OPINION - Munroe Bergdorf: People are beginning to see what’s really happening with the Tory attack on trans rights

Munroe Bergdorf (Munroe Bergdorf)
Munroe Bergdorf (Munroe Bergdorf)

A couple of weeks ago I was on a night out at an LGBTQ+ club and the air was very heavy. We should have been dancing, having fun, but instead, what felt like an entire club was having tough, distressed conversations about the Government — our Government — speaking so frankly about trans rights.

How, when Rishi Sunak proclaimed, ‘A man is a man and a woman is a woman, that’s just common sense,’ he was met with rousing applause and gleeful smiles. There was this feeling of futility — like, ‘How much can we really take of this?’

People in the community are starting to realise that it isn’t just about trans rights. This is also about women’s rights. This is about gay rights. It’s about disability rights. It’s about all marginalised people because it’s a very slippery slope. One person’s differences being stigmatised or legislated against leaves the door open for other people’s differences to be legislated against. It was an extremely difficult evening to get through.

As someone who has a profile in this landscape, there were a lot of people who wanted to talk to me about it, and it’s difficult to take on that amount of fearful energy. But there is a sense that we’re in this together. And hopefully, we’re not going to be viewing our rights as separate but one and the same. We need to fight for each other.

Of course, I’m not surprised. This is the exact sentiment that the Conservative Party has been pushing for many years, it’s maybe just the first time that many people have heard them speak so frankly. But all of the actions they’ve been making, all of the policies they’ve been proposing, all of the consultants they’ve been employing, all of the cuts they’ve been making to LGBTQ+ advisory boards, all of the hatred they’ve been stirring up in the media — it’s been pushing towards this point.

The Government want to indoctrinate young people rather than celebrate them as they are

I grew up underneath section 28 [where Thatcher’s Tories introduced a law prohibiting the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ by local authorities, especially schools], so I am very aware of the playbook that this is coming from. It’s one that puts the fear of God into young people and creates a toxic atmosphere where no one deviates from the path of indoctrination. That’s what we’re talking about: the Government wanting to indoctrinate young people rather than celebrate them as they are.

I am trying to stay calm and be thankful that I can be a voice in my community. I take that responsibility seriously and I’m not the only one. There are lots of LGBTQ+ people succeeding in their industries. We are in it together.

Recent events have also given people who already hold anti-trans beliefs a legitimacy. People are allowed to express views that are ultimately transphobic, framed as ‘an opinion’, or ‘a concern’. You know, ‘it’s just a question’. The reality is we would never allow a homophobic person to express their views in the same way on such platforms. You only have to look at the amount of anti-trans jokes in Netflix specials, for example, by the likes of big comedians such as Dave Chappelle and Ricky Gervais. It’s really cheap to punch down. It takes an intelligent comic to hold a mirror up to society and produce comedy out of it, rather than point to people and make jokes out of them.

People need to know that they have somebody on their side — that the Prime Minister is fighting for his people rather than playing into a narrative of weaponisation

I think Keir Starmer is proving to be extremely disappointing in his handling of bias for the Labour Party, too. We’re yet to see solutions to the problems that the trans community is facing. On February 12th, Brianna Ghey, a 16-year-old trans girl was stabbed to death in Cheshire. On October 12th, Corei Hall, a 14-year-old trans boy took his own life because of being targeted by anti-trans ‘activists’ online. There was also an inquiry that came out last week about the delays in NHS gender care and how it ‘contributed’ to the death of Alice Litman, she was 20 years old. So, we’re seeing all of these problems the trans community is facing, yet Starmer appears more concerned with not rocking the boat than actually solving anything. People need to know that they have somebody on their side — that the Prime Minister is fighting for his people rather than playing into a narrative of weaponisation.

We must be mindful about what this environment is pushing young people into. It impacts all kids, regardless of whether they are LGBTQ+ or not, but especially those in the LGBTQ+ community. We saw it with section 28, creating an environment of toxic suspicion — anyone who was suspected of being gay was bullied. If we want to improve children’s mental health, then we need them to be supported and listened to. We’re seeing the opposite of creating an environment where kids can be themselves and thrive as the young people they are, rather than cookie-cutter versions of who we want them to be.

Many trans people I know feel like they’re at a crossroads right now and whether they want to stay in the UK (Brexit putting an end to free movement has made European mobility significantly more difficult). But where does this leave their mental health? What does it mean for their ability to function within a country that is becoming increasingly hostile and brainwashed by a Government that doesn’t have anything left to offer apart from inciting transphobic and xenophobic dialogue?

The heartening thing, however, is that many cisgender people are shocked too, and a growing number of people are beginning to see what has been happening to our community and what is needed for things to change. It’s important that people are aware of the reality: the Tories are attempting to remove safe access to medical health care, for transgender women specifically, for no apparent reason. Hopefully, more allies will continue to wake up.

Historically, this is what fascist governments have always done: take a very small community and incite fear, hatred and disinformation towards them. The Tories don’t need the trans community to vote for them, but they know they can exploit us — pick up a paper and you’ll see we are massively over-written about in the press.

There is an intentional dissemination of fear in order to deflect from a government that has failed its people

Many people don’t know a trans person on a personal level and although they’ve always shared gendered spaces with us, knowingly or unknowingly, they remain uneducated. But we are less than 0.5 per cent of the population, so to recognise us as a national threat to public safety is unfounded in data and reality.

The actual concerns of the country are of course, not trans people on women-only wards. The NHS can’t afford to have many gendered wards anyway. It’s just the intentional dissemination of fear in order to deflect from a government that has failed its people. Things we should be focusing on, for example, are examining how 145 police officers have been convicted of crimes since Sarah Everard was murdered by Wayne Couzens, a Met Police officer. But instead, they are choosing to marginalise this tiny wedge of the population under the veil of ‘protecting women’s rights to distract from the fact that the systems that are meant to protect us — women and girls especially — are broken.

This is something that we should all care about because fascism works its way up. As we’ve seen in the United States, it starts with the trans community, then it heads full-steam toward cisgender women and pregnant people with abortion access. And as we’ve seen in Italy, the right-wing government has begun actions against recognition of lesbian mothers by removing the names of these mothers from children’s birth certificates. Once you crack open the gate to one injustice, it pushes it all the way open. We must see oppression as something that we fight back against together, and not something that is someone else’s problem or before you know it will be knocking at your door.

Effective activism and communal resistance is about using what you have at your disposal. If you are an artist, make art; if you are good with numbers, help crunch numbers for services that provide relief for trans services; if you have time, give some of your time. Money, obviously, is incredible, because few transgender services are government funded.

Your role as a child, teenager or young person is to not to be constantly fighting the Government for your right to exist

For now, I would love to speak directly to our vulnerable trans youth. While it’s important to make your voice heard, please also focus on what you want for your life, focus on and lean into your interests, your purpose and what brings you joy. Your role as a child, teenager or young person is to not to be constantly fighting the Government for your right to exist. We as adults are fighting for you. Please don’t feel alone.

I believe that my role isn’t within the political system. I can be of much more use as a pillar of my community without the red tape, outside the dirty game of politics. I’m going to continue to be an advocate for trans youth because they are the future and they deserve much better