Getting Bis onto Boards
At a Superbia event for Manchester Pride there was a question from the floor to a panel I was on. We were pressed for time at that “one last question to wrap up” stage so I didn’t get a chance to speak, but the questioner asked, and I paraphrase: “I’m the trustee of an LGBT charity, when we put out calls for volunteers to take on this or that role what we get coming forward is a bunch of white, cis, gay, men. Why?”
Well, it is an interesting question. Why don’t all those people from other backgrounds come forward? Why – to pick the topical strand for BCN readers – aren’t the bisexuals stepping up? Or the unspoken side question: why do the people who do step up not mention their bisexuality?
This is one of the big challenges for bisexual organising, too. We know, and Bi Visibility Day events and materials work hard to remind us, how things are different for bis. Not in the “double your chances of a date on a Friday night” kind of a way. If only. No, in the way that our mental health statistics are worse than those of gay and straight people. Our experience of being victims of domestic violence and other abuse are worse too. Economically, we earn less than gay, straight and lesbian people. We might be in the closet at work with all the negative consequences that has; but we might be in the closet at home too.
Now these are terrible facts and figures: issues where a lot of work is needed to change the way our world works. But I know what you are thinking – the vacancy on your board of trustees isn’t going to wait for that to happen.
But those facts should be telling you things about the pool of people of whom most of your bisexual volunteers, bisexual organisers, bisexual group steering committees, are made up.
Those statistics aren’t just there to frighten us. They are us.
So when you ask: can we have a bisexual person with free time, great qualifications and experience in these demanding roles from which they will have skills that our charity’s board needs, and why aren’t they coming forward?
Those people you would be looking to are the people who didn’t get those promotions because of how biphobia limits their career. That lower income means they’re worried whether they can afford to come to all your meetings and fundraising shin-digs.
Those people you would be looking to are the people who don’t get to be out and proud because it upsets their non-bi partner if they “keep going on” about being bisexual.
Those people you would be looking to are the people who don’t “look the part” perhaps because the intersectional identities they have mean they don’t have the right professional look-and-feel that you warm to, or whose bisexuality you are oblivious to because they tick some other box.
Those people you would be looking to are the people who have those mental health challenges you have read the statistics about and who aren’t sure your organisation would be tolerant when their health meant they needed to take some time out. Who use up their mental and social energy holding down that job and don’t have the extra to spare that you need, because they are weaving their way through a gay-straight world.
This is not meant to be a counsel of despair, though it does read that way. And I know some will be saying: there are plenty of burned-out or fighting-health-issues gay and straight people. Yes there are, far too many. But like for like, more of the bis are dealing with those problems.
We can change this.
Well, you and your organisation can change this.
I’d love to see more mentoring and support rolled out for bi people. Don’t ask for a new treasurer or chief exec; invite the groups who never get represented on your boards to shadow and be mentored by the person already doing it. They may wind up volunteering for some other organisation instead: so be it.
We can’t do it on our own. But we would benefit from it, and so would you. We could have a programme across business and the heavyweight end of the voluntary sector to give the bis who should be on your boards the skills and authority they need to take their seat at the table. Who’s up for it?