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.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Sheffield 2

This is the story of going to my third 'zine culture' event, the 2014 Sheffield Zine Fest.

This is the station. Here is the train. I'm so very late, I meant to get up early for this one but then I accidentally fired up Civilization V on my PC at about 8 o'clock last night and... well, you know how that goes. The train gently climbs up into the Pennines; we've had no snow this winter so the hilltops are clear where last year they were white. The person sat opposite me has fabulous hair, blonde and black somehow fading from one to the other in a way that evokes bumblebees in an adorable fashion. I decide this is a good omen for the day.

Despite being generally fairly good with geography, I'm rubbish at remembering which is which with different towns in Yorkshire and expect it to take as long to get to Leeds, so am surprised when all of a sudden here is Sheffield with its pretty primary-coloured trams.  Always nervous of food at events I stop off for a kids meal at burger king on the station, getting a pair of big pretend spectacles as my toy. I'm not sure what I make of them.

Across the road to the electricworks, a gorgeous shiny new building. The signage is good - if I didn't already know, it's clear from these that I'm in the right place. There's a helterskelter in the reception area that you need to go up to something like the fourth floor to use; I have shocking vertigo (really - I have to psyche myself up to stand on a chair to change a lightbulb) so last year this just scared me, this year I took more time to look at it, and maybe next year I'll take a ride down it. Though it'll be best if that's when no-one of a nervous disposition is nearby as I might take a few minutes after coming to a halt to stop crying or screaming.

Past the slide and into the two main rooms. We're in the same space as in 2013 but the layout is different this time; I think it works better.

There are probably more stalls, certainly there is more room for stalls, and still a fair amount of chillout space.  I think losing any more of the remaining chill space would be bad, but the extra stalls make it feel more lively taken in the round.

There seem to be more, and more varied, workshops than the year before. I'm not knocking last year's, don't get me wrong - I adored Cath's feminist zinestering session but I think it was the only session title that I felt motivated to go along to.

This time I want to go to at least three; the first is standing room only so I let it slide, the next is a "mail art" workshop which I do get along to. After that there are two more sessions and I decide to go to the one not run by the facilitator of the mail art session; not because they weren't nice or anything like that, just to try and mingle a bit more widely. Alas the previous workshop in room 2 has over-run by about half an hour and so I let my aim of attending this one go too. Still, the workshops do seem to be very popular and they work well for the likes of me in getting me talking to other people.

Speaking of the mailart session, this is where I finally learn how to turn two of the recipes in the origami book that I won at the BiCon 2013 Pass-The-Parcel workshop into successfully folded bits of paper!

Beware I may be sitting on trains for the next couple of months carefully folding sheets of A4 to use for some eyecatching flyer or other using the techniques learned.  I just need some kind of event or survey to want to promote...

The actual sessions are in two workshop rooms.  I don't see anyone use workshop room three but it's been set up around a neat idea, a little quiet corner of zinester heaven with typewriter, longarm stapler, guillotine and suchlike in it.

One of the things I notice is a fair sprinkling of things pitched at child involvement and several children bobbing about the place. I'm not sure if this is actually more than last time or if I'm just noticing it this time.

There's so much variety in an event that seems to be bringing together many subcultural strands in one place.  Fringe political voices; feminist zines; music zines, which I don't touch now but a billion years ago were one of my two introductions to small press culture before I found feminist and queer zines; things I somehow remember now as "normal zines", which are probably mostly perzine stuff often about growing up; art prints and terribly artsy things that I wouldn't go near but are clearly exactly what chimes for some others.  It's interesting to hear people during the day describe different ones of these subcultures within Sheffield as being especially male or female spaces.

I'm reminded of my learning from last year: at a fair like this the zines really really need some kind of explanatory label next to them that outline what they are about and who they would appeal to. A clever name and the writer's favourite kind of paper and ink isn't enough, unless you are a regular reader of that zinester's work. "This is about teenage crushes looked back at from the safety of my 20s" is grand and quickly tells you if this is your sort of a thing.

As last year there are some nice touches to take it beyond just being tables with zines and a workshop room. Someone is using the huge glass walls to draw a map of Sheffield and its surrounds with stories of the social-political history of the area. It's interesting as I know quite a bit of this kind of thing for Manchester but not for the other side of the Pennines; there is lots of overlap as the same laws and social battles were being fought for people across the North and most of the country, but the names and places are all a little different. And as with last year's 1913 history wall, it gives you something to do if you're a bit scaredy of talking to all the cool kids.

