Mermaids v LGB Alliance Transcripts
Some initial thoughts on biased coverage
The transcripts of the five days of evidence in the tribunal of Mermaids’ attempt to strip LGB Alliance of its charitable status are now available here.
There are many laugh out loud moments of absurdity, and I’m sure people will be sifting over this for days picking out their favourite parts, but for me the release of the transcripts provides an opportunity to revisit some of the contemporary reporting around this case.
Under the headline “LGB Alliance tells tribunal it will ‘get around to’ helping LGB people”, OpenDemocracy reported the following exchanges:
Founding members Eileen Gallagher and Harris told the tribunal that LGBA has “put in funding” for a helpline to support young LGB people, and made a short film. “I haven’t seen [the film] yet but I’ve been told it’s very good,” Gallagher offered. “Trust me, we’ve got hugely good intentions. We will get around to it.”
Firstly, Eileen Gallagher is chair of trustees, not a founding member.
Secondly Kate Harris was one of the two co-founders, not a “founding member” - a subtle distinction, but still.
Thirdly, the two quotes from Gallagher are presented as if adjacent or part of a single response, but are in fact five pages apart in the transcript for September 15th.
From page 64, on the film “Queens” (now retitled “Very British Gays”):
it was meant to be shown at an event in the House of Lords last Saturday night, and had to be cancelled because of the sad death of Queen Elizabeth. And so we hope to launch it, but the film's been made, I haven't seen it yet, but I'm being told it's very, very good.
And then from page 69, in an exchange about the charity’s research aims, Gallagher is challenged that, three years on from the launch of LGB Alliance, there is the draft of one as-yet unpublished report to show for it. Gallagher points out that £7,000 was spent on a Populus poll, but that they did not consider this research, and also that the unpublished report is intended to be the first in a series, then continues:
Q. Being the first of a series of reports?
A. Yes. We, we haven't done any more reports. […] We had, this court case, which is taking, you know, not complaining, but huge amounts of time, and energy, and money, and fundraising. So our bandwidth of us, mostly volunteers, is really very small. So we, but trust me, we have hugely good intentions and objectives, and we will get round to it. But we need to get our funding going. And we need to, you know, not be distracted by people who want to, want us not to exist. And there's a lot of people who don’t want us to exist. And that has really interfered with all the work that we want to do.
OpenDemocracy has collapsed two completely separate statements to give the appearance of glib disregard (“I haven’t seen [the film] yet”, “We will get around to it.”), and then picks out the latter not as being in response to why no further research reports have been conducted, but instead falsely portrayed as an admission that “helping LGB people” was something they had yet to “get around to”.
This is just straight-up lying.
It is also a perfect example of the bullying from those who have brought this action against LGB Alliance, both publicly maligning them to make their work impossible, and then criticising them for spending their time defending themselves from the bullying.
Also, in this piece, OpenDemocracy attributes the quote “It has done nothing to tangibly benefit LGB people” to LGBT Consortium CEO Paul Roberts, but as far as I can find nothing remotely like that quote appears anywhere in any of the transcripts spoken by anyone. It does however appear in Paul Roberts’ witness statement, so despite its positioning in the text and implication that this - like Eileen Gallagher’s statements - was recorded as spoken at the hearing, it was not.
Likewise the following quotes from Paul Roberts are presented as if argued while giving evidence:
“Denigrating the rights of transgender people is, and has always been, LGB Alliance’s reason for existing,” said Paul Roberts, CEO of LGBT Consortium, giving evidence in support of Mermaids in September.
“They exist to oppose free, safe and empowered trans lives,” he argued. The commission’s decision “sows distrust in what it means to hold charitable status”.
The first line is again not a quote from oral evidence but from Paul Roberts’ witness statement, and the second is from a Mermaids press release. OpenDemocracy is taking text from multiple different sources and presenting them as if they were spoken during the hearing in September, when they were not.
By contrast, from the transcripts we can now see that on September 12th, Paul Roberts of LGBT Consortium said the quiet part out loud in his testimony, in that this whole campaign against LGB Alliance is really just about trying to ostracise, denigrate and ultimately destroy a charity who defends LGB on the basis of same-sex orientation:
Q. We’ve seen that in order to be a member of Consortium, an organisation has to accept that a person with a female body could be a gay man – do you accept that?
Q. And you believe, don’t you, that it is transphobic to say otherwise?
Q. The truth is, isn’t it, that you and the 525 organisations in your network positively exclude people who wish to define LGB as same sex attraction?
A. My organisation and my entire membership are just as supportive of LGB issues as we are T and I think it’s-
Q. That’s not what I put to you, Mr Roberts. I’ll put it again. You exclude, don’t you, people who wish to define LGB as same sex attraction?
A. I – we have a – a membership value and principles and those organisations who will look to exclude transwomen from women’s organisations and transmen from men’s organisations – that would – that would cross the line for us as an organisation.
