Bramham – a gay man – had to be escorted by police away from a baying mob.
But their robotic chanting should ring alarm bells among transsexuals. “Trans rights matter”, or “trans lives matter”? It was not easy to tell behind the venom and contempt being hurled at Bramham. Either way, intolerant, mindless activists are using us as a shield to unleash homophobia with impunity.
Comparisons like these will inflame the already raging debate around trans rights
Lesbian and gay rights are still not secure in the UK. This week the LGB Alliance – a group used to being smeared and misrepresented – came under further attack. With astonishing impudence, the LGBT+ Consortium, Gendered Intelligence, the LGBT Foundation, TransActual, and the Good Law Project ganged up with Mermaids UK in a staggering appeal to strip the LGB Alliance of its charitable status.
Apparently, saying sorry isn’t always enough
Once upon a time an organisation was established to campaign for gay and lesbian rights. They faced opposition from the outset. They were widely condemned, even called out as a hate group when they talked about same-sex attraction. When they sought charitable status, a petition was launched, urging the Charities Commission to reject the application. Tens of thousands of people signed it.
But this was not the dark days of the 1980s, when Section 28 stopped councils and schools ‘promoting the teaching of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’. This is now.
The last day of March marks the International Transgender Day of Visibility, which must be in contention for most redundant event in the calendar. Some readers might be of the opinion that a few days of transgender invisibility might be more timely.
As a transgender person, I am tempted to agree. When I transitioned eight years ago the goal was to assimilate back into society, and with the minimum of fuss. Occasional stories did reach the press but, while there was passing interest, they were never high up the news agenda.
While the increased visibility cannot be denied, some people are now claiming that transphobia is taking over the nation. In an astonishing opinion piece for the New York Times earlier this week, Juliet Jacques announced that Transphobia is Everywhere in Britain.
They gathered at a secret location under the cover of darkness. Total confidentiality had been maintained, even between friends who embraced each other as they arrived to discuss gay rights. But this was not some socially conservative society under the thumb of a repressive regime. Nor was it a secret society in Victorian London. It was London in 2019.