Visibility, after all, is a form of activism.Related | Kaytranada and Jaboukie Check in on Each OtherAfter speaking with L’Oreal’s leadership, Bergdorf is hoping to keep the brand accountable as a consultant on their newly formed Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Board.That level of visibility has often come at a cost. That’s an absolutely outrageous thing to suggest. We’re starting to, but it’s a huge conversation because, ultimately, our society is built on the oppression of Black people.What hopes do you have specifically for Black trans women?I really hope that there’s much more solidarity with Black people and Black trans women, because it’s not just that we have to grapple with white supremacy, we’ve also got to deal with transphobia within our own community. So I do think that maybe it was used as a tool by the conservatives to legitimize their own plans.But at the same time, I was really disappointed because she’s impacted so many queer people’s lives and especially young queer people. It needs to be a movement, not a moment.”I want to make sure that during that time, no one is reduced to just their image. So many of us grew up with that book, and it’s so ingrained into our culture. I want to see queer people basking in their queerness and not having to only show a certain side of it.”In doing that, he’s putting an already marginalized group at even greater risk without providing us gender neutral toilets. Once the rough scans were exported, Huynh went back in to fine-tune facial details, humanizing the rudimentary imagery. You can see that from the establishment’s refusal to remove slave-master statutes, slave trader statutes, and also how out of touch our government is with regards to racism. They take the one abuser in the community, because there’s always going to be an abuser in any community. One of the ways it’s happening is a reckoning within industries across the globe about how white supremacy influences everything, trickling down to people’s jobs, which is something that you experienced. Ultimately white supremacy is present in everything.I’m hoping that when grappling with the dehumanization of Black people, that we can then start to deconstruct it all and start speaking about how white supremacy impacts everything. It’s really damaging.I actually texted Shon and was like, “Hello, she just exposed them all,” because I don’t think people really realize how systemic transphobia is. And I felt like how a lot of Black women feel in this moment, with regards to being overlooked, and how Black culture, Black hair, Black music, Black everything, really, is often diluted into trends. JK Rowling is now fully out of the closet as a TERF, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson is attempting to make it harder for trans people to access healthcare and public spaces that align with their identity by reforming the Gender Recognition Act. But as I’ve gained more of a footing within the fashion industry, the beauty industry and also within activist circles, I feel more confident in my voice. I speak about companies bettering themselves, having the tough conversations and employing radical voices that are on the front lines. We’re almost in a state of social denial about our racism. I think it’s a necessity, but there’s an art to it, and you need to make sure that you are actually providing for the community if you’re going to be involving your products in it.”Pride can never be canceled. I definitely saw red and posted a very emotional post about why I was angry, but then they contacted me. And if it isn’t the Republicans then it’s Black Lives Matter and police brutality and then trans women being murdered and legs cut off and dumped in rivers. It’s because of environmental racism and systemic racism. I want to see full-bodied representation, nuanced representation, revolutionary representation. The fact that all of this has come during Pride Month shows that Pride Month is only valuable to conservative governments if it’s profitable to them. It’s not just police brutality. I feel like it’s been one thing after the next. If it hasn’t been the Conservative government in the UK, then it’s the Republicans. Are you still finding ways to engage with Pride?Pride can never be canceled. Just because we’re not turning up in our rainbow gear in Soho, that suddenly it’s not a thing.June is our month. This post in itself would be great if you had resolved the situation with me and realized that I’d been sacked for speaking up against white supremacy, but that hadn’t happened. So I hope that it definitely opens a lot of people’s minds. But in protecting women-only spaces, he’s not including trans women in that, which is concerning. She is both a model and an activist, and as a Black trans woman in the United Kingdom, her selfies can be as inherently political as her posts about rampant transphobia and racism in her home country. I think that’s such a great thing for our community, and I think people