A transgender rights group has lost its case to have a gay rights organisation stripped of its charitable status in what is believed to be the first case of its kind in the UK.
Mermaids, which supports transgender, non-binary and gender diverse children and their families, had appealed against the decision of the Charity Commission to grant LGB Alliance charitable status in 2021.
It is thought to be the first time in the UK that a charity has sought to have the charitable status of another removed.
A two-judge panel at the General Regulatory Chamber in London ruled in a brief online hearing on Thursday that the appeal was dismissed.
Judge Lynn Griffin said: “The appeal in this case is dismissed. We have dismissed this appeal because we have decided that the law does not permit Mermaids to challenge the decision made by the Charity Commission to register LGB Alliance as a charity.”
But the judges said they had been unable to agree on the issue of whether LGB Alliance is a charity within the meaning of the Charities Act.
In their written ruling, they said: “Notwithstanding significant time being spent on deliberation in trying to do so, the two members of the panel hearing this appeal have been unable to reach agreement on whether, if Mermaids does have standing, LGBA is a charity within the meaning of the 2011 Act.”
They added that they deemed it “inappropriate to set out our individual reasons on a hypothetical issue”, having decided in the first instance that Mermaids did not have a legal right to challenge the commission’s registration of LGB Alliance as a charity.
The judges added that the case was focused on the Charities Act rather than the rights of gender-diverse or gay people.
They wrote: “The topics on which we have heard evidence, and the broader implications both for individuals and society, are important matters of public interest on which strong views are held and publicly expressed.
“We are conscious that this case was regarded by some as being about the rights of gender-diverse people or about the rights of gay, lesbian and bisexual people, but it is not; the focus of this decision is upon a small part of the Charities Act 2011 and what it means, applied in the circumstances of this case.”
LGB Alliance chief executive Kate Barker said the group was “absolutely delighted with this judgment and with the news that we will retain our charitable status”.
She said the “sometimes bruising” legal process had cost £250,000 and added that “we must be free to disagree and we hold fiercely to that view”.
Mermaids said it was “disappointed” by the tribunal decision but was taking legal advice on a possible appeal.
In a statement the charity said: “While we are disappointed by the finding that we did not have standing to bring the appeal, Mermaids is proud to have been able to speak up authentically for the trans community in court, and to have demonstrated that the LGBT+ sector is united in its trans-inclusive approach, which we believe to be a victory in itself.”
The Charity Commission welcomed the ruling and warned that charities with opposing views must be respectful and tolerant of other organisations.
A spokesperson said: “We understand both charities hold opposing views, but when engaging in public debate and campaigning, they should do so with respect and tolerance.
“Demonising and undermining those who think differently is not acceptable behaviour from any charity on our register.”
LGB Alliance described itself as a charity which promotes the rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual people “on the basis of sex rather than gender and believes that gender transition is largely driven by homophobia”.
During the hearings last year LGB Alliance co-founder Bev Jackson said the organisation shared the view of Harry Potter author JK Rowling that “without sex there is no same-sex attraction”.
Ms Jackson said: “Anti-lesbian prejudice and fear is leading many teens, especially lesbians, to believe that they have ‘gender identity’ issues when they are in fact grappling with their emerging lesbian/gay sexual orientation.”
Dr Belinda Bell, chair of trustees at Mermaids, accused LGB Alliance of trying to “undermine” the work of charities such as Mermaids and Stonewall.
Dr Bell’s statement at last year’s hearing read: “A central goal of LGB Alliance is seeking to undermine the work of a wide variety of organisations which it says have promoted trans rights to the detriment of women, children and LGB people.”
It added that LGB Alliance “has repeatedly stated in public forums that Mermaids seeks to inappropriately push LGB children into identifying as trans”, allegations it said are “false and harmful to Mermaids’ ongoing work”.
Separately, a Charity Commission inquiry into Mermaids – opened in December last year after new concerns were identified about the organisation’s governance and management – is ongoing.