Susie Green is the CEO of Mermaids, a charity dedicated to supporting transgender children and young people. She spoke with Stephanie Farnsworth about the work of Mermaids and the issues they faced daily in the battle to improve support for trans young people.
TQ: The charity is in its 21st year now, has there been any noticeable change in the attitudes of parents? Is there still the feeling that children are too young to know that they are transgender?
SG: There are many people who believe children cannot know their gender, but kids become aware of gender between 3-5 years of age. For most, their gender fits their sense of self, for others, it doesn’t and they become increasingly more aware over time that they feel different. The parents who come to us are the parents who are listening to their children.
We have teenagers in the teen group who are not supported by their parents. The people you expect to love and support you unconditionally – but they don’t – then those young people feel lost and even more isolated. Many turn to suicide and self harm but we know both anecdotally and from survey evidence that trans youth who are supported have much better self-esteem and fewer issues with poor mental health.
Many turn to suicide and self harm but we know both anecdotally and from survey evidence that trans youth who are supported have much better self-esteem and fewer issues with poor mental health.
How have attitudes changed in general by society?
The media has become much more respectful in their reporting so perhaps parents aren’t as afraid. Many celebrities have now come out as transgender, such as Caitlyn Jenner, Laverne Cox, Kellie Maloney, and trans actors are now playing trans characters such as Annie Wallace in Hollyoaks, so trans lives and stories have become less sensationalised and more every day. But we still have a long way to go.
How have you found working with schools to improve the situation for trans youths?
We do see some improvement but it isn’t across the board. There’s as many good schools as there are bad, and unfortunately there’s no standard practice that needs to be met. Some schools say they have a lot of bullying taken place while others say none. There’s a lot of variation.
I recently went to a school in North Yorkshire and did trans training with teachers around the Equality Act (2010), hate crimes and the Human Rights Act. I walked through my story and my daughter’s story. We provide resources and information, and try to link schools up with each other so that they can work together.
There is a workshop next week to work at different ways of lobbying for changes in education. For example, training around trans identities delivered as standard to teachers and across the curriculum, understandable and clear guidance supported by the DofE, and examples of good practice and definitive guidelines. Take the guesswork out of it for schools so they can support trans students more effectively.
The charity relies a lot on private donations, how has that been in recent times, particularly since the start of the recession?
As our profile has risen more people are fundraising. People are going onto our charity ‘MyDonate’ page and setting up different events to raise funds for us, for which we are very grateful.
This may be due to media work, plus we’ve done a lot more regarding policy and education, media and NHS pathways, and that has been widely publicised. We’ve just been notified that we have been approved for a grant from Children in Need which means we can have an additional two helpline operators, which is a boost to the charity as our call figures are doubling every six months.
I became the CEO at the beginning of the year and the primary objective was to develop our frontline support. At one point we only had one or two people answering calls and emails but that figure is now at nine. The helpline should be manned most of the time and we have a running rota. We have gone from 9% of calls answered to 45%, but we need to do better.
There is a lot of peer support too. A lot of the young people rely on emailing, because of anxiety and they don’t always want to have a conversation with someone. There are also the teen forums. Some members aren’t active because they don’t need the service right now but when they need help they will come back to us. We have just under 700 parents on our parents groups, and 170 teens.
We’ve just been notified that we have been approved for a grant from Children in Need which means we can have an additional two helpline operators, which is a boost to the charity as our call figures are doubling every six months
What are the plans for the future of Mermaids?
We really want to expand our face to face to face support, with more residential weekends and local support groups. With the increase in demand continuing, we need to continue to increase capacity and service. We would like to start an online chat provision for young people who are reluctant to speak on the phone, and are planning a peer mentoring scheme to help make the service more reactive for the people who get in contact.
You can find out more about the work Mermaids does to support trans youths via their website at http://www.mermaidsuk.org.uk. If you are seeking support, their helpline number is 0844 334 0550.
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