Thursday 31 December 2020

Bi Review of the Year: 2020

 A piece I wrote for Bi Community News wrapping up the news of the past 12 months.

Original is here:

At the start of the year very few of us realised what might be ahead as the COVID-19 virus was still thought to be far away and most likely confined to a corner of China. So for those first ten weeks or so of 2020 things were happening as normal.

So it was at the start of January when Layla Moran became the first UK MP to come out as pansexual. Courts compensated a worker who had been told to pretend to be gay rather than bi in the workplace and returned confiscated medals to an ex serviceman. Northern Ireland started to consult on same-sex marriage while we learned women are more likely to divorce one another than men. There was good news on HIV figures and from the European Court declaring that government inaction on LGBTphobic hate was no longer acceptable. And the Welsh Government declared it would go a step further than merely repealing Section 28 with active work to ensure children are making informed choices on sex and relationships.

In February Bi Pride got a mention in the House, while LGBT History Month saw many more bi-related talks than usual. Overseas Switzerland voted to recognise LGBT hate crimes. There were bis on TV in Doctors and I Am Not OK With This as well as a new season of Atypical to look forward to. And new research showed peculiar findings about bi people and skin cancer.

With the pandemic seeing the start of lockdown in the UK during March events started to be cancelled like Birmingham BiFest and BiFest Wales. As Prides started to fall like dominoes, Eurovision announced its first ever rollover winner. In the USA a St Patrick’s Day parade barred a beauty pageant winner from marching on account of her bisexuality.

We had more bi representation on TV in Love Is Blind’s demonstration of double-standards over bisexuality, BBC polyamory drama Trigonometry, and Batwoman. The House of Commons held its first ever debate on LBT women’s health while Canada declared its intention to outlaw so-called “gay cure” so-called “therapy”. And new figures showed more people identifying as bi in the UK than ever.

In April many of us were starting to get used to life indoors and wondering how much a loo roll could fetch on eBay there were sobering thoughts about how the lockdown meant a lot of bi and LGBT people were now trapped in unsafe situations. The USA responded by relaxing its limitations on bi and gay men donating blood with Australia contemplating the same shift. The first LGBT club closure of the pandemic was announced in Brighton. On TV we had a raft of fresh bi viewing with the return of Flack, Killing Eve and Harley Quinn. But the big bi drama of the month was away from TV as BiNetUSA abruptly tried to claim copyright over the public domain bisexual flag.

Most LGBT magazines stopped publishing for the time being due to the pandemic but we took the decision to keep BCN coming out as one little strand of bi life we could keep fairly normal, so our April edition was the second of six in 2020.

Staying indoors gave people some time to organise and so in May there were online campaigns about the blood donation ban and conversion therapy. Being indoors also meant people could virtually visit museums worldwide. New research showed bi men were the most closeted group across Europe.

As the Black Lives Matter movement drew headlines worldwide in June dating app Grindr dropped its race filter. One of those “how did that take so long?” moments. There was a big victory in the US Supreme Court, while over here a new faux LGB equality campaign group came out against same-sex marriage, for anyone who hadn’t already realised they weren’t on the side of any queer folks. The BBC nonetheless carried on quoting them as if they were a serious human rights campaign. The annual Bi Book Awards winners were announced, though without (for now) the usual glamorous awards event. The Grammys got their tongue tied online. In good news, Gabon decriminalised sex between women and between men and Scotland opened up civil partnerships to any couple regardless of gender. BiCon had a bumpy month with two organising teams quitting in the space of a week.

In July we had more happy news from abroad as Montenegro recognised same-sex civil partnerships and South Africa changed its rules on how marriage ceremonies are conducted. It was less good elsewhere as the budget for PrEP was cut in the UK and in Poland the presidential election came down to a knife-edge before going the wrong way. We learned bis have worse experiences of crime than other people and the GLAAD annual review of film releases noted cinema was getting Whiter and gayer, with no bi male representation in major film releases.

We are used to a host of Prides in August so it was a hot summer with so much less to do every Saturday! However some ran online and BiCon happened in a very slimmed-down online form. The run-up to Bi Visibility Day began with more Town Halls deciding to fly the bi flag. New US research showed bi youth experience of bullying.

It’s Bi Visibility Day, Bi Week and Bi Month in September and among the delights was improvements in dictionary definitions. Northern Ireland inched further forward on equality while the UK courts rules that the Equality Act includes nonbinary people. Coming-out guide Getting Bi came out for the Kindle. In the USA we saw the first research on how the COVID-19 pandemic was hitting the LGBT communities while here Stonewall had research on how many bis are out to their families – not many.

