Munroe Bergdorf released a special holiday message Wednesday, detailing the concerns of some of Britain’s most marginalized residents and concrete steps the government could take to alleviate those concerns.
The model slash media activist uploaded the video message to YouTube, titling it “A Qween’s Speech” — a reference to Queen Elizabeth II’s annual Christmas message, which this year contained a bunch of deeply whatever platitudes about resisting tribalism and getting along with people who want to legislate you out of existence. By contrast, Bergdorf laid out a three-point plan to combat racism, sexism, transphobia, and other forms of oppression that focuses on education, legislation, and reparation.
In under three minutes, she touches on everything from legal protections for sex workers and a more representative curriculum for LGBTQIA+ students to the racist, homophobic legacy of British colonialism and the 36 Commonwealth countries where it’s still illegal to be gay.
“I get very frustrated all the time when people speak about things but offer no solution,” she told OUT. “We really need to be active in how we speak about things and call things out for what they are.”
OUT spoke with Bergdorf about “A Qween’s Speech” during a phone interview Wednesday morning. We talked about why she made the video, what she hopes to address, who she made it for, and what she hopes viewers take away from it. Our conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
OUT: How did “A Qween’s Speech” come about?
MUNROE BERGDORF: The director, Eduardo Fitch, came to me with the idea. I thought it was a great script with a great idea behind it. The Queen, as well intentioned as she may be, doesn’t necessarily say much with the Queen’s Speech. It’s very much nonpartisan, very much inoffensive, and very nice. She doesn’t really talk about the issues that any groups of people are really going through. I feel that, at this moment, we really need to be active in how we speak about things and call things out for what they are. It’s very much that idea [of Bishop Desmond Tutu’s] that if you’re impartial in instances of oppression, you’re taking the side of the oppressor.
Every time I watch the Queen’s Speech, I feel an overwhelming sense of frustration. She has the power and the influence to call things out, and she doesn’t. This isn’t necessarily a callout of the Queen herself. We’re calling out the bigger institution she’s a part of: the British monarchy. It’s still illegal to be gay in 36 Commonwealth countries. Perhaps that level of institutionalized homophobia wouldn’t have happened if Britain hadn’t invaded them in the first place and put those laws in place.
Yeah, that was one of the biggest differences I noticed between your videos. The Queen doesn’t say anything concrete, just platitudes about coming together.
I get very frustrated all the time when people speak about things but offer no solution, when people ask to “put differences aside.” People don’t need to put differences aside. We need people to stop oppressing each other. We need to speak about instances of oppression, where it comes from, and why it’s there. This video is not a callout of the Queen. We’re calling out the British Empire. There’s a real lack of accountability represented in the Queen’s Christmas message year after year after year after year, and it’s full of contradictions. Speaking about people who are less fortunate but then having a gold piano in the background… I think it’s a little outdated! The whole premise of the British monarchy is. I don’t think we necessarily have to get rid of it, but we can make some adjustments to make it fit into modern society, which we’ve done before.
I really appreciated the humorous edge to the video. The styling, the line where you flip the whole “Think of the children!” thing on its head… How did you all settle on the tone and the look of the video?
The styling was meant to be very reminiscent of how the Queen dresses — a little nod to her, since this is another queen’s speech. We called ours a queen’s speech, not the queen’s speech, because there’s many queens out there. It’s a caring term of affection in queer culture, to call someone a queen. We don’t want ours to be an alternative to that queen’s speech, but a queen’s speech. With the line about “children,” the far right uses that term to cloak bigotry and oppression. I wanted to play off that and give a high five to all the trans children who follow me. I’m doing it for them. They need us. There’s so much negativity in the press. It’s doing extreme harm to trans children
What do you hope those kids take away from “A Qween’s Speech”?
I hope that they find their own queen’s voice, they view themselves as a queen and not necessarily look to the British monarchy for inspiration or validation. We are all queens. It doesn’t really make sense to let one extremely wealthy white women who never experienced an instance of the oppression she’s speaking about dictate how we feel. I want people to look deeper for role models. If you don’t resonate with Queen Elizabeth II, then go out and find your own queens to celebrate. Don’t settle.
I’m not trying to cause beef with the Queen [laughs], but it’s very frustrating to see institutions of high influence glaze over the issues and sprinkle sugar on things when things aren’t going very well. To not even mention racism, sexually transmitted diseases, gender-based discrimination, or the rise in hate crimes since Brexit invalidates the experiences of so many people. It’s almost like the Queen’s Speech is only for certain people — the people who can afford to sweep things under the rug and ignore things. That’s not me. That’s not a lot of people in Britain.