know I’ve got my community’s back till I die.What kind of change do you think you’ll be able to implement in that position, and how do you think it could be a model for the rest of the beauty industry?The issue with fashion and beauty is that it’s largely rooted in inspiration, isn’t it? It feels progressive. I don’t know if I want to go into another relationship, but then I thought, This is what I speak about all the time. There’s always going to be trans people with internalized transphobia that will cosign what she says, just like there’s homophobic gay people that have internalized homophobia and run, essentially, organizations that are to the detriment of our community. These people organize on a platform called Mumsnet, which is meant to be a forum for mothers to speak about their kids, but has instead turned into a hotbed of transphobia and fear-mongering, and an organization for how to target, bully, berate and belittle trans women.They don’t go after trans men because they believe that trans men are actually lesbians that have been forced by the trans agenda to transition to avoid male violence, which again, doesn’t take into consideration the fact that trans men also experience violence. She realizes there’s a lot of red tape in the beauty industry, especially a massive company like L’Oreal, but her intentions are in the right place.When she asked me if I wanted to be on their diversity and inclusion board, at the beginning, I was like, Oh, I don’t know. But knowing Bergdorf means knowing that those things aren’t, in fact, opposites. We own June. But I definitely will take some time out. Unfortunately, trans-exclusionary radical feminism or gender critical feminism is a belief of convenience. It’s so tone deaf to do this within pride month.It’s the LGBTQ community, not LGB. He’s suggesting that we should be using male toilets. And during this time, our rights are literally on the line. They actually sent me my first assignment, so I’m already going.Any hints on what it is?I can’t say, no. With someone of her reach and influence, we couldn’t just not say anything. I have a lot of hope for how people are taking initiative on themselves to do the right thing, and seeing people writing to MPs to oppose transphobia, which is not something that I ever thought I would see. At the end of the day, Pride is political. I hope that when Black people that don’t realize it already, that homophobia and transphobia are products of the same source of power that oppresses us on behalf of our race, I hope that they rally around us and protect us and realize that we’re stronger together. So I’m hoping that we speak about systemic racism throughout everything. Our form of racism is much different to American racism, obviously, because we’ve got different histories.”What we’ve been saying in activist circles for decades is now becoming much more of household conversation.”But it’s less overt, and much more insidious. So when they see that we don’t have physical Pride, I think a lot of people think it’s just free rein and that it’s canceled this year. We collectively channeled a lot of energy into it, but was it a distraction that we shouldn’t have allowed? As long as we’ve got community, we’ve got Pride.”But a lot of people had forgotten about the political angle of Pride. They essentially set it up to get me sacked from a position with a children’s charity, and it worked.Unfortunately, people that are part of them also have a strong footing in the conservative media and are being funded by the evangelical Christian Church, who also fund Donald Trump and the tabloids. It’s such a shame; It’s a real shame. Glamorous images of Bergdorf sit side by side between calls to action and infographics sharing vital political resources. I do think it was a distraction tactic, because a few days after she posted that awful essay, Boris Johnson announced he would be winding back transgender rights. I want to see queer people basking in their queerness and not having to only show a certain side of it. You’re not turning this into a trend. It became very, very corporate. And obviously, that’s a holdover from colonialism and white supremacy, because transphobia is a product of white supremacy. There’s Black men that are abusive, but Black men aren’t abusive by nature. And if she does, then she’s not willing to acknowledge it. It needs to be a movement, not a moment.How did you feel when you saw L’Oreal’s post about “speaking out”?I thought, You’re not doing this. I’m looking to push the brand as far as they can go and challenge them. If we can become more unified as a community, then that’s so much more power within our community, that’s so much more ability to get things done and hold people accountable and make sure that white supremacist ideologies are squashed and stifled. So yeah, I do definitely think [Rowling’s] made more people aware of how deep this goes and how counterproductive it is to progress. There’s abusers in every community. We’re seeing a lot of marginalized people come into the spotlight with shows such as Pose, Netflix shows being a savior of LGBTQ representation. What we’re experiencing right now is a mass awakening to this subject. It’s everything that leads up to that person getting a job as a policeman and then disseminating their white supremacy through their profession. I think we lost our way with Pride, looking back. Trans women fought for all of the community. Photography: Bryan Huynh