In October we learned there would be a biopic of former US Congresswoman Katie Hill. Netflix dropped GLOW. In good news for millions the Pope made a small shift toward a better attitude to LGBT lives on the part of the Catholic Church. And in bad news here, a BBC which was veering increasingly far from balanced and responsible reporting of LGBT issues warned staff they should not attend Pride events even in their own time and private lives.

All eyes were on the USA in November as Donald Trump lost by a huge margin in the election there – albeit not as wide a margin as many opinion polls had predicted. Biden won with over 80 million votes in the end – more than any previous candidate. Biden’s speech missed out the “B”. Europe considered its next five year plan on LGBT work without the UK, and in Poland there were symbolic protests against the hateful “LGBT free zone” populists. We all realised we had been too distracted by COVID to notice that the LGBT inclusion work in schools that had started under the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition had been quietly dropped by the new minister for Women and Equalities.

Most important, COVID vaccines started to be approved. After a very hard year, change was at last in sight.

In December the three month ban on blood donation for bi and gay men and their partners was completely rewritten – for better and for worse – though the new rules don’t come in until a few months into 2021. Kyrsten Sinema rocked a great wig and coat in Washington. There was divine justice as a homophobic MEP got caught breaking COVID rules at a gay party. And Switzerland – whose good news on hate crime kicked the year off – decided to let same-sex couples marry. And so ILGA’s annual world map of LGBT rights showed a ripple of changes. And our fifth edition of the pandemic landed on subscriber doormats, more or less in time for Christmas.

That was 2020. To our most sincere delight, it is in the past. Here’s to a very different year ahead.

Friday 30 October 2020

Labour: tackling the symptom but not the disease

This week Labour have - inevitably - suspended Jeremy Corbyn over what from the brief reports I have seen seems to be consistent and persistent enabling of anti-Semitic bullying, harassment and conspiracy theory promotion within the Labour Party.

I've seen people talking about it at a couple of levels.

At the level of setting distance in the public eye from the massively losing 2019 campaign it is a little bit of a "Militant" Kinnockish moment, albeit probably not enough when the average voter is still far more focused on COVID. And it's, so that logic goes, a great move by the new leader to separate himself from the old leader. He's manouvred Corbyn skilfully into being removed.

At another level some people are talking about how it was not an intentional move and that Starmer did not want to remove Corbyn because of the internal fighting it will prompt.

And then those who cannot deviate from the Momentum party line, the denialism. Being in the Labour party and being loyal to the cult of Corbyn means that he cannot have done anything wrong.

What I'm not seeing people talk about is how Corbyn is - while only too happy to be lifted to power by bigots and to defend their freedom to bully and hate - not actually the whole of the problem.

Because of which, suspending or expelling him will not address the problem in any depth.

The thing is that because the Labour rank-and-file does not see the kind of human rights enshrined in the Equality Act as inherent and inalienable, it sees respect for difference as something that should only be extended to those who are compliant and submissive to the cult of the party.

Anti-Semitism against people inside the party who dissent, or against anyone outside the party whether to the right of Labour and Momentum in the Tories and Brexit or to the left of them in the Liberals and the Greens is, from most Labour members' perspective, fine. Deserved. If you want to call them names, threaten or intimidate, throw a brick through their window, key their car or whatever... a-okay. They aren't compliant to the cult and so they do not qualify for human rights, from the Labour perspective.  It has been going on for many years - long before Corbyn's rise - and anyone who pays any attention to politics knows this well. 

Just briefly this is being thrown into the public eye.

But it doesn't stop there. Labour is not just a proudly anti-Semitic party that endorses anti-Semitism and has done for years. It also has those values for other racisms, for other religious hate, for homophobia and for biphobia, for transphobia, for sexism, for hating on people for being disabled.

And therein lies the problem with the tightly defined investigation Labour has faced. Removing Corbyn will not even lance the boil of anti-Semitism and yet it leaves all the other systemic prejudices that Labour helps promote in society. And as long as they remain our politics will remain just as toxic as the near-identical political culture MAGA has sculpted across the pond.

