July 6, 2023 - 3:15pm

A trans organisation has lost its attempt to have another charity stripped of its charitable status — and quite right too. If Mermaids had succeeded in having the LGB Alliance struck off the charity register, it would have opened the door to other organisations — an anti-abortion group, for instance — trying to do the same to charities whose aims they don’t like.

At first sight, the case before two judges from the grandly-named General Regulatory Chamber of the First-Tier Tribunal involved a technical point in the law, which was whether Mermaids had legal standing to bring a challenge. The judges decided it didn’t, but the hearing also raised important questions about free speech. 

The Alliance was set up to campaign for the rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual people, and one of its core beliefs is that sex is based on biology. It rejects the claim that male-bodied trans women can be lesbians, prompting wearily familiar accusations of “transphobia” from Mermaids. Many charities have conflicting beliefs, but this is the first time one has argued that another should be struck off, with grave implications for its ability to raise money. 

The Alliance is a new organisation — set up in 2019 by two lesbians, Kate Harris and Bev Jackson — and Mermaids’ legal action was a threat to its very existence. Fighting the case has cost the Alliance more than £250,000 in legal fees, paid for by small donations from its supporters. Mermaids is itself under investigation in a separate case, after being accused of safeguarding concerns in relation to its dealings with children.

In a strongly worded judgment, the Tribunal pointed out that it is not up to the Charity Commission “to tell people what to think, or to regulate public debate in a context where there are deeply held, sincere beliefs on all sides”. The Commission’s response was even more forthright, reminding charities of the need to debate and campaign “with respect and tolerance”. It said that “demonising and undermining those who think differently is not acceptable behaviour from any charity on our register”. 

That’s exactly what has happened to the Alliance, which has repeatedly been slandered as a “hate group”. The group’s lawyer, Karon Monaghan KC, described Mermaids’ attempt to get it struck off as “profoundly homophobic”, a proposition borne out by the fresh bout of abuse of lesbians and gay men that greeted the judgment on Thursday morning. 

Nevertheless, it is the latest in a series of legal decisions that are putting extreme gender ideology under the spotlight. Last week, a former employee of Arts Council England, Denise Fahmy, won a ruling that she had been harassed because of her gender critical beliefs. It follows Maya Forstater’s legal victory two years ago, which held that such beliefs are protected in law. Last month, Forstater was awarded just over £100,000 for loss of earnings, injury to feelings and aggravated damages. 

Fighting court cases is expensive and involves uncertain outcomes, but the threats to people’s jobs and reputations have left little choice. 

The Mermaids case has done a valuable service by exposing a perversion of language in which neutral phrases like “sex-based rights” are misrepresented as an attack on trans people. Trans activists got away with it for a while, under the banner of “be kind”, but look where that got us. Gender ideology is being dismantled, case by case, as it richly deserves to be.

Joan Smith is a novelist and columnist. She has been Chair of the Mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Board since 2013. Her book Homegrown: How Domestic Violence Turns Men Into Terrorists was published in 2019.