A stall has badgemaking for 50p a pop - this is always a winner at events - and a fun game of write / draw consequences that impresses me greatly with its simplicity and potential for turning into a display later in the day.

I find and buy Cath's new zine, and find Tracey's zines and take a promised photo of them "seen in the wild". Photos for this blog are a good icebreaker of tidy manners; can I snap this, I promise you won't be in the shot is enough like the photo protocol at bi events that I know how to say it, and gets you talking with the people whose stall you're visiting.

I pop a couple of BCNs on the freebies table, which is a blur of a few zines and quite a lot of flyers for things. BCNs don't look very "zine culture" though, and the two are still there when I head off home around five. They'll keep for another table the organisers host somewhere else, I'm sure.

The evening has some more ace sounding things lined up, but feels like a space where I'd want to have one or two friends there or to have a role like taking donations on the door, and besides I have my own other plans for the evening back home.

On the way back across the Pennines to Mancashire I think: if there is another of these next year I really must take a table and fill it with queer zinery. Not many people will want them due to the peculiar mishmash of social circles that come to ZineFest, but being there feels kind of important in outreachy ways. It will mean hauling myself into writing some of those "bubbling under" zines that I keep meaning to distil from bath rants to actual words on paper.

Probably 51 weekends left to get round to all that in...

Saturday, 1 February 2014

More Zine Shenanigans in Sheffield

Oh hurrah!

Last spring I dipped my first toe into the 'proper' zinester scene / culture by going to Sheffield ZineFest 2013 for the day.  There was lots of shiny goodness about the day from the gorgeous venue to being immersed in a strand of DIY culture that I somehow both deeply inhabit (as someone who's been churning out oodles of papery goodness since the mid 1990s) and never go anywhere near (as I've been mostly doing it in queer spaces rather than 'zine' circles).

It's back in March. Consider me busy for the day...

Friday, 3 January 2014

The joy of bi groups

One of the main ways we’ve created room for bi identities for the last thirtysome years in the UK is local bi groups; starting in September 1981 (I think?) with the London Bi Group holding its regular meetings in a gay bar, there is an unbroken thread of such things going on around Britain, whether in the corner of a pub, a function room at a bar, a meeting room at a community centre, or a cafĂ©.  LBG closed down a long time ago and so the longest-running group now is BiPhoria in Manchester, which I’ve been a part of since 1994.  As it’s in its twentieth year its very existence is by now one of the ripostes to bi being “just a phase”.

It’s something we have in common with lesbian and gay communities, but it also reflects our lower level of organisation, reach and support.  We can do that first helping hand out of the gay / straight closet, but there aren’t the football teams or open-all-week bars that the gay community has.  A shame as I think the Kinsey Rangers is a crackingly cheesy name for a bisexual football team (and in the absence of a real one, I’d still love to have a fictional cartoon strip about it each issue in BCN if anyone’s up for doing that).

Looking back at listings of bi meets from the 80s and 90s and comparing them with today one of the interesting trends is the falling away of gendered bi groups.  I think it’s good that it has happened, but if it’s more than sheer chance, I’m interested as to the pressures that led to that. I get the impression that in the USA for example things have remained a lot more gender divided, but that may just be the bits of US bi culture that I happen to notice.  My best guesses are that there are at least three factors at play.  One being some persistent trans and genderqueer volunteers who came along, stuck around helping make things happen, and so forced some cis bi activists to think about things sooner. Two is that where groups are a little borderline in their existence, a mixed gender space potentially pulls in more than twice as many people, albeit then swapping one set of issues as to how the space is run for another sometimes.  And three the way it can tie in with a sense of bi mission. Picturing the Manchester bi scene in 1993 there was a bi men’s group, a bi women’s group, and at some point the penny has to have dropped for the people organising each: we’re running social spaces for people where the common factor is that gender isn’t a boundary condition for them the way it is for other people, and we’re running them in carefully gendered spaces – are we missing a point perhaps?

Certainly in gender my experience of bi groups and spaces contrasts hugely with LG / LGB spaces.  Not all bi people, groups and spaces are or have always been trans-sorted and accepting of gender diversity, but more of them are and they seem to have got there quicker than the gay scene.  It seems to have been a conversation that went on in the UK bi community in the early 1990s, whereas in lesbian and gay communities and spaces it took another ten or fifteen years – at times painful to watch from the higher moral ground of spaces that had ‘got it’ a short while before.