Fashion editing: Matthew Josephs
3D art lead: Rodolfo Hernandez
Art direction: Jonathan Conrad
3D clothing art: Jiyoon Myung
3D face art: Patrick Blankenzee
3D accessories design: Joohee Jeon, Yousun Hong But just bear in mind going forward—Voldemort was trans.Voldemort was butch and trans.For our 2020 Pride cover series, PAPER tapped photographer Bryan Huynh — and his team of digital art pros led by Rodolfo Hernandez and Willem Stapel — to reimagine our subjects, sculpt their bodies and transport them into otherworldly environments.The experimental production began with a Zoom — connecting with each talent over video and talking them through the process of a face/ head scan iPhone app. but don’t buy her other stuff.I already got my Harry Potter tattoo covered though, and I will not be getting any more.It’s a personal choice. We should definitely honor that and draw the power from the books and draw the power from the memories… There’s gay men who are abusers, but not all gay men are sexually abusive. I never thought that I would see white people reckoning with their own white supremacy and their own internalized white supremacy and trying to decolonize their mindset.I feel positive because this will all filter into everything that we’re not addressing, such as dating, such as we’re not really reckoning with Black people’s experience in healthcare yet, and how Black women aren’t believed when it comes to pain, which leads to childbirth becoming a leading killer of Black women. But I don’t think that she knows any trans people, no.When JK Rowling was mouthing off, I was talking to our mutual friend Shon Faye. It’s like your faith coming out and saying something against you. Three years ago, Bergdorf was fired by L’Oreal Paris as their spokesmodel after posting on Facebook about the violence of white supremacy in the wake of Charlottesville. you do NOT get to do this. We need to be lending our voices, our privilege, our resources, our allyship and making sure that every single person within the community is being called up. It’s all linked, and we need to be aware of how linked it is so that we can all do the right thing and put pressures on MPs to stand up against this legislation.Speaking of transphobia in the UK, we have to talk about the JK Rowling of it all. He’s also saying he’s going to be looking into women-only spaces and protecting them. Obviously a lot of it has been virtue signaling and a lot of it has been wanting to lend their voice to the narrative and help, but not knowing how.So I’m hoping we’re in a period of recalibration, where white people won’t need so much guidance in deconstructing racism, and it won’t fall so much on our shoulders, or transphobia — all forms of oppression. Of course there’s going to be a trans woman who’s an abuser, but they take that one instance, circulate it and make out to seem like all trans women are sexual abusers by nature, which is so dangerous. It’s never-ending at the moment.I feel like I can cope better if I’m of use to my community. Delphine Viguier, the new global brand president, really wants to do the right thing. As long as we’ve got community, we’ve got Pride. Now you’ve joined their diversity board. It’s through organizations. I think that there’s so many people that have emotional attachments to those books. It was a Black trans woman that started the gay rights movement, yet we’re still the ones fighting for our rights within our own communities. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see some receipts for that.I’ve been one of their biggest critics over the past three years, obviously, and it’s a really bold move for them to involve one of their biggest critics at the table. What we’ve been saying in activist circles for decades is now becoming much more of household conversation.The movement has really spread to every sector of society. And now that Pride Month’s canceled, all bets are off.I don’t think that you can know trans people and recognize the humanity in us and talk about us this way. It’s exciting, and I’m really happy that they’ve taken the initiative to involve me in these conversations. I’ve got a really tumultuous history with these people. My first thought was for trans youth and how awful that must have felt for a trans kid to see one of the biggest authors in the world, in history, essentially condemn trans people, and paint us out to be mentally ill, and take away our autonomy of identity and suggest that trans men only transition to avoid violence, like trans people