Friday, 12 June 2015

#BiVolunteer

Last week was Volunteers' Week. I was being a "bad volunteer" as some I know see it - too busy being ill, and in bed for a couple of days, so I didn't do much beyond day job, eat and sleep that week.  Oh, I ran a bi social/support group for an evening.  I knew there was something.

But I tweeted:
I could have named more projects and expanded on the theme a little but, y'know, 140 characters and all that.

I prefer "bi volunteering" to "bi activism" as a phrase at the moment. It sounds a bit more... accessible?  Anyone can be a volunteer, but activists must have sekrit superpowers.

The main lesson I've learned on volunteeringy activist doodah was from Natalya, whose wisdom is that you should do the volunteering that you enjoy and find least taxing. It is the one you are most likely to still want to do when doing it involves the equivalent of standing in the sleet at a bus stop on an evening in January when you could be warm and dry at home.

What bi volunteering would you like to do?

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Bye bye to the great Lib-Lab lie

I see that right-wing rag the New Statesman is flying the kite for Lib Dem / Labour merger. The magazine's columnists alternate between talking about that and Lib Dem / Tory merger as a distraction method to try and prevent conversation opening up about reunifying the historic Labour-Tory schism.

From Labour's point of view perhaps combining with the Liberals makes sense. Labour already have two puppet parties at their disposal, to variously neutralise anti-Labour votes and scare recalcitrant Labour voters to the polls. That's probably as many outlier parties as any election winning strategy needs.

What Labour need is a grouping that produces policies more progressive than Labour's own, to offer the positive social change many of Labour's supporters wish it represented. It turned out Labour's plans to introduce and then extend the bedroom tax, put ATOS in charge of disability benefits, charge citizens for mistakes the state made on their records, slash benefits for young people and so forth reminded voters so much of the Tories that they went and voted blue instead.

The Libs have kept coming up with proposals that Labour felt it had to leave untouched for a while before co-opting: the NHS, the welfare state, tax-and-spend economics, the mansion tax, opposition to apartheid, LGBT rights and so forth. Left to their own devices Labour spent tens of millions of pounds on policy development between 2010 and 2015 and still wound up borrowing Liberal proposals at the last minute. Moving that policy development unit in house looks to be a lot more efficient.

From the Lib Dem perspective though, never mind the gaping philosophical divide: the Liberals already did merging with a party to their right thing in the 80s, and it took ages to recover. Whyever would they do it again?

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Another legal inch forward

Colombia, which for everyone who enjoys the Weekly Show with John Oliver running joke about maps is the country top left of South America that joins the continent to Central America*, has just decided to join the small coterie of nations that respond to trans identities with "OK, carry on" rather than "Ew" or "Yeah yeah whatevs shutup".

As of once-the-law-is-implemented, you'll be able to amend your gender records on identity documents on the basis of "this is who I am" rather than based on dubious psych or surgery criteria.

Given how many flavours of wrong the gatekeepers can and do get it, taking away gatekeepers is surely a step in the right direction.


* I suspect more UKanian readers see the nation's name and think of the Rocky Horror audience par-tic-i-pation joke about drugs, but there we go.

Monday, 25 May 2015

200

BiCon 2015's bookings have just passed the 200 mark with 11 weeks to go. Rah rah them, etc.

But it does take me back to the first time I ran a BiCon, in 2000. When we hit the 200 mark, which in round numbers was about a month out, we had to drop the remaining publicity plans on account of having no additional capacity at the venue we could expand into.  The final tally of 265 attendees was fab, but with the frustration of knowing it could have been more like 350 if the rest of the planning grid had worked out.

Sometimes you just get lucky with your venue and who else wants to be there that week :)

Saturday, 25 April 2015

More Out MPs in 2015?

It was pleasing to read research that suggests we may have more LGBT MPs in the coming parliament than the old one.  I'd been worrying the academics were all busy and I was going to have to do the maths myself.

The 2010 parliament had 27 out LGB members - 13 Conservative (4% of their parliamentary party), 9 Labour (3%), 4 Lib Dem (7%) and 1 Plaid Cymru (33%).  Of these, two were bi men (one Lib Dem, one Tory) and two gay women (one Tory, one Labour): the remaining 22 gay men.  In the interests of multi-party balance I should add that the DUP are probably most emphatic that none of the 26 are theirs.

27 is a significant slice of the 36 out bi or gay MPs we've ever had. If you were ever an out-LGB MP, the chances are you still are one. There haven't been any openly trans MPs in the UK yet, and though there are trans candidates for most of the mainland parties - indeed one of them currently being splashed over the papers as trans, queer and poly - alas none look likely to break through.  Sorry Zoe.

For all that the polls suggest another hung parliament, they also suggest one with a swing to the right: we will have a different bunch of MPs running the show. It looks like fewer Lib Dem MPs and more SNP members, and a huge switcharound of Labour MPs as they lose a swathe of seats in Scotland and gain others in England. Probably quite some turnover of Tory MPs too.

All sides, pretty much, have out candidates. There are 38 for the Liberal Democrats, 35 Labour, 28 Tory, 22 Green, 5 UKIP, 3 Plaid Cymru, 1 SNP and 1 Alliance.  The latter three parties only stand in 40, 59 and 18 seats respectively.

That said, in UK elections most candidates don't get elected. There's not many openly-LGBT potential new MPs in Tory-gain or SNP-gain type seats, but there are a few in Labour-gain seats. If the polls turn around for the Lib Dems, the seats they'd gain would add a little to the tally too. So we can look forward to fresh queer faces on the green benches after May 7th.

