Stonewall’s historic consultation with the bi communities
I’ve been pissed off with Stonewall for decades. Bi erasure and biphobia hurts twice as much when it comes from a supposedly lesbian, gay and bisexual organisation. I felt like there was no accountability, that the B in LGB (T) was just a letter and not the reality of varied communities of bisexual people. I wasn’t expecting much of the Bi Consultation except a lot of denial and frustration. So I was glad when the day began with meeting other bi activists in a coffee shop in Pimlico, who were full of ideas.
The Etc venue had gender neutral toilets, a variety of food and drink for those who had allergies, and the staff were friendly.
Once inside, I took a discreet look around the packed boardroom: I counted over thirty people present, but only two other bisexuals of colour. I was disappointed that there weren’t more; that events like these either weren’t going after LGBT people of colour, or it was off-putting to black and minority ethnic people. Another issue that affects me personally, was that whenever anyone mentioned the word, “black,” everyone at my table would suddenly turn to me. That behaviour continued throughout the day until the afternoon when I asked them all to stop. I don’t represent all black and minority ethnic bisexuals. I just help run Bi’s of Colour, which was started due to racism present in bisexual spaces.
After the facilitator, Caroline set out some ground rules, Ruth Hunt gave an apology for how bisexuals were treated by Stonewall in the past. It didn’t feel like empty words, but that the charity wanted to move forward with positive intent. We were also told some of Stonewalls early history, which seemed to involve getting lots of gay, cis men to pay attention to lesbians who were being discriminated against. I started to feel irritated; this kind of behaviour was going on in the present day when it came to bisexuals. A quick look at Stonewalls LGBT history page sees a complete absence of bisexual recognition (Fritz Klein’s grid is mentioned, but not the fact that he was bi)
There was a brief flurry of questions and answers. I was impressed that Ruth Hunt was willing to field these professionally and with good nature. One question: Stonewall has been deliberately biphobic in the past, resulted in a statement that Stonewall was not institutionally biphobic. I began to feel uncomfortable once more; as one participant told me later, “Society is institutionally biphobic.” Part of this kind of behaviour is that it is very hard to see from the inside; bisexuals are probably the best people to gauge whether something is biphobic or not. This statement was clarified later, but I still felt on edge.
Ruth Hunt presented several points that Stonewall thought were priorities for bisexual people:
Health, Asylum and Immigration, Employment, Biphobia within the lesbian and gay community, and Bi Visibility. The attendees added the following: Homelessness and housing, Race, Faith, Ageing, Intersections, Parenting, Rural Bi’s
(These are incomplete lists)
We split into groups to discuss these points, and to generate ways that Stonewall could address them. For the first time in the day, I felt really good; that I was being listened to, and Stonewall was taking notice. The discussions continued after lunch, and then each group fed back to the room. It was great hearing so many ideas for moving forward that would be aimed at bisexuals. These discussion points resulted in a declaration that Stonewall may not be able to deliver everything we wanted, but our priorities would be taken seriously. Ruth gave us a list of proposals that would be taken forward from the day. Two of the proposals that really made me smile was that there would be a named person in Stonewall responsible for bi people, and there would be a campaign to fight biphobia from lesbian and gay communities
I came away from the event feeling emotionally wiped out. I may have behaved as if I didn’t really care about what happened, but the sense of hope I had as I left was a surprise for me; after being a part of the bisexual community, starving for attention, a feast was finally within my sights!