don’t encounter violence every day. At the beginning, I was very frustrated and didn’t really have the tools to act on what I was thinking, feeling and experiencing. I think that what Daniel Radcliffe said was incredible. One of the big reasons why we’re marginalized as a community is because we’ve been divided and conquered. And all of this is happening during Pride month, so now really isn’t the time for me to go dark on social media. Are you feeling hopeful about the future? And I feel like a lot of Black people were really scared about Black Lives Matter becoming a trend, because there can’t be a trend. I’m excited to be a Black queer and trans woman at the table of one of the biggest beauty companies in the world. I want to make sure I’m doing everything I can, and also hopefully inspiring other people to be more politically active and make them aware of what we can do, like signing petitions, reframing narratives, making people aware of protests, writing to your MPs, writing to your representatives. I think we know that, but I don’t think that heterosexual, cisgender society knows that. We needed that. I couldn’t even talk to my teachers about it because they couldn’t condemn the bully for homophobically bullying me. I don’t think she recognizes the harm behind her words. I hope that all privileged people understand their privilege within this time and realize how they can contribute to helping deconstruct it.What was it like as a Black woman in the UK to see how the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and others sparked a new push to dismantle white supremacy in the US, and has now spread around the world?Obviously it was awful to see that, and to see Black lives, consistently broadcast over the internet, being extinguished by police and violence and dehumanized in that way. Bergdorf is currently asking her followers to make complaints to the British parliament.Related | Christine and the Queens Was Born to RuleRemarkably, Bergdorf is able to face all this with steely resolve, cheeky humor and grace. I don’t think a lot of people did [these things] before this period of time. There’s no stats to suggest that trans people are sexual abusers by nature. That’s not taking into consideration the fact that trans women experience disproportional sexual violence. Alongside subjects’ features, Huynh’s team sculpted digital bodies posing talent into positions that would match their unique environments, which were also digitally made by hand.When it came to the fashion, stylist Matthew Josephs worked closely with our cover stars, as if they were on set, to ensure their individual aesthetics translated in pictures. How did you feel about her transphobic shitstorm? He is suggesting that we’re not going to be able to use women’s refuges or public toilets.”I want to see full-bodied representation, nuanced representation, revolutionary representation. And it’s very reminiscent of what gay men went through in the ’80s and ’90s with suggesting that gay men shouldn’t be teachers or present in schools.In the UK, we had a legislation called Section 28, which prohibited the promotion of homosexuality in schools, which meant that you couldn’t even talk about it. If you lose hope, then you lose everything. You also question how intentional it is, and it’s definitely intentional because COVID-19 has lifted the veil, as it were, on racial disparities. Never one to turn down a chance to chat with a good Judy, I calculated the time difference and spoke with Munroe about “trying to navigate a literal uprising” and how she’s still “choosing to see the good in that rather than the fact that the people running our countries are completely inept and probably Nazis.”Are you feeling the pressure to be extremely online right now, or are you giving yourself time to disconnect and unplug?I really haven’t had any time to disconnect and unplug. It didn’t feel like talent to brand. Munroe Bergdorf’s Instagram may seem, at first glance, to be a study in opposites. She was saying it might be a good thing that JK Rowling finally exposed herself the way she has instead of talking around it, because in doing that, she’s exposed the rest of the world to how open TERFism is in the UK. I always feel hopeful. Ultimately, my activism over the past three years has definitely changed. It weighs really heavy. It didn’t feel like I was speaking to the president of L’Oreal. But at the moment, we’re so fractured as a community, it’s hard to get things done and hard to fight when you’re fighting against your own people as well as the powers that oppress you.Do you think everyone needs to get their Harry Potter tattoo covered?You know what? It’s horrendous and it’s also institutional. Josephs sent the final looks to Huynh’s team, who then built the clothing into their 3-D spaces.Three months of dedicated hard work later under COVID-19 restrictions, PAPER is proud to present this year’s Pride portfolio. So when I was in school, I was being homophobically bullied. It’s like Maxine Waters said, “Support controversial voices.”Is the movement in the UK and around the world doing enough to center Black Trans Lives?It was so heartening to see those 15,000 people show up for Black Trans Lives in Brooklyn. