At the end of February Munroe Bergdorf, a black transgender model and DJ, was appointed as one of the many LGBT+ advisors to the Labour Party’s Women & Equality Minister, Dawn Butler. However, just a week later, Bergdorf has resigned, citing on her Twitter page, “this is a decision that I’ve had to make due to endless attacks on my character by the conservative right wing press and relentless online abuse.” Bergdorf has made seemingly controversial statements in the past but her appointment was a step forward and a move against the anti-trans MPs and members of the Labour Party.
Munroe Bergdorf first came to the attention of the British media back in August 2017 when she was fired from beauty company L’Oreal’s, make-up campaign, following a stream of Facebook posts branded as ‘anti-white’. Munroe was part of L’oreal’s #allworthit campaign, which aimed to highlight diversity. Nonetheless, the brand ended their partnership with her stating that they were committed to diversity but Bergdorf’s comments were “at odds with [their] values”. However, as their first transgender model and a Black spokeswoman, Munroe was arguably the most diverse member of their campaign.
Bergdorf’s comments were a response to the white supremacist rally held in Charlottesville, Virginia last summer. Taking to her Facebook page she stated, “I don’t have energy to talk about the racial violence of white people any more. Yes ALL white people.” Granted her comments lacked nuance and she later clarified them, explaining how racism is a system designed to benefit white people and acknowledged racism to be a product of socialisation rather than something people are born with. Although there are evidently problems with how Bergdorf expressed her views, perhaps the outrage of white people is indicative of their difficulty to accept the extent of their privilege.
Since then Bergdorf has been hired by rival makeup brand, Illamasqua, to represent a campaign about gender fluidity. However, abuse aimed at her has continued in reaction to comments on the Suffragettes, gay Conservative men and those identifying as lesbians. Past comments brought to light by the Daily Mail include Bergdorf using the phrase “hairy barren lesbian” on her Twitter page. These comments could evidently be taken as offensive, however Bergdorf has said who she is now is not who she was 8 years ago and apologised for the offence caused to the LGBT+ community.
Bergdorf has also clarified her comment that gay male Conservatives are a “special type of dickhead”, expressing her confusion at men who identify as gay but continue to support a political party that has repeatedly oppressed the LGBT+ community. Clarification was also made in response to Daily Mail claims that she described the Suffragettes as “white supremacists”, making it clear that 100 years ago only a few women were granted the right to vote and that because of the requirements (women over 30 who owned property or had husbands who did) it was mainly white women who held this right.
It is important to accept Munroe Bergdorf’s apologies for her past comments and acknowledge that she understands them to be wrong and has evolved in her views over the years. In addition, comments on social media occasionally struggle to convey the tone and message intended and extensive conversations are required to truly discuss these difficult topics: racism, feminism and politics.
Negative reactions to Munroe Bergdorf’s appointment on Labour’s LGBT+ advisory board began instantaneously, with critics considering her appointment to be evidence of Labour’s hypocrisy. Tory MP Helen Grant urged Dawn Butler and Jeremy Corbyn to reconsider her appointment suggesting it was in opposition to Corbyn’s promise of a kinder politics. Nigel Evans, an openly gay Tory MP, said the community Bergdorf represents is not his. However, in light of other recent arguments within the Labour Party, concerning whether there is a place for trans women, I believe Bergdorf’s appointment was crucial.
Earlier this year a GoFundMe page entitled ‘Keep All-Women Shortlists Female!” started by nine Labour members raised £8,500 in just two days. The campaign believes that including trans women on shortlists aimed at increasing the number of female MPs in Parliament in “undermining female representation in the Labour party”. The language used by this campaign is undoubtedly transphobic, referring to trans women as ‘males’ throughout. In addition to this, trans woman Lily Madigan, elected as her local Labour Party’s women’s officer, was repeatedly abused online for applying for the Jo Cox Women in Leadership programme.
Despite within party rivalries, Labour is intending to give “self-defining” trans women full rights, including the right to be included on all-women shortlists for Parliamentary selections. Labour’s move should be officially confirmed next Tuesday at the National Executive Committee’s Equalities Committee. Labour’s statement on this proposal also makes it clear that discrimination and abuse towards trans members will not be tolerated.
It is a shame that Munroe Bergdorf has felt pressured to withdraw from a position that had the potential to make an impact on Labour’s future LGBT+ policies because of an unrelenting, targeted attack. However, despite her resignation, hopefully the Labour Party can continue to focus, with the other members of the advisory board, on eliminating harmful anti-Trans views and trying to make worthwhile changes for the Trans community with their moves to reform the Gender Recognition Act and the Equality Act 2010 to ensure the protection of trans people.
Photo Credit: Sky News.