Tuesday 9 June 2020


How time flies. 
Around this time in the morning three years ago Labour were celebrating delivering another Tory led government, again to the right of the previous one. Maybe at the next election, in 2022, they'd actually make a stab at taking power, but it was vital to let the Tories do Brexit first and so avoid having the blame for its inevitable failures.
It was also the moment Nick Clegg left the political stage. I've mixed feelings about the chap, but he does still have the title "most effective politician on the UK left of the last decade."
Theresa May's coalition government duly fulfilled Mystic Clegg's 2015 warning of a "Blukip coalition" between the Tories and the DUP delivering UKIP's agenda - a programme which like Section 28 is quite definitely "for the many not the few".
People who never watched The Blame Game and only skim-read BCN suddenly came across the existence of the DUP, and what a rollercoaster ride that was for many of them. And indeed for the DUP - snubbed by Cameron in his search for a majority in 2010, at last having their fifteen minutes of fame.
The concessions won by the smaller parties in coalition type things are fascinating. The Liberals got higher tax for the rich, lower tax for the poor, same-sex marriage, the scrapping of ID cards and the trans tax, etc. The DUP got big fat wads of cash spent in their constituencies in proper "pork barrel" politics. I remain curious about what the Co-operative Party got in exchange for keeping Brown in power. I can't name anything - does anyone have any ideas?
Now Johnson has his 80-seat majority we've all been allowed to forget that Northern Ireland exists, which is a shame as the political system there is quite instructive for people who want to understand mainland UKanian politics better but need a blank slate rather than the world they are used to.

Tuesday 12 May 2020

Misreading Tom

My social media timeline has a big dash of talk about the money raised by one man's sponsored walk.  There are about equal levels of "he's amazing and personally made these millions of pounds of difference", and "it is outrageous that this should happen as he should have been sat comfortably in an armchair and the money happened another way".

I don't think he raised this money in that sense that it would otherwise not have been forthcoming. I don't mean to belittle anything about his excellent efforts, but whether you run a marathon and get sponsored £100 or £10m you still do the same amount of marathonning. It's just about whether your run is drawn to enough people's attention and how they feel at that moment about the cause you're raising for.

Tom's fundraiser had lots of media-friendly imagery and notions and of course the papers - lacking celeb gossip, snatched photos from new TV series shoots, normal political interplay, sports or so much more to report on - loved it.

But people aren't, I think, really donating because of Tom.  They are donating because millions of us are living lives that have been turned upside down. 

We want to be able to do something that helps this end, something that makes it less hard for everyone in the world.  Except almost everything you could do for any other crisis is ruled out: all you can do is stay indoors lots to try and reduce the R factor, and hope the people working in healthcare are going to make it through okay.  A sponsored walk is something when people are wrung out and frantic at the feeling they can only do nothing.

Sunday 12 April 2020

Mentally Processing 2020

My favourite analogy for what is going on just now is that humanity has been dumped.

You know when you're on the receiving end of a breakup and you don't see it coming, and it is with someone you have been seeing for long enough that you kind of have a life together at least half-assedly mapped out in your head.

Your spending plans are tied to them. Your social plans. Your happiness. Your sense of who you are. Your sense that you can trust how things will be from one day to the next, derived from how things have been between you and them each day until now.

That's what happened to us all last month.  We were breezing happily along, suddenly the virus hit us like an "it's over between us" to everyone in the land all at once.

For the first few days of working from adjusting and switching to working from home or travelling in a zombie apocalypse, it was like the moments and days after a relationship breakup. Blinking, unsure it's quite real, wondering if they might just change their mind and this whole thing will be a horrible moment of staring into the void but then won't be so bad after all.

And all those ways we measure and plan and know ourselves fell apart.

So it makes sense you can't focus on your work properly.  Where normally feeling like this you'd fall back on your friends to reassure you of things, you can't see them or go to a pub and grouch about what has happened.  All those good things to do like taking up a new hobby that involves getting out of the house and meeting new people, getting drunk in a bar and dancing near strangers, or going away someplace new for a change of scene - nope. 

And this time whoever you are, you aren't one of the lucky, pretty, confident things that outside of analogy-land bounce straight into a new relationship in next to no time. Damn their eyes.

Inside I wonder how many of us are even at the equivalent point to that day however many weeks or months after being dumped by a serious love where you have mostly stopped crying?

This month before us is the time when you want there to be your love next to you and there is no-one. You want to make plans to go away together in the summer, to move to a new place together, to have them there to talk to and to be company when you need to share how your day was or on a day out in the Easter Bank Holiday sunshine.

We can't make plans for our new life yet. We have to stay home and will naturally tend to focus on what we lost.

Because we are grieving the life we all thought we'd have this spring, like we'd grieve the life we thought we had with someone that they suddenly snatched away from us.

And we're crushed and we're cross and we just want to hit fast forward and be past all this.  Normally we all know someone who's feeling like that but instead every single one of us is going through it at the same damn time.

On top of which a growing number of us have the non-metaphorical grief of loss to deal with as people we love die at the hands of the plague that our former life left us for.

This is why I'm trying to be more kind to myself than normal, more willing to accept that I have days where I just feel like I failed, and to extend the same to others. We are all shambling round shellshocked from being dumped by a partner we didn't even know we had: the 2020 we thought we were going to be living with.

