Since the media learned the letters LGBT, there’s been an endlessly voyeuristic obsession with the LGBT+ community. Whether it’s people asking, “how do lesbians, like, do it?” whilst jamming their fingers together in a scissoring motion, or if it’s certain celebrities repeatedly being asked if they’ve got a “gal pal,” the fascination seems limitless. LGBT+ people have been stereotyped and boxed in such a way that we rarely see queer people existing in the media outside of the tiny narrative of being “the gay one.” It’s age-old and certainly doesn’t operate in order to represent LGBT+ lives authentically.
Let’s be honest, it’s not as if Piers Morgan wants to interview queer people on Good Morning Britain because he genuinely seeks to understand; he seeks to oggle, to poke, prod, and provoke. And rake in the views and comments on YouTube when an argument is sparked. For a long time now, LGBT+ people have been wheeled out to fill quotas and to be stared at. This is the worst-case scenario, of course; a lot of outlets/shows/films get it right, and these should be celebrated. And one thing hoping to change the tune and add to the positive change was a panel set up by the Labour party, built up by volunteers. It aimed to give voice to the LGBT+ community, so those voices were considered and included when the party was making policies and decisions. The Labour party has a long history of supporting the LGBT+ community, as it was the first party to enshrine gay rights into their policies, and even supported LGBT groups that raised funds for striking miners. Members of the panel included actors Jake Graf, Charlie Condou, and founder of Black Pride Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, and model and activist Munroe Bergdorf.
Recently, some controversy surrounding Munroe Bergdorf has lead to her dropping out of the historic panel. This is following abuse she’s received on social media that has intensified over the past year. Munroe stepped out of the panel, releasing a statement that said, “I wanted my appointment to be something positive and exciting for the community, but instead it has turned into nasty tabloid fodder, blown out of all proportion … I accepted a place on the board because I felt that it would be an exciting and effective way of helping to shed light on issues that I felt were being overlooked and hopefully push needs forward.”
When most of our media sees the LGBT+ community and the black community as “exotic” sub-human beings, it is no surprise that Munroe Bergdorf, a black trans pansexual woman, has received so much abuse in the media simply because she has decided to use her voice. It seems to arch back to the age-old fascination with the “other”, as people all over the internet decide that because they don’t understand someone, it gives them license to attack them. And whilst many will cry at their free-speech being taken away when we talk of the necessity for safe spaces for black and LGBT+ communities, there is a difference between using your freedom of speech and abusing your freedom of speech. Having freedom of speech does not immediately give you the right to a huge platform, nor does it mean anyone has to pedestalise your opinions. When something is started to only be a positive thing, it is a crying shame that once again, the obsession and cruel fascination with the “other” has lead to such an outcome. Especially given that Bergdorf is such an intelligent and articulate person who was appointed because of those qualities.
It begs the question of, do we need to simply power through, ignore the haters (as they say) until people work out that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable, or do we need a radical shift in the way we present and represent LGBT+ people within the media? When (in Bergdorf’s case) racism, transphobia, and homophobia actively interfere with political progress, perhaps it’s a sign that we need to really dissect how the LGBT+ community is represented. Of course, it’s a good thing that at least LGBT+ people are on TV, and in the media, but context is important, and it is so necessary that LGBT+ people are given voices outside of having to prove their identity. When we’re only seeing trans women on the TV when they’re saying, “we exist, guys!”, is it actually all that surprising when people outside of the community simply don’t get it? We need to see the richness and complexity of lives outside of the cis-hetero norm in order for us to truly progress.
On the bright side in the small silver lining, at least there is some representation. LGBT+ people are on TV speaking their truths, even if it is over the yelling of a snotty old man. People will listen, and minds will change. But change would happen a lot quicker and it would be a lot easier if LGBT+ people weren’t questioned at every turn. So, to people like Piers Morgan: stop asking queer people to go on your shows if all you will do is poke them and refuse to listen when they’re angry. And if you genuinely want to know what the LGBT+ experience is like, listen, because the community has been talking for years now. Invite queer people to speak at your events about things other than what it’s like to be queer. Make room for queer people at your table, and share your privilege. But most of all, see the LGBT+ community as capable of existing outside of those little letters.
Written by Rochelle Asquith