Activists Gather…

Every so often a swell of activity on the uk-bi-activism email list results in a ‘Bi Activism Weekend’ being organised. This usually means we find a town with a suitable venue and arrange to turn up there on a Saturday and Sunday and have useful discussions about what’s going on around the country in terms of bisexual-related activities, and what the attendees would like to see happening. They are open to anyone who is interested in attending but they aren’t suitable as a first-ever bisexual event. They’re intended to happen roughly every six months.

In June one of these meetings took place in London. About 25 people attended; this was the second event like this I had attended, but my first was quite some time ago. The weekend began with a meeting of people involved with BiUK, the group for those doing academic work concerning bisexuality. I didn’t attend this, but the minutes tell me the discussion covered topics such as the possibility of getting funding for  analysis of BiCon survey data, and the use of surveys more generally – what information is useful, how could it be collected and what could be done with it? A BiReCon (Bi Research Conference) is being organised in 2012 (that’s a day run immediately prior to BiCon which includes presentations and discussions about bisexual research topics) and its theme will be Mental Health, so early plans are underway for that. There were also discussions about producing guidelines to help others who want to do research on bisexuality, and about ways to make research more accessible.

On the Saturday afternoon the main meeting began. The first item was to pick a date for the next meeting – which means another weekend activist meeting will happen in about six months’ time. There was some feedback from the earlier BiUK session, and then we had a presentation about software written by one of the attendees for producing anthologies, which could make it easier for people to produce collections of writing on issues such as bisexuality.

After this, we moved on to Saturday’s main focus – an ideas and prioritising exercise based on a concept called Ketso, which was similar in some ways to mind-mapping, but more focused. In brief, we placed card shapes on a large card sheet, working from a core idea outwards through related ideas, things we could do, old or current activities related to the topic, new things related to the topic we wanted to see happen, possible problems and ways we might tackle them and things we wanted to focus our efforts on. The final result was three ‘tree’ diagrams covered with ideas and thoughts about different areas of bisexual activism. The core topics chosen by the three groups were ‘Respect for Difference’, ‘Visibility’ and ‘Enhancing Well-being’. There was a lot of consideration of the issue of ‘burnout’ and how to support people who are working on bisexual issues or events. All the groups also discussed the media and representations of bi people, and how the main events and resources we have available at the moment (BiCon, BCN, BiFests and some websites) fit into the broader picture of what is going on across the community and what people might like to see happen. This was a really interesting exercise, and definitely got me thinking about how I could contribute to making things happen.

We discussed the results of this and particularly considered ways to work with the media and improve the representation of bi people; supporting activists and avoiding burnout; and the issue of funding and resources.

We began the Sunday morning with a discussion about diversity and inclusion in the bi community. These are really big issues and we agreed fairly unanimously that this is a very high priority for us as activists to tackle – this was obvious from the previous day’s ideas exercise, too. Anyone who comes to a BiCon (for example) could see that there are very few people of colour there, and that a lot of people who attend share a similar background in terms of factors like their education, some of their interests, and could be said to be of a similar social class. People of colour who do come to BiCon report overwhelmingly frequently that they experience racism and prejudice, with other attendees making assumptions about them, saying rude or inappropriate things, and making them feel very uncomfortable or unwelcome. It’s important to end this situation simply because racism and prejudice are wrong – but on top of that, if bisexual events and resources are unwelcoming and off-putting to people of colour or people who don’t share a similar background to many of the regular attendees, this bisexual community is excluding and ignoring people whose talents and voices would be a valuable addition to it, and so limiting its influence and power to create change.

We agreed that as it would be impossible to ensure no person at a bi event ever said something racist or prejudiced to another attendee, it is really important to get the response to these incidents right, at the same time as trying to reduce them. We discussed ways to do this, as well as issues such as the use of safe spaces (which we very much supported), how to educate ourselves and share information with others, particular ways to make BiCon more welcoming and to consider these issues throughout the organisation of events, and how to reach out to different ethnic communities in towns where bisexual groups or events are being run. This was a long and detailed discussion but we knew it was only a small start on dealing with these issues – activists have to be listening to people of colour’s experiences without making them do the work of educating the community, and this is a long process. We have a list of actions to get us started!

We thought it would be a good idea to have some proper training on race issues in particular, and the email list is discussing the best way to go about this and who the most appropriate audience would be.
We moved on to talk about outreach and publicity in general. Lots of ideas were brought up and there was an interesting discussion about what kinds of non-internet publicity could be used – magazines, community radio stations, flyers, and so on.

We discussed events – this was mostly about alerting each other to what events are being planned and what each one involves. There’s a wide range of types of event going on across the country, and a number of new things potentially in the planning stages. (Watch this space – BCN Ed)

In the afternoon we started off with a discussion about same-sex marriage/opposite-sex civil partnership. We touched on issues like the fact that the two are different so keeping both might be a good thing to do, the issues for trans people and obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate (which means ending your marriage or civil partnership before you can be recognised in your correct gender), and issues around international recognition of different legal relationships. See a separate piece about that in this BCN.

After this, we looked at skill-swapping. The idea was that none of us should be doing tasks we hate – we should be doing the things we find fun and inspiring, as we are all volunteers and want to stay involved and motivated. As we called out activist jobs we really love doing, it was surprising to see that actually other people do often like doing things we hate or can’t manage, from proof-reading to stuffing envelopes. After making our list of skills we talked about upcoming events and other activities which need different kinds of jobs doing to make them happen.

To finish the afternoon we looked at a Government action plan, launched in March, called “Working for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Equality: Moving Forward”. It follows up the June 2010 work plan “Working for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Equality” and reports progress on the actions the Government planned to take to advance LGBT equality. We noticed that the phrases ‘homophobia and transphobia’ and ‘gay sex’ were often used, both of which tend to exclude bisexual concerns. We talked about ways to provide input into this scheme of work (for example, getting the Equalities Office involved with a BiCon workshop) and agreed that it would be useful to put together a list spelling out what issues are specifically bi, rather than lesbian or gay – the BiUK group will work on this. We should make clear that the Government can’t make points about a whole group (LGBT people) while not looking at one part of it. We also talked about making Freedom of Information requests (if necessary) to ask about progress on the actions planned by the Government.

I haven’t been able to cover everything in detail here or tell you all the actions we agreed people would take as a result of the meeting. I mostly wrote this to keep you informed about what the activist group is discussing – but I hope that if you are interested in these issues and think you might have something to contribute, that you consider joining the email list (uk-bi-activism on Yahoogroups) and perhaps coming to the next weekend meeting. I am pretty new to all this activism stuff myself and have never been involved in running a bi event (sitting at a stall at Pride is as far as I’ve got!) but I felt very welcome and was able to make some contributions. I went to the meeting because I wanted to see what I could to to help more exciting bi things happen, and make the existing events and other bi things even better. I found the weekend very encouraging on that score!

I’d like to thank everyone who attended the meeting for making it so interesting and positive, and particularly Sharon for chairing it and keeping us all on course, and Meg for producing really useful minutes (and finding the venue!).