Munroe Bergdorf: ‘Cancelling JK Rowling Won’t Fix Transphobia’

The model and activist speaks out.

munroe-bergdorf-jk-rowling-l'oreal

by Anna Silverman |

Model and activist Munroe Bergdorf rejoined L’Oréal Paris on 9 June as a consultant on its UK Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Board. This was after she was dropped by the brand in 2017 for posting about racism. As well as rehiring her, the beauty brand announced it will make donations of €25,000 (£22,000) to Mermaids, a charity supporting gender- variant and transgender youth in the UK, and to UK Black Pride, and has expressed regret for how the situation was handled. The reconciliation is the latest example of how the Black Lives Matter protests are forcing companies to reassess their policies. But in the same week as it felt like huge progress had been made in communities coming together in solidarity, a tweet from Harry Potter author JK Rowling was criticised as being transphobic, sparking calls for her books to be boycotted. Here, Munroe explains how she thinks we move forward...

I'm not somebody who holds grudges. If I can find a solution, I will. Honestly, though, I never thought L’Oréal and I would see eye to eye because the situation had been so volatile. At the same time, I never thought we’d be in a position today where more and more white people are getting to grips with the realities of modern-day racism like they are, so it’s safe to say I’m pleasantly surprised all round.

Kudos to L’Oréal for asking me to join its board, because it takes strength of character to hold your hands up and say, ‘I got this wrong.’ I really hope other brands take this opportunity to get their house in order. I get asked by brands all the time what they can do to be more inclusive and it really is as simple as hiring a diverse team.

I’m excited to be back at L’Oréal, being a voice for Black, trans and queer people, because my community is the most important thing to me. To be able to bring our concerns to the table feels refreshing when it has so rarely been the case before, which is how mistakes happen.

I’m looking forward to seeing diversity being celebrated and bringing in the perspectives of marginalised people, since it is glaringly obvious there are huge disparities between the experiences of different races. I’m just glad people are listening now.

However, it has been rather an intense few days, as JK Rowling also chose last week to tweet comments that many trans people have found offensive. Sharing an article, she questioned the phrase ‘people who menstruate’. ‘I’m sure there used to be a word for those people,’ she tweeted to her 14.5 million followers. ‘Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?’ she wrote.

It felt like she was insulting the lived experience of trans people. Rowling wrote about a magical world that celebrated children who were different, but these comments feel as though she is denying trans people the right to feel real. It’s such a shame because she touched so many people with her stories. My first thoughts when I read her tweet were to worry for trans children.

Trans people are already marginalised and these words can cause serious harm. It’s dangerous when we consider how more than one in four (27%) trans young people have attempted to take their own lives and almost nine in 10 (89%) have thought about it. Black trans women in particular are dying at an alarming rate; we’ve got so many marginalised aspects to our identities that this reduces our life expectancy and impacts our mental health, access to employment and access to healthcare.

Being Black and trans means people like me face double the stigma, so for Rowling to tweet this in the midst of the protests and Pride month is spectacularly insensitive timing. Saying that, I don’t think she – or anyone else – should be ‘cancelled’. If you cancel someone, where do they go? You risk them going on to become radicalised.

Instead, we need to move into a period of accountability, but it can’t always be up to marginalised people to call these things out. Thankfully, Eddie Redmayne, Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe, who starred in the Fantastic Beasts and Harry Potter films, posted their unease with her comments on social media.

Everything happening right now is linked; it’s challenging the marginalisation of oppressed and vulnerable people. In the same way white people are pledging to become better allies and are realising racism is a problem with white society, cis-allies are joining us in fighting for trans rights.

We stand a far better chance of dismantling racism and transphobia when we come together as a society. Recent events have proved we can do that. Now, I hope more brands will follow L’Oréal’s lead in trying to become more inclusive.

Life After Lockdown

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Life After Lockdown in Pictures - Grazia

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The Cafe du Soleil sets up igloos outside for its diners to allow for social distancing.

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Sara, who has just given birth to baby Olivia, wears a protective mask as father Angelo takes a picture of his new daughter through a glass wall.

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Students exercise outside as they return to school on 15 May.

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A dental hygienist wearing PPE welcomes patient at a dentist's office in Krakow on 15 May.

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Social distancing circles are used at Domino Park in Brooklyn, New York on 15 May.

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Social distancing markers are displayed at a train station in Johannesburg, South Africa on 4 May.

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Martyn Weatherill, principal of Laingholm Primary School in Auckland, hosts an online assembly with students in their classrooms on the first day back to school on 18 May.

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Bayern Munich substitutes wear protective face masks and maintain social distance in the stands during the Bundesliga match between 1. FC Union Berlin and FC Bayern Muenchen at Stadion An der Alten Foersterei on 17 May. The Bundesliga and Second Bundesliga is the first professional league to resume the season after the nationwide lockdown; all matches until the end of the season will be played behind closed doors.

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A sink in a public toilet is blocked off in an attempt to promote social distancing.

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An empty Waterloo station shows a sign encouraging social distancing on 18 May.

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A temporary tent encampment for the homeless with tents at an acceptable distance from each other is opened in San Francisco.

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Markings are placed on the floor at a primary school in Berlin as primary school pupils and tenth graders began returning to school.

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A sign at the entrance to the Manggha Museum of Japanese Art and Technology in Krakow reads, 'Do Not Enter Without A Mask' and 'Keep A Safe Distance.'