There’s gender difference beyond trans too, as the male/female balance of bi spaces I’ve encountered has been so much better than that of LG/LGB spaces.  There is some research suggesting there are more gay men than lesbians and more bi women than bi men.  I don’t think the research is perfect and such questions are so loaded by the wider culture that it perhaps tells us things about what words people think they can own for themselves as much as it tells us a truth about human sexuality diversity.  But that might explain why spaces that are lesbian and gay and notionally bi have a male skew that bi spaces don’t so often have.

There are those who see no need for bi groups any more: even ten years ago I found myself in conversations about how there was ‘no point’ in things like BiPhoria meeting any more as ‘it’s all fine now, people don’t have any problems’.

I’m not persuaded of that, and not just because of the statistics on bisexual people’s life experiences nor the steady stream of new people through the door of my local bi group every month. 

That’s not to say that nothing has changed though.  Where once people came to a group like BiPhoria knowing little more than the words from a poster in a bookshop or a photocopied leaflet they picked up on an outreach stall, work like the Getting Bi In A Gay / Straight World  booklet and video means a lot of new members arrive now knowing a lot more, perhaps needing a slightly different kind of a space than we had in the 1990s.  That’s good, the world has changed in so many ways and the recipe for a good bi group will change with it.

BiPhoria might still be happening from sheer force of habit, but out there in the rest of the country the desire for bi space and bi meetups has its ebb and flow but is still strong.  Last year new groups launched in Edinburgh and London, the latter one focused on bisexuals over 50.    And this winter I know of two more about to spring into life in Nottingham and Southampton.  Though the latter two are run by people I know, neither will be quite the same shape as BiPhoria.  And good luck to ’em: while there are a few ways of running a bi group that I think are wrong, there are surely a lot of ways of doing it right. The more of us who are trying the better our chances of hitting on some really good formulae.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Our LGBT History and the People's History Museum

There are a lot of things I meant to blog about in 2013 but the raw doing things that need doing of tackling the most pressing problem got in the way. In the winter months I hope to write up a few of these, having made a start this week with the review of the year and writeup of the Charles Dickens talk at LGF. Today I'm going to look back to August 2013 and the Manchester People's History Museum LGBT Exhibition for Manchester Pride 2013.  This one will be decorated with photos as I was being a bit snap-happy with my camera at the time.

In March 2013, when planning the People's History Museum's summer events programme, it seems the suggestion came forward to run an LGBT history tour, to coincide with Manchester Pride at the August bank holiday weekend. The people's history of Manchester, after all, includes a whole series of stories of our place as a key city in the country's LGBT history.

But as a social history it is fleeting and ephemeral, with some of the tales of bars and battles captured by the rainbow plaques on our city streets and many more missing, let alone how they piece into the jigsaw of the battle for liberation and equality on a wider level. If you didn't live through it all back then, then in a 2013 where one of the six parliamentary divisions on same-sex marriage didn't even go to a vote because well it's obviously going to pass why bother, it's hard to imagine how things were for queers of all stripes twenty or forty years ago. It's something that didn't hit home to me until I had the good fortune to meet and spend time with Bernard Greaves, a magnificent gay (and later LGBT) rights activist who has been fighting the proverbial good fight longer than I've been alive.

As Catherine O'Donnell, one of the exhibition organisers, blogged at the time: "(As a straight woman) I knew that there had been a struggle, however I didn’t realise the lengths that campaigners had gone through to gain rights for something as simple and natural as kissing in public, let alone the repeal of Section 28 and equal marriage."
Most of the 'popup' LGBT history exhibition

Catherine got the plans for an exhibition included in one of LGF's regular circulars and that's where I picked up on it, as it landed the day after I'd had a conversation about archives and the many bi banners BiPhoria has made over the years.  Regular readers will know that I work a mixed week, and Wednesday is normally my day of beavering away at various bi volunteering projects at BCN Towers. By sheer chance the two LGBT history workshop afternoon PHM had planned were on Wednesdays, so I could take part without having to take leave from my paid working week.  If People's History Museum had picked Fridays for this project it would probably have passed me by.