To keep bisexual geeks on their toes, both existing seats with bi MPs - and the one that might gain a new out bi MP - are seats that might change hands.  The Conservative seat of Shrewsbury and Atcham has been in blue, gold and red columns in the last fifteen years, while the Liberal seat of Southwark and Old Bermondsey has been a Labour target at every election since 1983. Labour hope to gain Stockton South: on current polls they should do as it's a very Labour seat that flipped blue in 2010.

Friday, 24 April 2015

The Daily Record is confused

In the Scottish Daily Record this week (24th April, publication stamped 3pm though so perhaps online only) Nicole Heaney writes about how we live in terribly modern times where,
"having an attraction to the same sex in some eyes does not make you homosexual and it does not make you bisexual. Thus meaning you can be in a relationship with a female and be attracted to males but not necessarily be bisexual. The reason for this is because you could simply not envision yourself in a relationship with the same sex."
Woah there. This is a special redefining of bisexual to mean "attracted to more than one gender and interested in relationships with everyone to whom you are attracted".

Let's consider that "not really the sexuality in question" clause applied for gay or straight people: if you were, say, going out clubbing, pulling people and having casual sex seven nights a week, and happy with this and not wanting anything "more" in your life right now... you're just kidding yourself about having a sexuality at all.  Hmmm. No. Those people are definitely gay or straight. Once you stop having a double-standard for bi, Nicole's definition of non-bi-bis comes unstuck quickly.

Then she turns to the future, which will be...
"A time when sexuality won’t be pigeon holed. A time where gay, straight, male or female will not matter and we will just have sex with whomever we are attracted to regardless of their status."

Uh-oh. We've seen this one before, haven't we? It's the same future fairytale with which Peter Tatchell invents bisexuality every couple of years without ever using the B word. (I'm skipping over the lack in the original text of whether the other person is consenting. Subeditors can do terrible things to hone down a word count, after all).

I think it conflates two ideas, one which is useful, one which is not. Some day, yes, I hope whether you are bi, gay, straight or asexual won't matter: we won't need safe spaces as an escape from biphobia and so forth. That way that the first gay pubs I went to had blacked-out windows for the safety of patrons will be a long forgotten horror. If you find out someone fancies you, you'll only have to think: do I fancy them back? Are we both single or otherwise available? Great! Let's do something about it then!

The other idea, though, is the idea that when prejudice and queerbashing are behind us as a society, labels - bi, gay, straight - will no longer be needed. I think that's a duffer. Just because it's safe to be bi or gay won't make all the people who never experienced same-sex attraction suddenly realise how attractive the people they never fancied before are. We'll still be bi, gay, straight, asexual. We just won't be raised to beat ourselves up about it. And when someone turns you down because they just aren't into girls, they'll still need words that express that. Terms like bisexual may lose their loaded values, but they are still vital concepts about how humans and human sexuality work.

Then again, the Daily Record article begins by observing that "It’s hard to believe that only some 20 years ago it was a crime to be homosexual".  It is indeed.  Not least because it wasn't - even though Section 28 had sought to make talking about it a thought-crime, homosexuality was decriminalised in Scotland in 1980, thirtyfive years ago. 

We should probably have stopped reading there.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Whose fault is it anyway

Why did the economy tank? Whose fault is "the mess Labour left us"?

The soundbite from the Tories is "the Labour government did it"

The soundbite from the Greens is "the bankers did it"

The soundbite from the Labour party is "a big boy dun it and run away"

The soundbite from UKIP is "a big foreign boy dun it and run away"

The soundbite from the Lib Dems is "can we get a word in here... no? damn"

Well, Labour did it, and the bankers did it, and loads and loads of you lot did it. Cheap loans, stupid mortgages, house price super-inflation, the bankers couldn't do it on their own: they needed millions of complicity borrowers to make it happen. And while that happened on the edge of government control, Labour's tax and spend was based on the pretend money the bankers were creating for assets that were not really any greater than they had been before the hot air boom: when the balloon went pfffffft, we were left with the 'real' tax take but an expectation of what government could afford to spend based on all that imaginary cash being there too.  Suddenly what had been passed off as foolish overspending was a humungous £400m a week more going out than was coming in.  The 'mess Labour left' isn't the economy as such, it's the massive overestimate of how much the government could afford to spend given general economic activity and taxation levels.

But the politicians won't be heard saying that between now and polling day, as it has far too many home truths to be acceptable to the press and the voters alike.

So that's fun.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Coalition, please

Doing the bisexual community info outreach stall in Sheffield last weekend, one of the conversations I had with quite a few stall visitors was about the Bisexuality Report. What was it; why it was useful; how it came about.

Each time I started along the lines of, "think back to 2010 after the Coalition Government was formed? One of the good things was, because it was a formal coalition, they laid out on paper what they were going to do. On LGBT issues there was an LGB&T Action Plan. It was incredibly helpful for people outside Westminster, outside the well-funded London clique groups like Stonewall. Because now we knew broadly what to expect and when, so we knew: this thing should come up next May, we have time to prepare and know what to look for, and what to chase up on if it doesn't seem to be happening." That then led onto talking about how the LGB&T Action Plan lacked a bi strand and evidence base, which gave momentum to the "Bi Life 2" idea and led to my proposal for the Bisexuality Report in 2011.

Having a coalition government meant a written plan with a timeline both parties had broadly signed up to.  Prior to 2010 there was never that kind of open agenda: to know what was going to happen next you had to be part of the Westminster bubble. You had to already be in the clique in order to influence the clique. Here instead was an open plan for all to follow.

Of course it hasn't meant that as grassroots community group organising types we magically have gained offices, staff and so on. But within what unfunded projects can do it has been massively better.

Which parties are involved in the next government will affect what winds up in any new five year agenda for action, but from the perspective of the less cash-heavy end of the third sector, I do hope it's a coalition. That way we all have more chance of engagement with what happens from here to 2020.