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Gare de nord station in Paris has marks on the ground to show the appropriate social distance between people.

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A zebra crossing sports a sign that recommends keeping two meters away from other people on the first day that Granada begins Phase 1 of progressive return to normal life on 18 May.

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Beachgoers enjoy the sun and sand at Anavisos beach on 16 May as organised beaches are allowed to be reopened in Greece.

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Hairdressers wash customer's hair on 2 May 2020 in Innsbruck, Austria after hair salons and barber shops reopen after a seven-week lockdown. Customers and employees must wear masks and have to keep as much distance as possible.

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A young girl wearing a mask plays on the playground during the first day of school on 5 May 2020 after over a month and a half that schools were closed.

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A doctor from the state health sector speaks to a federal police officer who is supervising the information to prevent contagion amid the COVID-19 pandemic at Hermosillo International Airport on 2 May 2020. Hermosillo International Airport is operating normally while taking preventive measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.

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Demonstrators in Venice asks for the restrictions around bars, restaurants and other commercial activities be lifted on 4 May 2020.

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Shanghai Disneyland utilises 'social Distancing' queues for its reopening on 4 May 2020.

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Janine Scholz and Philip Scholz are married in a wedding ceremony at the Autokino Dusseldorf drive-in cinema on 5 May 2020. A total of three couples are marrying at the drive-in with friends and family members allowed to attend in their cars.

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Churchgoers arrive Frauenkirche 'Cathedral of Our Lady' cathedral for evening mass on the first day churches and other houses of worship are allowed to hold services again in Bavaria since March on 4 May 2020.

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Visitors, only some of whom are wearing face masks, wait to enter the Zwinger palace complex as a poster showing Adam and Eve wearing masks hangs at the entrance on the first day the palace reopened to the public.

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A commuters, wearing protective face masks, sits on a bus on 4 May 2020.

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People watch the sunset at La Barceloneta Beach on 2 May 2020. In Spain, lockdown measures have continued to ease and walking with family members and outdoor exercise is now permitted from 6-10am and from 8-11pm.

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Year 3 children return to school for the fist time in over a month and a half on 5 May 2020 in Tel Aviv, Israel.

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A family receives a delivery of beer from the Six Harbors Brewery, who have trained their two golden retrievers, Buddy and Barley, to deliver beer to customers during the pandemic.

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Jose Morales sanitizes buckets of golf balls at the Miami Beach Golf Club on 29 April 2020 as the city of Miami Beach partially reopens parks and facilities including golf courses, tennis courts and marinas.

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Surfers prepare to enter the water at Bondi Beach on 3 May 2020. Currently, 'Surf & Go' measures are in place for weekends and there is no beach access allowed except along designated pathways to the water for surfcraft use only.

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People wear protective masks while practicing dance near the Yangtze River 1 May 2020 as life returns to normal in Wuhan, China.

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Prototype clear acrylic safety shield dividers are tested at a blackjack table at the El Cortez Hotel & Casino, which is currently closed as a result of the statewide shutdown.

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From 2 May 2020, the Queensland government eased lockdown measures to allow people to leave their homes for recreational activities, such as motorbiking or boating, picnics, visiting national parks or going shopping for non-essential items. Social distancing must still be observed and people must stay within 50km of their main residence.

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Miami Beach, Florida has partially reopened parks and facilities including golf courses, tennis courts and marinas as it begins easing lockdown restrictions.

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A woman has her temperature taken upon arrival at Naples' Central Station 4 May 4 2020.

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As schools prepare for students up to Year 10 who can't study from home or whose parents need to return to work to return to school, a teacher write Covid-19 instructions on the white board.

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People share alcohol-based hand sanitszer in South Pointe Park on 29 April 2020.

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Shoppers rush into a clothing store, which has opened for the first time since the government imposed restrictions to slow the spread of coronavirus on 2 May 2020.

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Restaurant Mediamatic in Amsterdam offers what they call 'corona-proof' dining.

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A taxi driver tries to protect himself with a plastic shield after Thailand's lockdown was partially lifted on 3 May 2020 allowing markets, parks, barber shops and restaurants to open with proper social distancing measures.

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Students eat their lunch on desks with plastic partitions as a preventive measure at Dajia Elementary School in Taipei on 29 April 2020.

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A couple has their temperature taken before their wedding ceremony at Moscow's No1 Civil Registry Office on the first Sunday after Orthodox Easter.

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The couple shows off their wedding rings to a phone, as currently, relatives and friends are not allowed to attend marriage ceremonies due to safety measures aimed at countering the spread of the disease.

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As the lockdown ends in Italy, the government has allowed bars and restaurants to reopen exclusively for take-away food.

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A kiosk worker wears a protective face mask as he speaks to a customer from inside an electronic point covered with plastic inside Kazimierz Shopping mall on 4 May 2020.

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Surin Nguyen, wearing protection gear, works on the nails of a customer at Allure Nail Bar in Atlanta, Georgia on 21 April 2020 after Governor Brian Kemp eased restrictions allowing some businesses, including hair and nail salons, to reopen in the US state of Georgia after a four-week lockdown.

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Kurt Smith wears a mask while helping a customer at the recently reopened Schnee's Boots, Shoes and Outdoors on 4 May 2020.

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