Mermaids’ chief Lauren Stoner on the future of the charity and LGBTQ+ inclusivity

Amrit Virdi
Tuesday, February 27, 2024

LGBTQ+ charity Mermaids is moving forward after an "unprecedentedly difficult time", its new chief executive Lauren Stoner tells CYP Now.

Lauren Stoner joined Mermaids in 2022 as interim chief executive. Picture: Mermaids
Lauren Stoner joined Mermaids in 2022 as interim chief executive. Picture: Mermaids

Mermaids has been supporting LGBTQ+ young people since 1995, and most recently found itself in the centre of controversy after the Charity Commission launched a statutory inquiry into the organisation. The charity also hit headlines after it appealed a decision by the Charity Commission to register LGB Alliance (LGBA) as a charity.

Mermaids is looking to move forward after making structural changes. Stoner was appointed as interim chief executive in December 2022 before being made permanent earlier this year.

Speaking exclusively to CYP Now, Stoner reflects on the impact of that period on the organisation and its staff, including herself.

“I joined [Mermaids] in December 2022 and it had been an unprecedentedly difficult time. We’d seen a 300 per cent increase in abusive calls in a short period of time and had to step back and close the helpline. Our staff have the challenge of being in an organisation which has been under inquiry, which receives an unprecedented level of really targeted scrutiny. And that's all really stressful.

“All of us at Mermaids have a right to a work life balance. Being chief executive of Mermaids I will probably never have a private life again. I absolutely accept that but that shouldn't be the case for every single person who works for us.”

The controversy has put Mermaids in the spotlight, particularly the appeal to register LGBA as a charity, which got rejected.

“We didn’t appeal that verdict because it wasn't the most effective use of our resources compared to other pressing issues. The social and political climate in the UK has become increasingly trans hostile. The comments we’ve seen from our Prime Minister demonstrate how little care, respect and compassion the government has for trans people, alongside an increase in newspaper coverage with anti-trans sentiment.”

Moving forward, the charity is looking closely at its strategy for 2024 to 2027. Stoner says she wants it “to be based on what the community needs” and to become a more “collaborative” organisation.

“The first part of my time at Mermaids was very much focused on listening and understanding to what people in the company wanted. This year has given us time to pause and think about what we really need. For our 2024 - 27 strategy, we also had lots of conversations with our communities to understand what they need. All of our work is really focused on supporting the young person and their family to come together.

"We are also hiring an evaluation officer to help us turn feedback into real impact, and we have updated our values to make the relevant for the context that trans children and young people are living in now. Trustworthiness, integrity, compassion and transparency are so important for us as an organisation to make sure we get the trust of our community,” says Stoner.

The charity’s new strategy includes new ways of engaging with young people, particularly from marginalised communities, as well as programmes straying away from residentials for better accessibility. There are also plans to improve support for fathers and enhance health services while working with grassroots community organisations.

A new governance approach has also been implemented: “We did a governance review with NCVO (National Council for Voluntary Organisations) which made some recommendations back in May, and we have since signed off all of them. We’ve also brought some new trustees on board and appointed a new chair,” Stoner reveals.

Mermaids’ new strategy comes as the government has been developing its strategies for supporting transgender young people in schools and those accessing gender dysphoria services, which have come under scrutiny.

The NHS announced that the Tavistock Trust’s Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS), which was based in London’s Tavistock Centre and runs a site in Leeds, would close last year.

It is set to be replaced by a new regional model of delivering GIDS led by specialist children’s hospitals and the establishment of two new early adopter services – one in London and one in the North West in April.

Stoner says: “We are concerned that Tavistock closes on 1 April, after many delays, while the new hubs get up and running, meaning there are no first appointments for gender services for young people at the moment. A huge number of young people also aged out of the service while on the waiting list in the last year. It’s not timely, effective care.

“We want trans health care for young people to be provided in line with international best practice, including blockers and hormones for young people who need them and decentralised access to care.

“In terms of the recent guidance that has come out for schools, it’s not fit for purpose. It’s completely out of touch. We already know that young people disproportionately experience bullying and ostracisation at school, which leads to poor well-being and educational outcomes. The draft guidance we have today would only exacerbate bullying.”

Reflecting on LGBT+ History Month, Stoner emphasises a need for change for the community.

“This has to be the year we start to make positive LGBT+ history again. Over the last couple of years, society and our political narratives have become less accepting. We need to start creating a society which is inclusive and safe for young people to thrive in,” Stoner explains.

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