When you only have two afternoons to bring a group of a dozen or so people together, get them to go through museum archives and their own materials from home, understand broadly how to select, label and present the most important things and turn it into a ready to roll exhibition that's a tough call.  While perhaps half of the volunteers contributing history and time to assembling the exhibition already knew one another from a group at LGF that the People's History Museum had done a targeted outreach evening with, the rest of us didn't know one another and there is quite a bit of needing to find a comfort level around strangers and learning to share stories and space. It worked well, though I was always worried I was hogging the floor with stories from twenty years of bi, trans and LGBT activism - or geekily correcting historical references. No, he was bisexual... of course at the time both of them were in the closet... the word dates back to the late 1800s... that's the wrong pronoun... I'll shush now.

Those exchanges of stories highlighted some of the limitations of the rapid recruit - prepare - present cycle. We had, from what I could tell, a skew toward cis lesbians and gay men among the volunteers. That's not to bemoan any of them being there, just that as so often, ideally there would have been more and different voices.  Thanks to my background and extensive if ill-filed bi archives I can hold up the B end well, but I think there was only me and one ally speaking up on trans issues and representation. There was at least some B and T in there though, which was one of the things that made me glad I'd taken part.  Especially seeing this little "bisexual corner" with two of my final three nominated items for the display, one of which reflecting the internal struggles within the LGBT umbrella:
"Dear Stonewall, you say you're LGB but you keep letting bisexuals down..."

It all came together and while it felt a little bit compact-and-bijou compared to a full museum exhibition areas, it was a grand feeling once the frenzy of Pride weekend was over to come in to the museum in September and see it in its polished final form. I got all self-referential and took photos of the projection wall where my own photos were among the rotating display running (many thanks to the kindly front desk people who noticed what I was up to and dimmed the main lights so I could get better snaps!). 
That's a photo of a projection of a photo I took of one of my teeshirts.
This blogpost may eat itself :)
I do hope PHM will run similar exhibits again, Pride week is an obvious date to hang things off, but so are LGBT History Month, IDAHOBBIT or Bi Visibility Day. Having started with a broad LGBT exhibition I naturally gravitate to thoughts of whether in years to come they could focus on areas within LGBT, such as the bi, or trans, or BME LGBT tales of the city.

Much kudos and congratulation to Harriet Richardson and Catherine O'Donnell from the museum's Play Your Part project, who steered the whole thing through to completion. It was great to see the finished exhibit there at the front of the museum to welcome all visitors, to be a part of make it happen. Further it filled me with thoughts of how to go about exhibiting bisexual community history in particular; but that's a story for another blogpost!

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Charles Dickens and the "queer acceptability curve"

December saw the final talk in a series Manchester's local LGBT community centre LGF have organised looking at LGBT history. This fifth talk was presented by academics Dr Holly Furneaux and Dr Kim Edwards Keates, exploring the works of Charles Dickens and queer representation in them and in associated fan fiction from the era in which he was writing to the present day.  For tl;dr readers, it was most excellent and stimulating even for those of us with next to no handle on Dickens' work.

And excellent it was. Where Paul Fairweather's talk earlier in the series rewrote identities and erased both bisexuality and large sections of queer history to fit a narrow predetermined narrative, this talk was expansive and exploratory.  It left the layqueer with an appetite to read some of the subject matter, albeit if possible with some kind of Study Guide To Sly Queer Allusion In The Victorian Era at your side.

Now like any sensible person the only bit of Dickens I really have a handle on is his excellent The Muppets Christmas Carol, which he had to rewrite extensively when his publisher pointed out that the Muppets had not been invented yet and it could all lead to a complex time-travel intellectual property trial.  A Christmas Carol is at the level of cultural icon in the UK and USA and perhaps some other places, such that even if you have never read it nor watched a film adaptation you've probably absorbed enough about it to have a fair idea of the characters and plot.

Dickens wrote lots of other things too though, some of it to the point and some excessively florid, verbose loquacious and wordy in the manner of a person who is being paid by the word (which as a writer for literary magazines, he often was). Like a modern TV writer he'd've been writing some excellent episodes and some that were filler to move the plot along as little as possible when a story worth five episodes was supposed to fill eight episodes.

The two main foci of the talks were A Christmas Carol (as it was the middle of December) and his unfinished novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The latter seems to have had a high profile in fanfic writing and reading circles even immediately after its publication, which was warming to hear about as someone who encountered a small amount of that sort of thing before the internet exploded it into a wider consciousness. The joy of the unfinished text for letting readers fill in the 'what happened next...'

