A British charity abruptly cut ties with Munroe Bergdorf under pressure from anti-trans activists on social media. Now, the British model and activist — who has risen to become one of the most prominent advocates for trans and gender-nonconforming people in the U.K. over the past couple years — is speaking out against her dismissal, and she’s not alone.
Close to 150 members of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) have condemned Bergdorf’s dismissal from a project affiliated with their organization in a letter provided to The Guardian. “We are deeply disappointed about the treatment of Munroe by the organization,” reads the letter. “We are concerned at the NSPCC’s decision to replicate the experience that many trans children and adults experience in being subjected to abuse and ridicule and subsequently abandoned.”
The saga began on June 5, when Bergdorf announced that she would serve as the first LGBTQ+ advocate for Childline, a counseling service and hotline provided by the NSPCC for young people dealing with depression, bullying, and other issues. Many NSPCC said staffers were very happy that Bergdorf had accepted the unpaid volunteer position. (“I could never take money from a children’s charity,” Bergdorf says.) In an email provided to Out dated June 4, one such staffer tells Bergdorf’s publicist how “exciting” it is to work with her client. “We really are keen for her to be really involved in this phase of the campaign, and be a voice for LGBT+ children,” the staffer wrote. “It’s the first time Childline has focused on Sexual and Gender Identity properly, so to have the U.K.’s preeminent trans activist involved could really help children going through this.”
A day after Bergdorf’s announcement, Janice Turner, a British journalist and columnist for The Times of London with a record of trans-antagonistic writing to her name, spoke out against the NSPCC’s decision on Twitter, inaccurately calling Bergdorf a “porn model” and calling the appointment “astonishing.” (I was unable to reach Turner by the time of publication.) The following day, a Twitter account claiming to represent an organization called the Safe Schools Alliance posted an open letter to NSPCC CEO Peter Wanless criticizing the appointment of Bergdorf, whose “highly sexualised, porn-influenced image” they feel is “harmful” to the children whom Childline aims to serve. The letter also mentions “rapid-onset gender dysphoria,” a non-medical term that stems from a 2018 study published in peer-reviewed scientific journal PLOS One that claimed to demonstrate a “social contagion” theory of adolescent transitioners — a theory that has been enthusiastically embraced by conservative media and anti-trans parent groups alike. After reviewing the study post-publication, PLOS One issued a correction and an apology, though even the corrected version’s methods have been criticized as “flawed” and “below scientific standards.”
The NSPCC responded directly to the Safe Schools Alliance’s open letter with a statement of its own confirming that Childline had terminated its relationship with Bergdorf, despite the fact that Safe Schools Alliance might not even be a real group. According to its Twitter bio, the @SafeSchools_UK account was only recently created in May 2019, and it appears to have only tweeted once on June 5 before posting its open letter to the NSPCC’s CEO. When reached for confirmation of its existence, an unnamed email author says that “We are a large group of parents, grandparents, governors and educators, from all areas of the U.K.” The author also says that they will not be “publishing the names of our members due to the very real threat of harassment to anyone who attracts the attention of trans activists,” which is an interesting thing to say unprompted, considering I hadn’t said anything about trans people in my initial email. I then asked if the Safe Schools Alliance had a public leader or a spokesperson who the email’s author could identify or if they could send me any additional information about the alleged group, like when it was founded and what its goals are, but I never heard back.
The NSPCC was similarly quiet when I reached out. A spokesperson declined to comment and referred me to the same public statement that the charity had tweeted at the Safe Schools Alliance. (UPDATE, 10:51a.m. EST: Wanless released a public statement after this article was published. He apologized "for the hurt that has been caused by recent events" and said that the organization "shouldn't have cut ties with Munroe Bergdorf in the way we did.")
In a phone interview on Monday, Bergdorf expressed her disappointment with the NSPCC, both for its decision to bend to the will of anti-trans activists and for the disrespect the charity showed her in telling her — or, rather, not telling her — that she’d been dismissed as an advocate for Childline. “None of my representatives were contacted,” the model and activist says. “They didn’t even respect me enough to do me the courtesy of telling me they were sacking me. They did it without notice, leaving me open to public shaming. I literally can’t get over how bad this is.”
As for whether or not she’s an appropriate role model for children, Bergdorf disagrees. “Kids need a variety of different role models. Regardless of whether they think I’m a good role model, kids look up to me,” she says. “They’re just trying to remove any trace of the transgender experience from the eyeline of children. They want to remove me from having any contact with children so that they won’t know that I and people like me exist.”