Robert Webb discusses past criticism of transgender charity Mermaids

‘The whole debate is really overheated,’ said Peep Show star

Ellie Harrison
Thursday 15 April 2021 07:35
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Robert Webb takes down journalist's claim she got into Oxford because she was 'clever', not 'privileged'

Robert Webb has discussed his past criticism of Mermaids, a charity for transgender children, in a new podcast interview.

In December 2018, the Peep Show star supported an article written by Janice Turner for The Times, called “Trans ideologists are spreading cod science”.

In the column, Turner argued that Mermaids is “so out of step with NHS best practice”. She wrote: “The NHS protocol for children is ‘watchful waiting’ but Mermaids pushes for the US ‘affirmation’ model in which any child who declares that they are trans must be treated as such without examining any possible underlying issues, such as frequently undiagnosed autism, depression or sexual abuse.”

Webb retweeted the piece, writing: “This won’t make me popular in certain quarters but f*** it – I’m with Janice and I don’t say it often enough. Also @boodleoops also @bindelj I’ve talked to some really nice trans people here & they have my solidarity if they want it. But Mermaids sucks.” He later deleted the post following a backlash from pro-trans activists.

Now, Webb’s appearance on the NPR podcast Bullseye alongside David Mitchell has gone viral, after host Jesse Thorn asked Webb about his criticism of Mermaids.

Webb said: “I can’t even really remember what [Turner’s] specific objections were but they made sense to me at the time, and I retweeted it approvingly. There was this feeling that if you criticise a charity and the way it operates or its methodology, that is the same as criticising the client base. It’s like saying if I’ve got a problem with the way Oxfam is operating, it’s because I hate poor people in the third world.”

He added: “The whole debate is really overheated and it’s impossible to really talk about this or say anything even remotely reasonable without what I say being used as a vehicle for another round of defamation and abuse, so it’s not a topic I tend to dive into anymore, at all really.”

David Mitchell and Robert Webb, stars of the acclaimed Channel 4 sitcom Peep Show

Thorn – who is the father of two gender-nonconforming children, one of them trans – said Webb’s comments were “kind of scary” for him because his family has been helped by a similar charity to Mermaids.

When Thorn asked Webb if he had spoken to Mermaids following his comment, the Back star replied: “It just wasn’t a conversation I wanted to carry on getting into because the reaction was so strong. It was as if I said, ‘I hate trans children,’ which of course, I don’t. Do I have to say… OK, maybe I do. That is not how I feel about the situation. It was critical about the way Mermaids was conducting itself.”

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Thorn then asked if Webb feels it is appropriate to affirm children’s gender identities, to which Webb responded: “Sure. I think it’s on a case by case basis but I’m not really an expert. You’re a parent and you’ve got first hand experience.”

Sharing the link to the podcast earlier this week, Thorn claimed publicists for Mitchell and Webb had asked for the part of their discussion that focussed on Mermaids to be cut.

“They declined to send us their audio after the recording, so this is a recording of our videoconference,” he said. “Their publicity team asked if we would consider dropping the last segment and re-recording, if Webb and Mitchell agreed. This would be against NPR’s ethics code, so we said no. We did offer to record additional material in a second interview if Webb felt there was something further that had been left unsaid, but they declined.”

Mermaids tweeted Thorn to say: “Thank you for your thoughtful handling of this issue. We take some reassurance from Mr Webb’s apparent assertion that he now supports affirmative care and accepts he isn’t an expert, rightly deferring to those with first-hand experience. Love to your family, Jesse.”

At the time of his controversial tweet, Webb had defended himself, saying: “Accusing me of picking on children is dishonest and low. I was different, as was my wife. I was a ‘queer’, she was a ‘tomboy’. It turned out we were non-gender-conforming children. Many kids like us turn out to be gay. Others don’t.

“A tiny minority have dysphoria. That’s a medical condition and those children deserve respect, love, support and counselling. But telling all kids like me & Abbie that we were born into the wrong body & therefore need a lifetime of medication… that’s just wrong.”

The Independent has contacted representatives for Webb for comment.

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