Q. So, that is a yes?
Perhaps damning admissions like this explains OpenDemocracy’s reluctance to quote the evidence given in the hearing itself, opting instead to cobble together the appearance of quotes from witness statements and press releases.
In a piece titled “LGB Alliance co-founder claims lesbian, gay and bisexual children do not exist”, Pink News made the following claim:
When Harris was asked by Mermaids counsel Michael Gibbon KC whether LGB Alliance was “seeking to influence the government against Mermaids and trans rights”, she responded: “Yes.”
However, the quote in the transcript in context is slightly different. This actually comes up in the context of a line of questioning about the government’s conversion therapy bill:
Q. This is a reference to a meeting with the Equalities Minister Mike Freer, which took place on 20 January 22?
Q. And it says “On January 20th, we were delighted to meet Mike Freer, Baroness Steadman-Scott and the team working on UK’s proposed conversion ban therapy”? A. Mm-hmm.
Q. “We believe we've made progress and showing how the wrong type of ban could end up harming LGB youth”?
Q. “Our key concern is there's a huge conversion therapy programme underway right now in the UK, which the proposed bill ignores”?
Q. Now you're using the, the political access, if you like, that you have, to seek to influence the government against the views and activities of Mermaids and trans rights, would you accept that?
Q. And so you accept that you're using the charitable status, you, as an organisation, to bolster efforts, to undermine the work of organisations such as Mermaids at the highest levels of government?
A. I don't see the link with our charitable status there.
A subtle but important distinction. Pink News quotes it as an admission of working specifically to undermine Mermaids, but the “views and activities” proviso makes it not about Mermaids themselves, and instead about the concrete beliefs and actions from the preceding questioning (the “huge conversion therapy programme”). LGB Alliance see the enabling of paediatric transition for confused youth who would otherwise grow up to be LGB as a form of conversion therapy, so these are the views and activities they oppose.
None of this is about Mermaids specifically, it is about defending LGB youth from “views and activities” that Mermaids and others are engaging in. In fact, the very next question makes it clear that this isn’t about Mermaids specifically, but about any organisation that promotes paediatric transition, which LGB Alliance believes to be a threat to LGB youth.
What is framed as a damning admission of working specifically to undermine Mermaids becomes instead a statement of the obvious. LGB Alliance want something to stop, Mermaids want it to carry on, and both will engage with politicians to try to persuade towards their position, and away from the opposing one.
Pink News also said:
Harris also admitted in court to “attacking them and their views”.
The way this is phrased sounds like an admission of a broad campaign of attacking Mermaids, but this was actually in response to being questioned about a single incident, and whether that constituted an attack.
The incident in question was a tweet from way back in August 2020 - a year before gaining charitable status - which said: “We hope you are taking notes @LotteryUK @Starbucks and all others who pledge support to #Mermaids. There is a scandal brewing here. Transing away the gay is happening right now in our society, and it's happening to kids.”
The relevant part of the transcript is on page 25:
Q. What you, what you've said is that Mermaids had a role in, in spreading the lie as you put it, and again, I think the short point for now is that that's, again, attacking and undermining my clients?
Q. That’s the intention?
A. It's, it's attacking them and their views, I’m not so sure it undermines them. I don't know. The goal is to encourage Mermaids and other charities to stop doing what they're doing, which we believe put children in danger, to think, to pause to talk to Dr Hilary Cass, to help with the new services that are going to be set up, but to not help on an ideological basis, to help on a practical basis.
Q. So to encourage them, as you put it, metaphorically, you get the megaphone out and you shout, there is a scandal brewing, Mermaids and others are transing away the gay?
A. Yes, that’s part of it.
Note the “it’s” - this isn’t a general admission by Kate Harris of “attacking [Mermaids] and their views”, but whether a specific critical tweet from 2020 could be interpreted as an attack on those views.
The obvious reason for playing up these passing and seemingly inconsequential “admissions” is that a key legal hurdle for Mermaids to overcome is whether they even have standing to bring this case. An admission by LGB Alliance that they have a recurring aim of specifically attacking and undermining Mermaids would plausibly give rise to standing, and so presenting these exchanges in this way would tend to give a reader a false impression of the strength of Mermaids’ case in that regard.
Given also that Mermaids, Gendered Intelligence, TransActual, LGBT Consortium and the Good Law Project have spent years and vast sums trying to strip LGB Alliance of its charitable status - while publicly denigrating it as a “hate group” and “transphobic” - focusing on an out-of-context response to a question about whether a 2.5-year-old tweet is, rhetorically, attacking Mermaids’ views is unbelievably hypocritical pearl clutching.
And frankly there’s absolutely no reason a group who is not a charity cannot tweet critically about a charity, nor is there any reason a group who has tweeted critically about a charity in the past cannot, themselves, become a charity in future. This is an absurd level of scrutiny, and I can’t see how the Charity Commission could realistically operate if this challenge is ultimately successful.