Something touched on that had passed me by was a recent American 'gay retelling' of Christmas Carol, the film Scrooge & Marley, which rearranges some of the genders in the tale to make for a gay and lesbian variation on the story, including altering a closing line from that Bob Cratchitt is thereafter treated by Scrooge such that it is like having "three fathers" rather than "a second father".

Exploring queer readings and subtexts involved a lot of talk of homosexuality and gender transgression (though I don't think the latter phrase was ever used but this was extensively about that rather than sex and relationships) without giving specific voice to the situational and transitional bisexuality involved or suggested.  I quite understand not wanting to apply modern senses and experiences of sexuality to different historical social situations, but I did think more could be made of using the B and T words to reflect and clarify what we were talking about.

An interesting aspect was that where his work included more obviously gender transgressive characters - a woman who didn't 'keep to her place' or a man who failed to be appropriately 'manly', it was apparently often followed by a more normative story without such bold characters.

It struck me - and I threw in one of those questions from the floor that is really an observation rather than a question - that this tied in with a "Queer Acceptability Curve" of how far from accepted (cishetero) gender normative behaviour a writer then or filmmaker today can go and still have enough of a broad market appeal.
Dickens could allude for the informed reader to things that might suggest a character had an interest in sex with other men or with other women, but could only push so far and then roll it back a little for the next story to make sure he wasn't getting a dangerous reputation, like a Hollywood actor who feels the need to alternate 'credible' films with ones that prove their box office acceptability.

From the description of Scrooge & Marley, which I freely admit I've not seen so am going on the outline given, that too only pushes things so far within a queer acceptability space. Same-sex monogamous couples replace mixed-sex couples, there is a simple rather than gendercomplex trans character: nothing too challenging and all keeping within the binaries that keep same-sex desire unthreatening and similar to the notional normatives of married cishetero life.

It's grand that the curve has moved as far as it has compared to Dickens' day. It still has some way to go.

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

So much more than marriage: #bi 2013

It was the year Bi Community News – a survivor in an ever-shrinking field of LGBT print magazines – turned eighteen, and the year Brighton BothWays celebrated ten years of giving bisexuals a friendly and supportive space. What else might we remember 2013 for?

Bi-coloured UK map For England and Wales the first six months of the year were the story of the Same-Sex Marriage Bill. Unveiled in February after Westminster’s largest public consultation exercise ever, this seemed to go on forever at the time, and eventually passed by a huge majority in the summer. So great was its success, by later stages the anti-equality camp in the House of Lords – which over the last fifteen years has blocked or delayed so much legislation on bisexual and gay equalities – didn’t even press the decision to a vote. A number of issues remain with the Bill, or Act as it now is, including pensions issues and problems for intersex and genderqueer people, but it was a huge step forward – in a year where many other nations were taking the same step.

@bisexualhistory - Putting the B in LGBT History MonthFebruary is LGBT History Month and there were no bi-specific events this time around, but twitter saw the launch on January 31st of @bisexualhistory, giving a daily “on this day…” snippet of bi history. It’s now on Facebook too.

In May the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency published the findings of a large-scale research project across the EU, looking at how LGBT experiences compare from country to country.  Over 93,000 people took part so the scale of the research was much larger than most similar projects. Across the 28 member states, about four in every 10 respondents did not reveal their LGBT identity to anyone in their social environment bar a few friends. However, this rose to half of respondents among bisexual women and transgender people, and three quarters of respondents among bisexual men.

As the summer approached, Shrewsbury MP Daniel Kawczynski came out as bisexual – the first Conservative MP to do so and one of only two out bi MPs currently in Westminster. Sharp as ever the Daily Mail trumpeted Kawczynski as the “first bisexual MP”, forgetting Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes, as well as former MPs like onetime Secretary of State for Wales Ron Davies or Winchester byelection winner Mark Oaten. All three main parties have now had at least one out bi MP, and they have all had openly gay MPs too, which is surely a good thing for keeping legal equalities that have been won over recent years.

BCN magazine - issue 121

While we are on the subject of politics it was a year for bisexuals in the corridors of power with both Bi Community News and BiUK represented at the annual 10 Downing Street LGBT garden party with David Cameron in July - and a few weeks later at the counterpart Deputy Prime Ministerial event with Nick Clegg.  Two-party coalition government really means twice as many parties, it seems.  Meanwhile across the pond the White House joined in, assembling representatives from bisexual organisations and LGBT groups across the USA to talk about what the US government could be doing to tackle bisexual people’s issues.

