A Lady Schools a Baroness: Munroe Bergdorf's Open Letter to Emma Nicholson is a Lesson in Class

The elegant, thoughtful and honest response to the trashy racism & transphobia dished out by a privileged rich white cis woman

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Emma Nicholson, Baroness

Baroness Emma Nicholson, a Conservative peer and co-founder of JK Rowling’s charity, has been quite vocal in homophobic and transphobic views.

In early June she got herself in hot water for stating that same-sex marriage has “degraded the status of women and girls,” and she’s drawn attention for her campaign against the inclusion of trans women in women’s spaces in the UK.

Back in May, as Liz Truss made headlines with her transphobic stance, the Baroness expressed her support. She tweeted happily on May 18, sharing a personal letter to her from Liz Truss which states, “I’m grateful to you for raising your concerns. I have made my commitment to protecting single-sex spaces for women and girls clear. As part of this work I will ensure that Government guidance gives a clear message to service providers, schools and others, putting their ability to provide single sex spaces beyond doubt.

I will be able to say more about this important issue when I publish the Government's response to the Gender Recognition Act consultation in the summer.”

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As evident by this exchange, the Baroness has been quite open about her transphobic feelings, her agenda and her affiliations. Which made her reaction to the recent backlash over her (now deleted) insulting tweet about model and social-justice activist Munroe Bergdorf border on the grotesque.

Rather than own up to her enmity against LGBT rights in general, and trans women specifically, the Baroness dissembled, with deflecting statements such as these:

Musht be shome mishtake, my finger typed M. but the invisible editor forgot that I also use French.

and…

It’s a bit of a red herring, if transgender people want to be called by a specific pronoun you have to make it clear to people.’ She added that she was trying to write ‘M.’ but made an error…

and claiming that her overtly hostile tweet about Berdorf, referring to her as a ‘weird creature,’ was a reference to Shakespeare’s Sonnet Number 1 that she been engaging with during lockdown. ‘It’s about a creature who is really wonderful and beautiful.’

Munroe Bergdorf didn’t buy it. And neither did her followers, nor the media. Complaints poured into the office of the Lords Commissioner for Standards, reporting the Baroness’ cruel tweets as acts of bullying and harassment.

In the midst of the backlash, the Booker Prize Foundation removed her from the honorary role of vice-president, which the Baroness had enjoyed since 2009. (The Foundation then did away with all honorary roles altogether.)

The Baroness felt the heat. Whether on her own initiative, or prompted by her PR team, she came out with conciliatory statements such as this:

I never meant any tweet to cause sadness and misery, and it’s clear that inadvertently that has done so…”

I didn’t know her, I didn’t recognise her eminence, her past with L’Oréal, her past with the NSPCC, and the major work she has done to help other people…

I respect that and I’m asking her if we could have a meal together, maybe we might find we have a lot in common, you never know.

She also denied all allegations of racism, homophobia and transphobia, saying that she had a “lifetime commitment” to equality and diversity, and that she considers herself a feminist “in the broadest sense of the word”.

A Lady’s Response

Munroe Bergdorf has now issued her response, in the way of an open letter she published on her Instagram. Following below is the text of her letter, in full:

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Munroe Bergdorf — VOGUE UK Cover

Dear Baroness Nicholson,

I thank you for your apology posted on Twitter on the 27th June at 12.19pm. In your tweet, you offer your unreserved apology and state that you never meant to cause hurt or offence to anyone in the LGBTQ+community whose rights you support. I am pleased to see that you support trans people, including children, and I appreciate your acknowledgement that you were wrong to tweet unsubstantiated and harmful accusations and innuendo relating to trans people and organisations.

In a subsequent statement on Twitter, an interview on BBC Radio 4 and an interview in The Telegraph newspaper, you stated that you have been expressing yourself “casually”. “Casual” is a term I have come to know only too well as a woman of colour. ‘Casual racism’, for instance, is not casual for those who suffer it. ‘Casual’ sexism is not casual for those who experience it. Casual homophobia and anti-semitism would rightly not be treated by you, your followers, the press, politicians or wider British society as a mere moment of carelessness. Therefore, though I echo your call for conciliation, I’m afraid I find it difficult to believe that there was anything ‘casual’ about the transphobic themes present in your tweets regarding my identity as a trans woman of colour.

You stated in your interviews in the Telegraph and on BBC Radio 4 that it would be “fun” to meet with me. This is an admirable show of optimism, in light of the way you have treated me, my friends and my associates of late. I am yet to receive any direct correspondence befitting such a sensitive invitation and a less charitable person might wonder if your tweeted offer of a meeting and subsequent interviews have come from your heart or from the desk of a legal advisor, trying to help you avoid further public embarrassment.

Baroness, as the mixed-race, trans daughter of a working-class family who has been subjected to a stream of racist and transphobic abuse following your tweets, I cannot claim to find the prospect of meeting with you, ‘fun’. While this poisonous conversation around trans lives may constitute an amusement to those who are in a position pit their considerable wealth, influence and privilege against a minority, for people like me, it is a frightening and extremely painful onslaught not only on our characters but also on the very core of who we are as people.

