Monday, 30 June 2014

Bi Volunteering Diary

This post may seem a bit self-indulgent or congratulatory, but every so often people badger me to get this or that done on queer activism and seem to find it hard to imagine why I don't deal with that particular thing. So an incomplete diary of last week's bi activist shenanigans: it wasn't an especially busy week, I just decided to make some notes as I went along. Done around having a low-paid day job that is nothing to do with lgBt, partners, important radio listening, slouching on a sofa and so forth. So, if I didn't do the thing you were hoping for, I was probably taking care of stuff like this instead...

Monday. From midnight to 2am, try to work out why a PDF isn't generating properly of the otherwise finished artwork for the new issue of BCN. Get to bed when it finally does what it should do. Over breakfast, upload the PDF to the print house's servers. And go off to the day-job for a rather taxing day.

Monday evening, book a last-minute stall at small local Pride festival a few miles away. I wasn't going to do this, but the stall we did recently at a Pride some 50 miles away reached a lot of people who were clearly really happy to find something specific for bis at last, so I'm on a bit of a high. I suspect this weekend's event won't have such a sunny day and such luxurious icecream, but I'm on a high from last time so let's give up another Saturday eh?

Jot down a few ideas for a piece for a book on bi life someone's writing. I usually get these at the wrong time, like when I'm in the bath or on a bus somewhere and my thoughts will have flown by the time I get anything onto paper.


Tuesday. After work, spin up the database to generate mailing labels and get the envelopes stickered up for a magazine mailing. Over the years I have developed very fine labelling skills for getting envelopes labelled up in the most efficient way possible! Talk with Katie who is our finance person about when we can arrange for me to get back a load of expenses owed. Some tweeting and facebooking about Pride London and about Tameside Pride. A researcher who we helped last year gets back in touch, so I thank them for being one of the rare breed of researchers who are conscientious about feeding back to the community after - a practice I try hard to encourage! Jot down first thoughts about what's going in the August edition of BCN. Line up a story on BiMedia about same-sex partnership recognition on the Isle of Man.


Wednesday. Early in the morning BCN arrives from the print house; this means it's time for a BCN stuffing party! Call in enough pairs of hands and ensure tea and cake to keep up the stuffing momentum. Lug the first two bags to the post office and get them out into the post.

Around all this, find out that the organisers of the bi entry for Pride London have realised the banner they were going to use has gone awol. Contact people nearby who I think are going to London this weekend to see if anyone can take our banners down - no joy. Run up some designs for banners, get feedback from some people in London, run up some further designs, get more feedback and do more artwork tweakery. Find a print company and order the pair of them to be made as a rush job and off it all goes. Not used this print house before, fingers tightly crossed that they will do a good job.

Post this week's edition of my "what I'm doing at the moment" bi activism blog, which is not on blogspot.


Thursday. Before work, line up some news items about today's announcements re Civil Partnership and Marriage reform in Wales & England. Bill in the post goes onto the BCN "stuff to sort out" pile for the next time we have a finance meeting. Notice a news release about the TUC's LGBT conference which has decided it is against homophobia, with nary a mention of transphobia & biphobia, which I could blog about...

Instead go for dinner with one of my partners. Generally, take an evening "off the grid". Someone else can grump at the TUC for us, I'm sure.


Friday. Run round a quick circular about Tameside Pride on email lists. Talk to people in the USA about some problems they've picked up on. Tweet a bit about Bi Visibility Day and try to engage some other organisations in thinking about what they are doing in three months' time, so we get information in before September rather than all in a rush in the final week.

Find a soundcloud podcast of a meeting recently hosted by the council - feel glad I didn't attend as the whole thing is achingly LGbT and I'd only have been disenchanted. The good thing about podcasts is you can do the housework while they play...


Saturday. Get up early, take three trains and a bus ride to run the bi stall at a small local Pride. Awesomely [thanks to the power of the internet on my phone] get to see photos of the new bi banners being unveiled at Pride London 200 miles away. Run stall for four or five hours, chatter with a wide range of stall visitors, give out different leaflets and resources according to their needs. It's a small event but there are a couple of stall visitors for whom I think us being there has been really important. Feel loved as a stallholder when the event organisers bring us fruit and cake.

Public transport wends me slowly home and there I find an email waiting. Someone wants to reference a particular item in an old issue of BCN but it is not yet on the website. Get it up on the web for them as a rush job and settle down for dinner before catching up with two of my partners and generally going floomp on a sofa.


