By axing Munroe Bergdorf and listening to anti-trans trolls, the NSPCC has failed LGBT+ youth

The charity failed to distinguish a small pocket of hateful online noise from widespread opinion when it cut ties with the model and activist. We usually challenge these sinister pushes for virality, so why not when comes to the transgender community?

Jason Okundaye
Wednesday 12 June 2019 18:33 BST
Munroe Bergdorf talks about trans people feeling unsafe in public spaces

None of us as LGBT+ people were naïve enough to believe that June, by virtue of it being Pride Month, would provide any temporary respite from Britain’s insidious brand of anti-LGBT+ hatred. But Pride Month has not only intensified the public’s critical gaze that looms over us, but has seemingly amplified transgressions against us, animating them and making them palpable – so that we can truly see, taste, feel, hear and smell how ugly our current social and political environment is.

In this week’s episode of “How to Piss Off the Rainbow Community”, social activist and model Munroe Bergdorf sustained an attack by anti-trans lobbyists who flooded the mailing box of child protection charity, the NSPCC, with transphobic letters urging them to sever ties with her.

This came following a recent announcement that Bergdorf would be Childline’s first LGBT+ campaigner. A campaign was led by anti-trans fanatic Janice Turner, who questioned “why a children’s safeguarding charity has hired a porn model as a Childline ambassador”, suggesting that hiring Bergdorf would lead to stakeholders cancelling their direct debits.

As the NSPCC subsequently severed ties with Bergdorf, they released a statement, claiming that “at no point has (Bergdorf) been an ambassador for the charity. She will have no ongoing relationship with Childline or the NSPCC”. The charity then affirmed that it “does not support, endorse or authorise any personal statements made by any celebrities who contribute to campaigns”.

In response, Bergdorf made clear that she had never shot pornographic content, noting that it is also not okay to demonise those who do perform in pornography. She wrote that “this Pride Month Childline had the opportunity to lead by example and stand up for the trans community… but instead they decided to sever ties without speaking to me.”

She placed the significance of Childline refusing to stand against anti-LGBT+ hatred within the current climate in the UK concerning sex and relationships education, in which parents have been threatening to remove their children from schools. Communicating that her primary concern remains, she reiterated the importance of considering “the wellbeing of all LGBT+ kids, but especially trans kids who are consistently targeted by British media outlets”.

As Twitter user @transegghatcher’s discovered, sexual violence activist Karen Ingala Smith had spread an image of NSPCC visuals paired with Bergdorf’s shoot for the cover of feminist publication Salty Word. It is reprehensible of a politic that claims to be feminist to suggest that content which features women – particularly queer and trans women – who have engaged in any kind of sexual or pornographic work is a danger to children.

This has wide-ranging implications, from the continued refusal to allow former sex workers to take up roles in health and education, to child custody struggles where sex workers are presented as a danger to their children. This kind of misogyny is exacerbated because Bergdorf is black and trans – as writer Molly Smith notes “I doubt you would see a white, cisgender woman being talked about by other feminists in the way Bergdorf is being talked about”, noting also how anti-trans feminists were silent on former glamour model Melinda Messenger working with the NSPCC as an ambassador.

The tweet communicating this decision currently has 2,118 replies, the majority condemning the charity for failing to stand up against anti-trans hatred, and demanding that they remove the pride flag colours currently embellishing their logo – even further questioning whether trans children are at all considered in their #EveryChildhood campaign.

Journalist Louis Staples noted the phenomena of institutions decorating their social media channels with rainbow imagery, whilst simultaneously desecrating the rights and humanity of LGBT+ people. Protests by anti-deportation activists have taken place this week outside the UK Home Office, which is currently in the process of deporting a gay man, Ken Macharia, to Kenya, a country which persecutes homosexuals.

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki recently defended YouTube’s retention of videos targeting Vox journalist, Carlos Maza, with anti-gay and anti-Mexican abuse, claiming that these did not constitute any violation of their policy.

Like the NSPCC, both these institutions have accessorised their public image with the Pride rainbow. It could not be made clearer that while corporations and authorities virtue signal and cash into the pink pound, this does even begin to imprint any institutional reform to protect the rights of LGBT+ people.

Of course, if you think that the events of these first two weeks of Pride Month are some sort of fresh renewal of anti-LGBT+ sentiment, then you’ve not been paying attention. Organised take-downs of trans people have been woven into the fabric of everyday life.

Bergdorf herself last year was subject to an open letter petition when she was announced as a keynote speaker for the British Film Institute’s (BFI) Woman with a Movie Camera summit. The petition misgendered Bergdorf and questioned her presence at the summit, claiming that her inclusion was “an insult to all the women film-makers who struggle on a daily basis to get their films made”.

Even though the BFI defended Bergdorf’s inclusion in the festival, she herself decided to pull out. Journalist Shon Faye also noted that when she was lined up to speak at Amnesty International’s Women Making History Festival in May last year, she too had to endure harassment from trans exclusionary radical feminists who lobbied Amnesty to rescind her invitation to speak.

Whilst in these instances the BFI and Amnesty did not bow to pressure, these incidents speak to the successful organising of anti-trans lobbyists who relentlessly undermine the platform of trans women who dare to take up space in public life.

However, Twitter user @mimmymum has shed some doubt over how expansive the anti-trans lobby actually is. Referring to the Bergdorf/NSPCC incident, she noted how complaints against Bergdorf were launched by an account called the “Safe Schools Alliance” which was only set up in May 2019, but presents as an official organisation. Safe Schools Alliance is just a Twitter account, not a recognised or registered organisation or charity – and @mimmymum provides more examples of similar accounts with names such as “Woman’s Place UK” and “Fair Play for Women”, set up purely to further anti-trans agendas.

The account also broke down how Safe Schools Alliance is in fact populated by a subset of Woman’s Place UK and Fair Play for Women’s followers – which collectively comprise not even 1 per cent of the NSPCC’s followers.

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As the NSPCC failed to distinguish online noise from trolls from general public opinion, this brings up questions about what kind of scrutiny anti-trans digital circles are or aren’t subjected to. We know quite well now how internet trolls exploit the ease of social media pressure and virality to amplify hateful voices that are in the minority, so why have we not had a public conversation about this in relation to anti-trans trolls? What is clear is that the anti-trans lobby may be smaller than would be estimated, but how the internet is designed means that its influence and power is still overwhelmingly dangerous.

As the LGBT+ sex and relationships education debate roars on, and our timelines have been filled with images of a bloodied lesbian couple, it feels like there hasn’t been much to celebrate this Pride Month. The UK has a habit of pointing abroad to anti-LGBT+ violations, but often fails to reflect on the state of its own communities. The NSPCC seems to have forgotten the figures they published themselves just this month – that over the past 12 months, Childline has seen over 6,000 counselling sessions about gender and sexual identity; that 12-15 year olds are the most common age group to contract Childline over these matters; that 409 of these sessions were with children aged 11 or younger, and that there was an 80 per cent increase in the number of views on its gender identity webpage between 2017/18 and 2018/19.

LGBT+ youth, especially trans youth, are in crisis, and this crisis is only exacerbated when they have to witness the institutions that claim to protect them, fail them.

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