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Trans charity Mermaids helps 16-year-olds legally change names in secret

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 30/09/2022 Ewan Somerville
Susie Green, the chief executive of Mermaids - Ken McKay/ITV/Shutterstock/Shutterstock © Ken McKay/ITV/Shutterstock/Shutterstock Susie Green, the chief executive of Mermaids - Ken McKay/ITV/Shutterstock/Shutterstock

Mermaids, the scandal-hit transgender charity, is offering to help 16-year-olds change their name without their parents’ knowledge, The Telegraph can disclose.

The group is being investigated by the Charity Commission, the watchdog, after the Telegraph found it giving potentially dangerous chest-flattening devices to 14-year-olds against their parents’ wishes.

Now, it has emerged that Mermaids has partnered with the world’s second largest law firm to give teenagers advice on how to use a deed poll to legally change their name.

The online clinic, which began in April last year and still operates quarterly, features lawyers from Latham & Watkins answering questions and offering guidance to those under 20 who wish to live as a new gender.

Mermaids says that 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds can “attend on your own” at the clinic, while under-16s need a parent or guardian and “all queries will be treated as confidential”.

The clinic advert says: “You can also change the title like ‘Miss’, ‘Mr’ and ‘Mx’ for example. This will allow you to get all your or your child’s documents like passport, bank account, medical records, changed to the new name.”

Youngsters can log on to a Zoom call and are greeted by Mermaids staff before they are offered a one-to-one conversation with a Latham & Watkins lawyer to “answer your questions” or “receive guidance after the event”.

The most recent clinic was on Sept 5.

Operating behind parents’ backs

While anyone aged 16 or over can legally change their own name by deed poll, the clinic has raised fresh questions about the charity operating behind parents’ backs.

Mermaids has received more than £20,000 in taxpayer funding and £500,000 from the National Lottery in recent years and runs training sessions for schools, the NHS and police forces.

The charities’ watchdog opened a regulatory case this week, saying concerns were raised about the trans charity’s “approach to safeguarding young people”. Mermaids said it would respond directly in due course.

It came after evidence obtained by The Telegraph showed Mermaids staff agreeing to send a breast binder discreetly to a girl they believed was only 14 after being told repeatedly that her mother would not allow her to use one.

The free binder scheme, which has been running since at least 2019, has seen staff offering the chest-flattening devices to children as young as 13.

Chest binding can cause problems with breathing, chronic back pain, changes to the spine and broken ribs. Mermaids says a binder with safety instructions is better than other “unsafe practices” or experiencing gender dysphoria.

The Mermaids online help centre has been offering advice to users who say that they are as young as 13 that controversial hormone-blocking drugs are safe and “totally reversible”.

Pressure is growing on the charity’s backers to cut ties. Its latest accounts show that it had 17 corporate partnerships in 2020-21, including a £100,000 fundraising campaign by Starbucks, as well as Amazon Prime and Tropic Skincare, up from seven a year earlier.

Lloyds, Tesco and Aon said they only worked with the charity for specific events, with no ongoing partnership. Tesco said it does not plan on giving any further donations.

‘Kept in the dark’

Bayswater Support Group, which represents the parents of 400 transgender children, warned of guardians being “kept in the dark” about vital decisions.

The group said: “Allowing complete strangers to enable these decisions on a ‘pro bono’ basis undermines parents’ responsibility to safeguard their children, and has a very negative impact on family relationships.”

One parent of a transgender child, not involved with the Mermaids clinic, told The Telegraph they “only have her birth certificate to prove our daughter ever existed”, because she has a driving licence, bank account and student ID in a changed male name, calling it a “loophole that is surely a security risk”.

Amanda Jones, a barrister in public law at Great James Street, said: “The overall impression is alarming; Mermaids appears to seek to marginalise and exclude parents from their children’s actions and behaviour, knowing nothing about the particular family relationships and dynamics. Safeguarding principles and law should be at the forefront of any such charity.”

Latham & Watkins did not respond to requests for comment.

Mermaids said: “We take our responsibility to protect young people’s right to autonomy seriously, and services like our Name Change Clinic are fundamentally grounded in their legal rights.”

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