My Celebrity Life

Robert Webb faces awkward questions about criticism of transgender charity in hard-hitting interview

Robert Webb had an awkward interaction with Jesse Thorn (Picture: Ken McKay/ITV/REX)

Robert Webb was grilled about his criticism of a charity for transgender children in an awkward podcast interview.

In December 2018, the Peep Show actor supported an article written by Janice Turner for The Times, entitled ‘Trans ideologists are spreading cod science’, in which Turner wrote: ‘The Big Lottery Fund should be asking why Mermaids is so out of step with NHS best practice. Why, for example, does GIDS (the Gender Identity Development Service) not recommend Mermaids on its website?

‘Indeed, its clinicians are in perpetual conflict with the charity. 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 article and wrote: ‘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.’

Mermaids is a UK organisation which offers family and individual support for gender diverse and transgender children and teenagers.

He later deleted the post, but has since said he didn’t regret the tweet.

Webb appeared on the NPR podcast Bullseye alongside David Mitchell to discuss series two of Back, which is being released in the States, and host Jesse Thorn asked about his criticism of Mermaids.

Mitchell and Webb were promoting series two of Back (Picture: Channel 4)

The 48-year-old said of Turner’s article: ‘I can’t even really remember what her 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 third 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.’

Thorn, himself the father of two gender-nonconforming children, one of them trans, said it was ‘kind of scary for me’ as his family was helped out by an organisation that does work similar to the work Mermaids does for trans kids.

He said: ‘I think people react in an overheated way because there are a lot of trans people who weren’t supported when they were kids.’

Thorn asked Webb if he had spoken to Mermaids following his comment, with the comedian replying: ‘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.’

 

He was then asked what specifically Webb was being critical of, with the star saying: ‘I can’t remember, Jesse, really. It was the end of 2018 and it’s not something I really want to talk about.’

There was a brief silence before Thorn asked: ‘Do you feel like it’s appropriate to affirm kids’ gender identities?’, with Webb saying: ‘Sure. I think it’s on a case by case basis but I’m not really an expert.’

Thorn tweeted the link to the podcast on April 13 and claimed that publicists for Mitchell and Webb had asked for the segment in which Webb was asked about his criticism of Mermaids to be dropped.

He wrote: ‘They declined to send us their audio after the recording, so this is a recording of our videoconference.

‘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.’

A tweet from Mermaids’ Twitter account to Thorn read: ‘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.’

The podcast episode has attracted attention on social media, with many listeners praising Thorn for pushing back against Webb’s prior comments.

Back in 2018, Webb wrote back to critics: ‘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-confoming 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.’

A rep for Webb declined to comment.

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