BiFesting in London

BiFest is a one-day celebration of bisexuality and the bi community, with different versions held around the country. This year, London BiFest 2018 takes place on Saturday 18 August at the Kingston Quaker Centre in Kingston-Upon-Thames. Details at london.bifest.org.

In many ways London is a great place to organise a BiFest. Many of us already live here, most people can get here, and it’s got lots of venues. Unfortunately, what it doesn’t have is a lot of affordable, accessible, bi-friendly venues that are the right size for an event of around 100-130 people. Which was one of the reasons that London BiFest went on a few years’ hiatus between 2012 and 2017.
Last year, however, I found the BiFest Holy Grail, otherwise known as the Kingston Quaker Centre. It’s in Kingston-upon-Thames, which is in zone 6, so more or less technically London (with a Surrey postcode). And it’s a lovely venue. It’s a recent build and was designed with accessibility in mind – all one level, all wheelchair accessible, with gender neutral disabled toilets, and a kitchen, and a little garden, and disabled parking. It’s got enough space that we can have a main social and stall space, two session rooms, a quiet room, and a craft room. And it’s run by the Quakers, who are very LGBT-friendly. I booked it and ran a BiFest there in April 2017, and it went very well. So even though I was supposed to be taking a year off bi activism, I couldn’t resist doing it again.

The other reason I couldn’t resist is that thanks to last BiFest, I have local support for my organising. I was invited to join the committee of the Kingston LGBT Forum, which is a group that organises Kingston LGBT social, health and support events, and they’re going to host post-BiFest drinks at a nearby pub. Until recently, the committee was me and eleven gay men (we’ve now recruited another bi woman) so some of my activism is now focused on exploring how to ‘sell’ bisexuality to gay people who are supportive, but perhaps don’t always understand the specific issues involved. I’ve been emphasising the benefits of gay people coming to bi events – the chance to meet a more diverse selection of people, the chance to examine some of their own assumptions about the B in LGBT, and the chance to explore a different but overlapping community.

In a similar vein, BiFest this year is reaching out more to the wider LGBT community. I’ve divided most of the sessions up into 15 minute slots and I’ve invited LGBT community groups and organisations to come along and talk about what they do. Other groups are having stalls in the main hall, or organising a picnic in the garden, or running craft sessions.

As a result, it’s shaping up to be a very diverse and interesting event. Among others, we’ve got the Outside Project (which deals with LGBT homelessness), Stonewall Housing, Amnesty LGBTQI, G(end)erswap (which organises trans and non-binary clothes swaps), FTM London and TransPals UK, the Bisexual Index, Bi Pride, Stitch Bi Stitch, the Queer Black and POC Geek Group, and Opening Doors (for LGBT over-50s). On top of that, there’ll be queer crafts, blackout poetry, Speed Friending, activism… I don’t even know how we’ll fit all this into one afternoon, but it’s all coming together brilliantly.

I’ve also been exploring funding options – London BiFest is ongoingly funded by a loan from Bi Continuity, but this year Healthwatch Kingston and Healthwatch Sutton have also given us some funding in exchange for recruiting local LGBT people to be interviewed about their healthcare experiences. With that and the Kingston Forum’s involvement, this feels like a properly local, supported BiFest.
Other aspects remain the same as last year. We’ve reduced the cost of tickets (because it’s a shorter event than 2017’s) but we’re continuing to offer free tickets for people of colour/BME people as part of our policy to try to remove as many barriers as possible for people who might not otherwise come along. We’re still child-friendly – which is also an access issue – and we’ll have a small quiet room available through the afternoon for people who need to escape for a bit, with magazines and puzzle books etc.
We’ll also be asking people to complete an equality and diversity monitoring form as we did last year. This kind of data is vital for grassroots bi events, because there’s still not a lot of research into our community. For example, we discovered that of last year’s attendees, roughly a third had never been to a bi event before. Just over half of attendees had a disability of some kind (40% had a mental health disability). About a quarter didn’t define as male or female. 65% of attendees were cis (i.e. not trans), a quarter were trans and 10% weren’t sure. About 40% of people were polyamorous or non-monogamous. 28% weren’t white British.

In terms of sexual orientation, 63% defined as bisexual, 15% as pansexual, 8% as lesbian/gay, 6% as biromantic, 4% as queer, 4% as asexual, 2% as heterosexual, 2% as ’attracted to femininity’ and 2% as ’some people are hot’.

This year I’m hoping we’ll get a bigger sample (we had 48 completed forms out of 130 attendees) and be able to get even more accurate data.

Overall, with just over a month to go at the time of writing, I’m excited and happy about the way London BiFest is shaping up. Event organising is never stress-free, but I have a lot of friends helping me, and I can’t wait to see how it all goes. Hope to see you there.

Katy