Sunday. Fried breakfast, shopping, an afternoon of watching episodes of Doctor Who from the 1960s, and a game of Civ.  Eager volunteers need time away from activism too :)

Sunday, 22 June 2014

September 23rd and hashtags

A debate has opened up amongst some bi activists and groups online about how best to hashtag September 23rd this year on the twitternets.

This may seem a bit navel-gazing a question, but how we hashtag it has an important impact on how the 'official' name branding is perceived. In turn, what happens on the date, and who engages with it and how will be affected. And a combined, shared hashtag will get more momentum and attention - it is "good for SEO" I'm told.

Some of the suggestions bouncing around are:


The last one - #internationalcelebratebisexualityday - is the historically accurate name. It sums up what we want to do well, for all that it was I believe originally meant to focus inwardly on celebrating the (organised) bi community and has changed over time to be more outward looking. 

Unfortunately, it's about a third of a tweet in itself - as well as being a bugger to type on a small phone and an unwieldy name for dropping into conversation. Go do a radio interview where you need to mention what the date is called ten times and you will soon learn to hate such a bold selection of multisyllabic words.

As a consequence, #celebratebisexualityday developed some traction as a name. The trouble is that online there is a strong tendency for things to slip into the idea that "America is the world", and just losing the "international" I worry sends a signal that it's OK to talk of a September 23 that goes just as far as the Canadian and Mexican borders and not a step further. 

This ties in to a conversation among some UK bi activists a few years ago about better, friendlier branding for the date.  I have to say I was in the "sticky" camp of continuing to try and get traction on our existing branding, but was persuaded otherwise.

There seem to be two main contenders for alternative directions to go in.

#BiPrideDay (and related, #BiPride) takes the existing common notion of gay / LGBT+ Pride, which is nice and clear. The downsides are first that for people who want to organise and bring bis together, it suggests quite a specific set of things to do - Pride being associated with a moderately narrow range of festival models these days. For me there is also an implication that we have abandoned LGBT Prides (the ones 'we' invented!) and so the LGBT prides that significantly fail on bisexual engagement or representation have a get-out clause. #BiPride feels good for bi visibility over general LGBT Pride season, but lacks a focus on September 23rd. It's a bit like tagging IDAHO(BIT) as #lgbtPride.

#BiVisibilityDay names one of our biggest challenges as people and as a community and its solution in the name. By not being 'Pride' it opens up more space around ways people - bi or ally - might mark the date and seek to advance bisexual visibility, of people or of community. Only bis can have bi pride, but allies of bis can help raise the bi profile. On the downside it lack the familiarity of a "Pride" branding - but then IDAHO(BIT) and TDOR have that same issue and have still achieved decent levels of momentum and 'brand recognition' over time.

The blurring between those two is #BiDay. That's a lot shorter than #BiVisibilityDay so you can fit more content into your tweets.

It's about bisexuals and it's on a specific day. In the spirit of Bisexual Index's work to define bisexuality in as few words as possible so that there aren't stray words in there excluding people, #BiDay probably does the job of summarising September 23rd best.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Bisexual or bi-sexual?

One question that's cropped up many times in my 20-something years of bi activism and bi volunteering is this:

Should bisexual and bisexuality be spelled with hyphens, as bi-sexual and bi-sexuality?

I say, down with the hyphen! Two reasons:

1) We don't hyphenate homo-sexuality or hetero-sexuality.

2) Generally when words get hyphenated like that it's because they aren't real words or are just getting accepted into English as a single word (think of old films where to indicate the passage of time they have a flipping calendar with "TO-DAY IS" on it -- or how early on people tended to write email as e-mail). As bisexuality is real and definitely not something invented earlier this week, I think the hyphen sends out all the wrong signals on that front too.

I wrote this in a thread somewhere else but thought it was worth copying over here :)

Friday, 23 May 2014

England swings Right

With almost all the council election results in (there seem to be far fewer seats up than in 2010 which I'm a bit puzzled by) we've got a fair idea of the outcome of this year's May council elections, over which to ruminate wildly while waiting for the European election count this Sunday.

Across England the shift in seats is rightwards: towards the fear of your neighbour and the promise of a "better yesterday"-ism from Tory to UKIP, and similarly toward a more authoritarian, monocultural society in shifting from Liberal to Green.