Baroness Nicholson, I may seem to some an outspoken, confident trans woman of colour, but every fight I have won has taken a chunk out of me and I live with the knowledge that my every achievement in life will be seen by my detractors as an act of aggression and a justified cause for attack. To discover that yet another person of considerable power and influence has chosen to humiliate me was a horrible blow and it has caused me considerable personal distress.

Nonetheless, I do not reject your offer of a meeting because I believe that calm, honest, generous conversation is the key to progress. I wish you had reached out to me privately, before publicising your invitation in a national newspaper, on network radio and in a public tweet but, please now feel free to contact me directly to discuss such a meeting.

However, please allow me to state my understanding of your position. It would be dishonest of me to accept tea and sandwiches with a Baroness without first making it clear where I stand.

Until recently, I had not heard of you or your valuable work protecting the lives of children in dangerous parts of the world. You appeared on my ‘radar’ when you branded me a ‘weird creature’ and you misgendered me, in an ongoing conversation in mockery of trans lives. I acknowledge your explanation that you meant to describe me as Shakespeare’s ‘wild creature’ and that your phone somehow tricked you into writing ‘Mr. Bergdorf.’ I acknowledge, Baroness Nicholson, but I cannot pretend to believe.

It would be insulting your intelligence as well as my own and the intelligence of those who follow us both, to suggest that your tweets were posted in error. They were not out of character for a high profile politician who has a long and proven record tweeting what I consider to be cruel, obnoxious taunts and unfounded allegations against trans people, including a child, and trans organisations such as Mermaids, for whom I am a proud patron.

In your ‘apology’ you cannot help but reiterate your troubling refrain around a “small minority with predatory and malign motives who use cover of Trans
cause for their own ends.” Baroness Nicholson, if you hold such deep concerns, you must be more candid about them and alert us immediately, in full transparency, to the dangerous conspiracy you have uncovered, citing all evidence supporting such a claim. What are these “predatory and malign” motives and what evidence do you have that they exist? If we are to
meet, I would press you to enlighten me.

Baroness Nicholson, you implied an 11-year-old girl might become a “would-be assailant.” You described a Charity Commission accredited and Lottery-funded children’s charity as “paediiphilia [sic]” on the basis of disproven speculation and innuendo, having never spoken to or personally-engaged with the organisation. To my mind, this goes beyond carelessness or ‘casual’ behaviour. This strikes me as malice and a determination to undermine transgender people and their families.

In your apology to me, you state that you support the rights of the LGBT+ community.

Baroness, you voted in 2013 in favour of an amendment to kill off the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. | have read that you did not even attend
the debate before casting your vote. You apparently refused to sign the UN Year of Tolerance in 1995 because it included sexual orientation within its declaration. Your tweets earlier this month were a further insult to gay people, suggesting that the introduction of same-sex marriage in 2013 has degraded “the status of women and of girls… as a binary class”.

What is more, following your ‘unreserved apology’ to me on the 27th of June, you have continued to post and share content which leads me to question its sincerity.

At 9.56 pm on the 28th of June, you tweeted “We all pull together” in response to a ‘gender critical’ account used regularly to retweet anti-trans material.

At 8.26 pm on the 28th of June you retweeted a GIF from a J. K. Rowling imposter account depicting a ‘minion’ with red flashing lights on its head and the flashing caption “Crazy Alert”. This was in response to a post on the Tumblr platform regarding calls for improved trans healthcare.

At 4.07 pm on the 28th of June you tweeted: “#BringBackGlinner he’s one of the funniest and sanest of people I’m privileged to know…”. This was in relation to a man who has been permanently banned from Twitter following a litany of disturbing and unfounded tweets harassing and attacking trans women and their supporters and implying that organisations and individuals supporting trans young people are ‘groomers’.

I worry that your activity during the last few hours speaks to the truth behind your apology. That you are more concerned for your own crumbling reputation as complaints gather and grow by your name than you are for any need to reconcile our considerable differences.

I fear your letters to Marks and Spencer, Asda and a number of official bodies and Government ministers, constitute a determined, orchestrated, almost industrial, campaign to restrict trans lives. I understand you have long-held and laudable concerns regarding children and women’s safety, but the majority of feminists who share such concerns, myself included, do not then feel a duty to humiliate and attack transgender people as a result.

Baroness Nicholson, though many of my followers would understandably disagree with my decision, I say again that I agree to meet with you in a spirit of openness and reconciliation. Our public profiles offer us a valuable opportunity to calm the conversation around gender issues and prove that opposing views can be expressed constructively. I do not believe in holding grudges and I myself have learned that comments we make in the past should not be considered a permanent stain on our characters, so long as we make an effort to grow, listen and learn.

Before such a meeting could take place, however, I would ask you to apologise unreservedly to all trans people and their families on Twitter who have been caused great pain by a number of your tweets.

I would then suggest a meeting at the earliest possible opportunity which can be recorded and shared unedited and in full, so that each individual, regardless of their position on trans rights, can judge for themselves the nature and quality of our respective positions.

I hope we can find a way to draw a line under this unhelpful and damaging chapter and work together to grow a new dialogue around such important issues.

Kind regards,

Munroe Bergdorf

Activist. Public speaker. Writer. Community Organizer. Mom. Creator & Host, Empowered Trans Woman Summit. Managing Editor, EmpoweredTransWoman.com

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