It was a year for community-building as new bi social and support groups launched in Edinburgh, in Dublin, and for Bi Professionals and over 50s in London. Annual bi conference / festival BiCon returned to Scotland for the first time since 2006 and saw extensive engagement from LGBT and wider community groups.

Bi Visibility Day on September 23rd was bigger than ever. We saw bi flags flying from buildings around the country including universities, police stations and town halls, a plethora of local events, and support for Bi Visibility Day from both the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and Equalities Minister Jo Swinson, the first time it's had recognition at that level in the UK.

heygoogle280There were new battles to be fought online. In August, Apple backed down on their bi ban – but Google kept theirs in place. Later in the year internet censoring “child protection” filters set up by UK ISPs under pressure from 10 Downing Street turned out to block lots of LGBT info sites like Bi Community News, Bi.Org and more, even including services specifically targeted at vulnerable young people in need of help like Childline.

As the year came to a close Scotland picked up the same-sex marriage baton and the Holyrood Parliament had its first debate on the issue. This passed overwhelmingly with further legislative stages to come in 2014.

And then to round the year off we had Olympic medallist Tom Daley‘s non-specific coming out on YouTube, where he talked about having a male partner but didn’t use words like “bisexual” or “gay”, prompted lots of debate online about identity, relationships, labels and bisexual erasure.

2014So 2013 comes to a close and that naturally takes me to the New Year ahead… some things I'm looking forward to already in the bi calendar:
  • Two new bi groups launch early in 2014 – watch this space for details!
  • The return in July of BiReCon, the bisexuality research and theory conference, along with BiCon in Leeds at the start of August.
  • Big Bi Fun Day on May 17th and the BDSM Bisexuals weekend on March 22nd.
Have a great New Year’s Eve.

As you might have gathered I originally wrote this for BiMedia.

Monday, 18 November 2013


Remember when Labour decided 5 more years of kids growing up under section 28 was worth it for a slightly easier ride from the Daily Mail?

It's not the story Labour-leaning groups are giving us on the tenth anniversary of the abolition of Section 28, but the infamous clause has at its inception and abolition two of the moments that kept me from being a member of the Labour party even at the height of Labour popularity in the mid to late 90s.

Section 28 made homosexuality a thought crime, a terrible but brilliant move that it would be nice to think was only possible off the back of HIV hysteria. A splendidly vague law that could be argued to prevent anything homophobes in positions of power wanted to stop happening, it was used to block information for schoolkids and bar newspapers appearing in libraries.  In those pre-interweb days, it helped isolate a generation of queers just as homophobic myth and hate was at a crescendo.

In the late 80s when the Conservatives unveiled Section 28, Labour's instinct was to tack with the popular mood and support its introduction.  In those early days of the bill, only the Lib Dems opposed it - at a time when the party was in such a mess it couldn't even agree on its own name. Much credit to those people inside the Labour party who managed to turn that around over time, but the kneejerk response of the reds went the wrong way. Popularity or all people equal before the law? Labour jumped one way, the SocialLiberalDemocraticExpialidocious party the other.

Come 1997, the country was in the mood for change and deep down we all knew this time the Tories were on their way out. The Lib Dem manifesto included repeal of Clause 28 among other equality commitments. Remember, back then you could be fired from your job or turned down for employment for being bi or gay. We had a discriminatory age of consent to keep gay men in their place and tell bi men that their mixed-sex relationships were more legitimate. Adoption, fostering, partnership recognition, so many things that are 'normal' now were a world away.

Labour didn't include repeal of Section 28 in their manifesto.  In the great tension of "what is right to do" versus "what will upset the Sun and the Daily Mail", they decided that keeping the tabloids on side was more important than the impact on isolated queers, including lots of LGBT and cishetero children growing up in schools that wouldn't give them the support they needed when they had questions about their sexual orientation or were being bullied because they were perceived as gay.

So when Blair got his landslide, Section 28 wasn't in the Labour manifesto. That meant repeal had to wait until the 2001-2005 parliament because the House of Lords, packed with prejudiced peers angry at their imminent removal from the House under Lords reform, unsurprisingly blocked repeal.

As Labour shadow ministers trumpet the great repeal of the Tories' Section 28 today, remember: their party actively chose to keep it in place for another parliamentary term, chose to keep it damaging schoolkids for another four or five years, for the sake of a couple of cheap headlines.

My crudest Anglo-Saxon lacks adequate words.