Labour have picked up seats but their vote seems to have stalled. Like some of the county council seat results last year, when looking ward by ward at different councils today I kept finding find someone had got in not because Labour support has risen but because the voters seeking to oust them have shuffled between other parties and the famed 'split opposition' aspect of First Past The Post has done its work.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Chwarae Teg

Fair play to the BNP*, normally when I get a bit of paper through my letterbox with racism on it, it's from the Labour Party.

Hopefully despite going for the same values as Manchester Labour, Griffin will nonetheless be out on his arse come Sunday.

* not a phrase that comes easily

Saturday, 17 May 2014

My speech for the Manchester IDAHOBIT vigil today


Why ram in the B, people ask. It is controversial, even with the international IDAHOBIT committee.

In Australia today there's a film festival to mark IDAHOBIT. In their publicity they have said it is an LGBT event, challenging homophobia and transphobia and a celebration of lesbian, gay and transgender life.

Colleagues from the equivalents of BiPhoria down under have challenged this, not surprisingly. Is the B in that LGBT just there to make up the numbers?

And they were told: biphobia is just a subset of homophobia, it doesn't need mentioning.

I understand how people come to say that - it has long been the accepted idea of bisexuality. Half gay, half the oppression. Growing up and coming out into queer culture 20 or so years ago it was the received wisdom that I received too.

We didn't know better because bi voices had not reached that critical mass. And that connects to the wider world issues that IDAHOBIT draws to our attention, because then we similarly just couldnt know what was happening for queers in other nations.

And just as we have started thanks to the internets to learn of how things may be good or bad abroad, we have come to understand a lot more of life here in the UK too, and to have research on bi life rather than just the odd bit of anecdote.

Because when we started to learn from one another, it all got a bit more frightening.

Across Europe, 50% of lesbians and gay men are out at work. Fifty percent. That's great! Except... when we think of the maths adding up to 100. That means 50% aren't, often because they don't feel it would be safe or wise.

But then: only 27% of bi women are out at work
And 14% of bi men.

86% of the men in my community keeping themselves in the closet because of prejudice in the workplace, even in countries like ours where the law offers some kind of protection.

Just yesterday I got an email to BiPhoria from someone who had sought support at their LGBT staff network, "employee at national law firm... Weird how lgbt groups, like mine at my work can make me feel less included than not having one at all." Because biphobia comes from inside the gay community too.

Three years ago a report on queer people's health found one in five bi women rated their health as fair or worse than that. For gay and straight women it was one in ten.

When it came to their mental health, four per cent of straight women reported a long term illness. 12% of lesbians. But 21% of bi women.

And the statistics on women who experience rape, physical violence and stalking: straight 35%, lesbian 44%, bi 61%.

Not that 35% is a number any of us can be happy with.

Double the violent abuse. Five times the levels of mental health struggles.

So biphobia, it's not just a milder version of homophobia. A Manchester Labour councillor told me a year or so ago, bisexuals aren't part of LGBT because they don't experience oppression. The facts just don't bear that belief out.

And yet, this isn't that the world is getting worse. It is, in places, as the voting in Eurovision last weekend showed sometimes it can feel like the world is becoming more polarised for or against us. We have to stop and remember 20, 30, 40 years ago it didn't seem as polarised because it was even more one-sided. Slowly the tide of history is flowing our way even if sometimes it ebbs and flows

So, thank you for inviting me, it's a slightly scary privilege to speak alongside some of the colleagues I am here with today, and thank you for standing with us in the ongoing fight with homophobia, biphobia and transphobia

Friday, 16 May 2014

Why the Greens wouldn't get my second vote under AV

As a vaguely unaligned lefty voter back in the late 80s and early 90s I wandered between Plaid Cymru, the Greens and the Liberals. If you're of the left and grow up in a Labour heartland you rapidly learn how little interest in anyone or anything but their own self-interest Labour have so they weren't ever a serious contender.

Back then the Green Party looked like a plausible alternative to vote for. Indeed I've argued that if we were starting our political system from scratch in the UK, with parties based on the key issues of the coming century rather than the vested financial self-interest politics of the old century, the two main parties would be the Liberals on the left and the Greens on the right (and no doubt UKIP as a third party to soak up the ever present blame-someone-else vote).

The trouble is as they've gained the proverbial oxygen of publicity the Greens look less and less appealing.

There was Iraq, obviously. Before the 2003 invasion the Greens stood alongside the Liberals and a motley assortment of others (Respect, the BNP... look, never blame an idea for those who share it!) as against the invasion. There was some debate within that broad coalition as to when or whether it might be OK to go in, but right up to the day America and her allies rolled in conditions like UN backing were never met.