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that brands get involved in Pride. I do think that it did open a lot of people’s minds, but unfortunately, it’s also highlighted the fact that there’s a huge problem with transphobia within conservatism.You joke that there’s no Pride this year, and I’ve also been wondering, what is Pride during a pandemic, during a global reckoning with white supremacy, during a movement in America to defund and abolish the police? So I would feel like a hypocrite if I said no to a brand that was actively looking to improve themselves.I’m excited to work with them. Even though there was obviously a win with Aimee Stephens’ case, the Supreme Court win, Donald Trump also announced that he would be winding back trans healthcare for trans people. We’re seeing queer talent, and marginalized voices and bodies become stars.”A lot of Black people were really scared about Black Lives Matter becoming a trend, because there can’t be a trend. Or was it something that we really had to call out?I think it’s important to call it out. It doesn’t take into account the reality of trans experiences. And in the UK, Boris Johnson is going to be reforming the Gender Recognition Act, she is winding back transgender rights. So I’m hoping to make sure I’m able to fill in the blanks, recognize the blind spots and reduce oversight. I got on a Zoom with them, and we had a conversation that was really human to human, woman to woman. So more now than ever, in our lifetime, in our generation, we are reminded that Pride is a protest. Earlier this month, Bergdorf called the brand out for their selective solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, writing on Instagram that the company “dropped me from a campaign in 2017 and threw me to the wolves for speaking out about racism and white supremacy… Or as a Black trans woman, are you hoping that white allies are going to be taking up a lot of that labor instead?One of the most exciting things about this period of time has been seeing white people become much more forthcoming with their allyship. But there was something different about this time, and it really inspired Black British people to speak up about our own oppression. And that can go either two ways: it can be really flattering or it can be really appropriative and reductive. Last year, I had a run in with one of them called Safe Schools Alliance. It can no longer be refuted.Black people are 50% more likely to die from COVID-19 and it’s not genetic. Three years ago, you were fired by L’Oreal for speaking out about white supremacy and called them out once again. I realize my activism needs to be rooted in a place of resolve and solution forming or solution building.I mean, we know what happened with L’Oreal the first time round, but when they posted that speaking out is worth it, I felt overlooked. I posted today about the link between transphobia and homophobia and racism and white supremacy, and how before colonialism impacted the world and slavery and European white supremacist rule, in ancient cultures, on every single continent except for Europe, trans people existed in one way, shape or form.”Our voices, our privilege, our resources, our allyship and making sure that every single person within the community is being called up.”Once people understand the root of transphobia, they’ll start to recognize that this is also what we’re fighting against. But we don’t take Rose West and say she’s a representation for all cisgender white women, do we? I really think that COVID-19 has lifted the veil, as I said, on how conservative governments prioritize profit over people and power over people rather than being willing to stand with progress. This is NOT okay, not even in the slightest.” Bergdorf’s appointment is long overdue as the UK grapples not only with systemic racism but violent, unchecked transphobia. Bergdorf was also recently subjected to public harassment from Emma Nicholson, a member of the House of Lords and business partner of JK Rowling, who shared transphobic memes and hate speech about Bergdorf on Twitter. That’s ridiculous.We’re seeing very much a repetition of that and transphobia in the UK is rife. How are you feeling about that?I feel really positive about it. It was just so tone deaf and willfully ignorant.Do you think JK Rowling actually knows any trans people, as she’s repeatedly claimed?I hope there is a pushback from the new allyship. So I hope I can get people more actively involved rather than withdrawing.With your platform and your work as an activist, do you feel like that burden of sharing information and resources is on you? So I think people are becoming a lot more aware of the fact that we’ve been kept numb with regards to these issues.