Sometimes life means you need to step down for a while. We talked to Jayne, who has just finished a run at the helm of BiWessex.
How did you get involved with BiWessex?
By the time I was in my early twenties, I’d had relationships with people of different genders and so it was clear to me that I was attracted to people regardless of their gender. However, at the time, everyone I met was either ‘straight’ or ‘gay’ – I hadn’t even heard of bisexuality and so I came to the conclusion that I was just weird. It wasn’t until years later when I went along to an equalities conference through my involvement in the trade union movement that I noticed that there was a breakout group for people who identified as bisexual, and I thought, ‘ooh, that’s me.’ I went along, half expecting there to be nobody else there except for me, but of course others were there, and I met openly bi people for the first time. Shortly afterwards, I plucked up the courage to go along to the LGBT+ staff network at the university I was working at, came out as bi and met others who were too. The realisation that bisexuality was actually a ‘thing’ and the fact that there were other people out there like me led me to search for specifically bi groups in Hampshire. Through random internet searches, I eventually found BiWessex and started attending meetups.
I had been attending the group fairly regularly for a couple of years when the person who was running the group informed me that they had secured a job abroad and so could no longer continue running BiWessex. They thought that I ought to run BiWessex since I’d been the most regular attendee. At first I was unsure about this because I still didn’t feel that confident in my sexuality and so I tried to persuade others to run the group instead, but nobody agreed to do it, so I thought I might as well give it a try.
How did you learn how to run it? Did you have other experience, did people stay around and show you how to do it, or was it all learned on the fly?
I’ve been doing voluntary work in various different areas for over 20 years now, but I’d never done anything related to LGBT+ activism, so running BiWessex was a new area for me. The previous coordinator left rather suddenly to take up their new job abroad, and so just gave me a bag of resources and the usernames and passwords for various email and social media accounts linked to BiWessex. Most of what I have done has been learnt as I’ve gone along. Initially, I tried to follow a similar pattern to previous meetups, but as I became more confident, I asked attendees what they wanted to do, planned some different activities and tried to change up the venues more. I also played around with days and times of meetups to attract as many people as possible.
What’s the group been up to in the past couple of years?
We’ve had lots of informal meetups in cafes and pubs as well as well as a picnic, and other fun get-togethers with activities such as karaoke, quizzes and board games. We’ve also celebrated BiVisibility Day, had a presence at Southampton Pride and enjoyed great links with other local LGBT+ organisations who have invited us along to participate in their events too.
How much time does organising that take in an average week or month?
As with any voluntary role, it’s as much or as little as you are able to give at any given time. I have tried generally to have a meetup once a month, but sometimes it hasn’t been possible due to my work and study commitments, so meetups then had longer gaps between them, but usually there has been a meetup at least once every two months, but often more frequently. Choosing a date, time and venue for a meetup doesn’t take too long, but sometimes more is involved in checking venues if they haven’t been used before. For example, I usually think about venues in terms of accessibility, dietary requirements, price, gender neutral toilets etc., and in some cases I needed to book a venue, and on occasion pay a deposit. The most time-consuming part of the organisation has been in promoting meetups and events, as not everybody uses social media or wants to be visible on it as going to a bi event, so I have promoted events via our mailing list as well as on Facebook and Twitter. Some BiWessexuals do not use email or social media and so they need to be texted about events. So to organise a basic meetup usually takes me a few hours a month. Events such as BiVisibility Day and Prides take longer to organise in terms of fund-raising, coordinating people to staff a stand of resources, organising materials, participating in parades, and so on, but these take place less often, and I have found that people tend to be more willing to help out at ‘one-off’ events like these.
Why is having bi groups important?
For me personally, coming to the group validated my identity and was an important step in acknowledging and becoming more confident in my own sexuality, and I know that others have found the group useful in their first steps on their journey too. I also think it is important to have a space to talk about specifically bi issues, such as biphobia and bi invisibility. When compared with either heterosexuals or lesbians and gay men, bi/pansexual people report poorer mental health, higher levels of anxiety and depression, more current adverse events and a higher frequency of financial problems (Stonewall, 2017). This means it is vital that we have our own network of support to counteract the reduced support that is available for people who identify as bi/pansexual.
What’s your advice for people thinking of volunteering with a bi group like this?
If you are coordinating a group like I have been doing, it is useful to network with other local LGBT+ groups as they can be a source of support. In my case, I developed links with two university groups, and we regularly share each others’ events to our respective networks. This means that bi people from the universities find out about BiWessex and come along to events, and BiWessexuals feel welcome to attend events within the wider local LGBT+ community. There are also various support groups online for organisers of bi groups which I have found helpful.
If you don’t feel that you can coordinate a group by yourself, you can still get involved. For example, on occasions when I was too busy to hold an event, other attendees said they would host it (i.e. be somewhere specific at a certain time on a particular date) and I promoted it for them, so you can take it in turns to ‘host’ or ‘promote’! The ideal situation would be where a few people get together and work as a team to share the workload so that it isn’t always one person coordinating an event.
Whether you are coordinating a group, helping out from time to time, or just attending a group, remember that we all have a part to play in sharing with and supporting others…we can make this world a bi-eautiful place!