When war was declared everyone against the invasion needed to reassess their stance given the "there must not be an invasion" boat had sailed. The Liberals said they hoped for as short a conflict as possible with the minimum of civilian casualties. The Greens immediately and loudly condemned that stance. The trouble is, with no option for "war never happening", the only place that being against a short and comparatively bloodless battle leaves you is calling for a long and bloody war and / or as many civilian dead as can be piled up.

It's not that surprising: after all, a long war which forced up the oil price is better for forcing the pace of change to alternative energy sources or reductions in energy use. A painful war in Iraq fits with a (the?) central plank of the Green Party's agenda.

Yet because they get so little attention most of the time they've been able to keep a swathe of anti-war votes from internationalist and humanitarian voters, despite their real position.

And their money-tree solutions to so many things... great for bandwagon jumping, terrible for actually having to put promises into action as the unravelling of their Brighton council administration reflects. Making the numbers at least broadly add up was something the Liberals learned from the 1992 election; the Greens still have to go through that uncomfortable stage.

Then earlier this week I had the dubious pleasure of hearing the Greens' national spokesperson on Human Rights (Peter Tatchell, who whatever you think of his tactics down the years has a broad and long history in LGbt campaigning) repeatedly use "straight" as the antonym of "trans" at an LGBT public meeting. We've had "cis" as a proper word for such purposes for a good long while now, we aren't stuck with the clumsy language of the 70s any more.

As Carter would say: I turn on the box, it's like punk never happened.

They'd like to get votes by promising a money tree to everyone, when we're more aware where that leads than ever. They like to get votes from seeming fluffy on Iraq, when they were bloodthirsty hawks. And they would like to get votes from the LGBT+ communities, but even their out candidates have no interest in listening, just preaching.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Manchester Council takes another step in recognising bisexuality

Until not so long ago Manchester City Council had the non-existence of bisexuals as a matter of policy. No, really: in service use monitoring, equal opportunities policies and suchlike, the official line was "at those times a bisexual is lesbian or gay they are covered by those policies and at those times they are heterosexual..."

Things are improving.

They've just published the annual Communities Of Interest report, which is a kind of "here is the evidence base" document on diversity concerns for the council and for voluntary and private sector organisations they work with. This has been published for many years now, and each time has a section on LG(B)(T).

This is the first time there's been a bi section. Previously we were a subset of lesbians, which, hmmm.

Full report here. Flick past the first 64 pages and you come to:
9.3 Bisexual community
Recent research carried out by BiPhoria in Manchester has suggested that being visible, being included and being acknowledged are some of the main issues for Manchester’s bisexual community. Bisexual people can often experience discrimination from both the gay and heterosexual communities, and at an LGBT Discussion Day event, hosted by the Council in 2011, BiPhoria found that people wanted bisexuality to be referenced explicitly in literature and wanted services to engage more with the bisexual community. This has been a key action for the group since 2011. Bisexual ‘invisibility’, along with bi-erasure and biphobia are recognised as the most common challenges for bisexual people.

Biphobia may be characterised as taking four key forms:
––Similar to homophobia
––Similar to heterophobia
––Structural or institutional biphobia
––Internalised biphobia absorbed from a culture of the first three.

Manchester has one of the highest profile bisexual communities in the UK and is home to BiPhoria, and the bisexual magazine Bi Community News. As with any other group that experiences oppression, bisexual people may also encounter additional prejudice due to intersectional marginalised identities, for example bi women, black bisexuals, or bisexual genderqueer people.

Stonewall’s 2009 report ‘Bisexual People In The Workplace’ reflected that the positive impact of LGBT Staff Networks on lesbian and gay employees does not extend to bisexual staff. Research published by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency in 2013 showed that bisexual staff are significantly less likely to feel they can be ‘out’ in the workplace than lesbians or gay men:

The Bisexuality Report (Open University, 2012) reflected that these challenges for many bisexual people also extend into areas such as crime and policing, where homophobic hate crime monitoring may fail to address and recognise bisexuals’ experience of biphobia and homophobia.

It's fun to see my "four flavours of biphobia" model, albeit in very condensed form, in a council document.  It's also a bit scary to think that I wrote it about twenty years ago, citing certain Manchester City Council services as examples of institutional and structural biphobia.

Though it is frustrating that there are no specific actions for the council and its partner organisations to take up, I hope this sets a good marker down illustrating some of the key issues for bis and the evidence base underpinning those on which to build in future years.