We can get through this. Let's not beat ourselves up along the way.

Saturday 4 April 2020

Goodbye, Jeremy

With a new Labour leader elected, Jeremy Corbyn steps back into the shadows of centre-right politics, bringing a wave of reflection on his time at the helm.

Heck, let's go with the flow. How was his five year stint?

He succeeded in his central aims:
- Keep the Tories in power
- Enable every Tory measure
- Have a mass movement of people who have been sold a promise of a better yesterday working to ensure the Tories remain in power so that Jeremy can enjoy saying "no!" to an eager audience.

He got one of his stretch goals too: Britain out of the EU, leaving us free to adopt laws that go beyond what the EU allowed. Of course, the majority of the time since Labour became the second party of UK politics the Tories have been in power, so that was doing more to enable Conservative militancy than to empower the downtrodden, but if people aren't kept downtrodden you risk a terrible shortage of bandwagons.

As COVID arrived we got a textbook Corbyn move. Every MP up and down the land saw a huge surge in casework, with twice, three times, even four times the usual amount of calls on MPs for support from constituents in peril reported across the country and across all parties.

The House of Commons responded responsibly with an offer of extra office cost funding. Your staff might be off ill with COVID and you need to hire someone extra to cover for them, or move a part-timer up to full-time to make up the shortage. You might need more stationery, or to buy a new PC for one of your team to work safely from home.  Loads of MPs said "thanks, that's a useful cushion in case we need it." Jeremy loudly declared he wouldn't take a penny - no matter how much it might cause problems for the people in his constituency in need. "I'm alright Jack, sod the proles."

Bye bye, you posturing right-wing sossidge. Enjoy the retirement.

Saturday 1 February 2020

LGBT History Month is here!

In February 2005, the UK marked its first LGBT History Month.

I loved the notion: although looking back over old correspondence it seems that the organisers were perhaps collaborating on something to be marked in the more progressive schools around the country, the wider LGBT community heard about it and picked up the idea and ran with it.  So while there were no doubt a bunch of schools events (at thirtyish I wasn't really the demographic to hear about them!) there were a host of other things besides too around the country aimed at the LGBT community in general or anyone LGBT friendly in wider society.

But it was quite lesbian-and-gay despite the name.

Lots of bi and trans people felt left out and some of us decided to do things about it; but to be honest, it was much more something that got picked up within the trans community than the bi community.  So the next few years there were a host of trans events, and a slight downturn in the amount of gay and lesbian stuff - the second and third years of things often see a bit of a downturn as people who had one idea struggle to work out what to do the second time around - but there wasn't much for bis.

In Manchester we had a talk about interpretations of bisexuality in history over the past 3,000 years.  The odd person or group here and there did a talk that didn't really have much to do with history but was perhaps their latest bi research being presented, but it felt very much an LGbT History Month.
By 2013 I'd had an idea.  There has been lots of bisexual stuff that has gone on over the years, and a growing number of high profile openly bi people or depicitions of bis on TV and in film.

There have also been a lot of erased bisexual contributions to our LGBT history, When the story of the decriminalisation of sex between men in Wales and England is told, for instance, we all hear about Labour MP Leo Abse and Conservative MP Humphrey Berkeley, but there is far less mention of Tory peer Lord Montagu or Roy Jenkins (later leader of the SDP) and the role they played as bisexual men without whom the law would likely have taken many more years to change.  If we rely on the sources of the gay and lesbian press we'll never remember the stories of things like BiCon or the bi ban at London Lesbian & Gay Switchboard. 

And so I built bisexualhistory on twitter and its facebook twin bihistory - each sharing in so far as I can manage at least one thing every day about bi history.  "On this day in..." they go - they are all anniversaries or birthdays or the like.  Usually with a link to a news article or wikipedia page so you can read more on the thing in question.

As well as reminding (or teaching!) you of a little dollop of our bisexual history each day, they give an easy way to remind other people about your bisexuality - retweeting about famous bis or bi events is a subtle reminder but one no-one can accuse you of "ramming it down their throat" over, you're just retweeting a happy birthday message to Anna Paquin or Sara Ramirez or what have you. And for allies it's a really easy way of gently showing support through the year.

I'd love people to submit more dates for the calendar. Maybe you know a few or would like to help out by researching some.

And meanwhile the Month has grown like topsy the last few years with a host of events including the big "Hub" events around the UK - more than a dozen big LGBT history festivals at museums around the country and even with a couple overseas joining in.

So happy LGBT History Month. Even if it's not LGBTHM wherever in the world you are!