Long Reads

Munroe Bergdorf: Call yourself an LGBT ally? Here’s what you’re missing

Stylist.co.uk is celebrating Pride 2018 with a series of open letters and essays from influential LGBT+ people. Here, activist and model Munroe Bergdorf rallies for us all to be LGBT+ allies

“There has been so much progress in LGBT+ rights, but there is still much more to be done. In the UK, we have amazing rights in comparison to other places. There are many countries where it’s illegal to identify as gay, or engage in gay sex, or to transition. So it’s important to think about LGBT+ rights in a worldwide sense.

And, where we do have rights, there are people in positions of power who are trying to wind them back. This is timely with Donald Trump’s visit to the UK approaching. The UK and America’s histories are so interlinked that a lot of our struggles share a lot of the same literature. We have this special relationship so lots of British and American activism is intertwined.

The world is so divided but, when we think about equality, we need to be thinking in a worldwide sense. We are all human beings. 

Some people think that, because there are now prominent trans people in the public eye, the struggle is over. But the average life expectancy of a transgender woman of colour is 35. That is a result of a combination of violence from men, and suicide, and that stat hasn’t changed in a long time. I became aware of it at the beginning of my transition six or seven years ago, and I’ve carried that awareness throughout my entire life as my true self. 

People don’t think outside of their own experience. They think, because they don’t experience discrimination, that it must not be happening. And I can understand that because, since I had facial feminisation surgery, I get bothered significantly less. It’s easy to think, ‘Oh well, that doesn’t happen anymore’. But of course it does. Ignorance is bliss. The recent statistic from the Pride report (that one in three LGBT+ people have been verbally abused) doesn’t surprise me. If anything, I’m surprised it’s not higher. I don’t know an LGBT+ person that hasn’t been abused or assaulted, or made to feel vulnerable or ostracised.

Now it’s time to act on those stats. It’s time to start thinking about why there’s discrimination. For example, institutions are actively denying equality in terms of how we’re taught. Kids get sex education, but why isn’t gay sex or lesbian sex, or any non-heteronormative sex, being taught? Everything has to be equal – and not just in a performative way – it has to be grassroots. Leaving out homosexual experiences sends a message that they aren’t normal. That leads to people being uneducated, having un-safe sex and other homosexual or non-heteronormative experiences, and that leads to discrimination.

“I don’t know an LGBT+ person that hasn’t been abused or assaulted, or made to feel vulnerable or ostracised”

We’re trying to educate adults but, if we educated the kids, we wouldn’t have to educate adults. I honestly think that the baby boomer generation is so toxic. They just don’t get it. Millennials and kids have absolutely no problem with the way the world is going; it’s adults who have a problem with it, because it’s upsetting the status quo. But, if we educate kids that a whole spectrum of sexual feelings are totally normal, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of, and you should never hold a person’s sexuality against them, then there will be far less unconscious bias. 

So there is equality of thought, which is priceless. But then there is also equality of money and power and, for that, people need to be willing to give something up. Inequality means that there is an imbalance, so the scale is tipped in favour of a certain section of society. In order for the scales to be even, people need to be willing to make sacrifices, which a lot of people aren’t. We’re seeing this at the BBC at the moment (where Jeremy Vine and Eddie Mair resigned rather than accept a pay cut so their female colleagues can earn the same).

It’s a sense of entitlement. They feel like, ‘Why should I earn less? I’ve worked hard’. No one’s saying you haven’t worked hard but you aren’t taking into consideration that you wouldn’t have what you have, if you weren’t who you are. We can’t have pay parity if some people continue to demand a bigger chunk. We live under capitalism so our whole existence is based on money, and there is a finite amount of it. It would be very misguided to think that we can have equality without sacrifice.

People need to listen to each other, and be willing to educate themselves on the issues that marginalised groups face. There are podcasts and YouTube videos directly from trans people that will educate you much more than articles in the British press, which are often so biased. The best way to be an ally? It’s super simple. Just listen. 

Follow model and activist Munroe Bergdorf on Instagram and Twitter @MunroeBergdorf

Images: Maximilian Hetherington, Renee Fisher on Unsplash