Notes from a meeting on Sunday 22 November 2020, discussing the past, present and future of BiCon's anti-racist efforts. It was on Zoom, and about 25 people turned up.
This meeting followed on from the review write-up, so you may like to read that first, if you didn't already.
The meeting was co-chaired by Titilayo and Fred.
We planned three parts, covering past, present and future.
Past: the summary from the review write-up.
Present: the available learning opportunities at the moment. Fred referred to this as a kind of "advert break" 🙂
Future: next steps on anti-racism at BiCon.
Four introductions of people:
Titi had been involved in the review process: as a listener for people of colour to talk to about their experiences, and also bringing an understanding of anti-racism. Some people already knew them from having co-led the anti-racism trainings at BiCon 2020 and since.
Jennifer had co-ordinated putting together the review process and write-up, collaborating with Titi and talking to various other people.
Fred had come in to chair the meeting, and hadn't been involved in the previous part of the review process.
Kate gave a wave as Zoom host and technical trouble-shooter!
To set the scene, Jennifer read out the summary text from the review write-up.
Titi gave a brief reflection:
A report like this can't express the full extent of how racism has been affecting people of colour, and how it has been affecting BiCon's work in general.
Important to prioritise the perspectives that come from people of colour that attend BiCon – past, future, present. We've tried to do that throughout this process, and we must keep it in mind when talking about things today.
The meeting was opened for questions. Nobody had any questions at this stage.
Grant and Jennifer gave information about current learning opportunities, as described in Appendix A of the review write-up.
Titi commented that these were primarily groups to support white people in learning more; people of colour wouldn't necessarily want to participate and potentially be in an uncomfortable spotlight. It's important to publicise too the activities where people of colour can participate through the year. Also, there's scope for more things to be set up.
Fred raised the question of where people could send updates, e.g. of new groups. (Appendix A was just a "snapshot" of what's current now, which would inevitably change.) Jennifer agreed to be a contact point for just the next few weeks, and asked for future volunteers. Rowan volunteered to set up an updatable page for this info, at bicon.org.uk. This page probably wouldn't include fast-changing info such as "next meeting date", but only the group description and how to get in touch.
Rachel described an online book/media/discussion group for bi people, once a month on a voice channel on Discord. Although not specifically anti-racist, its theme is books & media by people of colour. People wanting to join in can find out more via the #books channel on the BiCon Discord. (Once you get onto the server, introduce yourself in the #introthread channel. A moderator can then give you posting permissions for the other channels.)
We then had a short "comfort break".
During the break, Titi suggested revising the meeting schedule slightly, to add in a chance to talk in smaller groups. This would also mean that the people of colour at the meeting could talk with each other in a PoC-only space.
Fred gave a broad question for the small groups: "what do you have to say about what we've been talking about so far, or ideas for the future?"
Jennifer flagged up for discussion a recommendation/request which had come from the review process: a BiFest specifically for people of colour. Jennifer offered to start some organising on that, if there could be a steering committee of people of colour. [This offer was declined a bit later in the meeting, on the grounds that the organising should be done by PoC – see below.]
We then all went into our smaller groups.
The following notes reflect some topics from just one of the groups, the one where the captioner was transcribing. (As this group was somewhat more private-feeling than the main meeting, names are omitted.)
Liking the idea of ending the idea of yearly teams and having longer teams that go on for several years at a time.
Liking the idea of a conduct team with perhaps a revolving committee who take up the position for multiple years. Important to have consistency.
Wary of having people on more than one team, one year at a time.
Good to have an oversight group, and/or some decisions being made more than a year in advance.
Early days of BiCon, a lot of people from anarchist backgrounds. Initial mistake of thinking that "if we had no structure, it would be fair" – which doesn't work, because society's structure of "who has the power and the privilege" comes straight through.
Question of whether teams would want a different structure, and agree to co-operate with it? E.g. would teams accept having code of conduct things addressed via a different group, having to have anti-racism training, etc – or whatever was decided.
This review process has been valuable. Wanting as many people as possible in the community to read the report. Would be good to have alternative formats, if there were people available to do it.
Wondering about the possibility of anti-racism communication aimed in particular for the white autistic part of the community – comment from a white autistic person. Thinking partly of what the report said about minimising and making excuses.
Liking that this review points out, not just individual problems, but the pattern and history of BiCon committing to engaging in anti-racism, trying things out, not leading to enough progress.
Agreeing it would be good to move away from having yearly teams. It's like that for historical reasons – because that's how it started – not because it's necessarily the best way now. Question about how that change would happen in practice: who would be responsible for the change?
We then went back into the main meeting space, and there was a bit of feedback from the groups.
Yemisi said that a BiFest for people of colour must be by people of colour for people of colour, therefore it can't be organised by a white-led organisation. Yemisi is involved with Black Pride, which is Black-owned, Black-organised.
Natalya brought back a couple of points:
The early mistake of feeling that "structures were bad and that if there was no structure there would be no power" is where some of BiCon's problems have come from. We have to be open-minded to challenging how things run at the moment.
Historical reasons for having yearly teams: people ran BiCon in the city they were from, and that structure enabled BiCon to move around the country. Stopping that yearly structure would be an important change, but who is going to actually decide and effect that change?
Before the meeting, we had identified two areas where it would be useful to form working groups, or at least identify people interested in working on them.
As discussed in the write-up, the Code of Conduct area could be thought of as two inter-related pieces of work:
Upgrading the Code of Conduct itself. We had recommended paying people of colour to work on this.
Documenting in more detail how it's been managed in the past, so that we aren't "reinventing the wheel".
AC made the point that when we're talking about paying people of colour to do this kind of work, we don't have to rely on external grants: white people need to be committing resources that we/they already have.
Titi clarified that white people can be involved in these processes without speaking on behalf of people of colour. White people who have the energy can take the role of ensuring it happens, which includes ensuring that PoC are paid and supported.
In the text chat channel, there had been some discussion of the practicalities of BiCon venues: possibility of having one venue all the time, possibility of three reliable venues rotating. Fred now briefly commented on this in the main meeting, adding that it would remove some of the "random" variability of BiCons from year to year.
Fred explained that we would finish the main meeting shortly.
People could then choose either a follow-on group, or to leave at this point. There would be a topic group for Code of Conduct, and one for BiCon Guidelines. Fred explained that being in a topic group didn't mean you were definitely committing to being involved in the work. Titi suggested also having the PoC-only group again.
Elizabeth asked about a contact point for where people could get in touch about this work in future. Jennifer agreed to be it for the next few weeks. Elizabeth said that Continuity could receive emails after that, but it wouldn't necessarily be a good long-term solution. Elizabeth and Jennifer would confer.
[Update: we think probably the best place at the moment is the BiCon Discord, as that exists all year round, and has a channel for anti-racism discussion. However, if people specially don't want to go onto Discord, they can still get in touch initially via Continuity.]
Yemisi contributed a recommendation for BiCon organisers: a session on Black issues, open to everyone, not clashing with anything else in the programme. Optional sessions tend to attract only the "already like-minded" people; a plenary session would encourage everyone to be involved.
Jennifer gave a thank-you to Titi for all their good advice during the review process!
The main meeting then ended, and people went into the "breakout rooms" if they wanted to continue.
Hardly anyone chose to go into the BiCon Guidelines "room". There was some free-form discussion about the Guidelines and other aspects of BiCon. No specific further action points were agreed.
There are no notes from this discussion, but one thing which came from it was setting up a new channel on the BiCon Discord, #bipoc-only-space.
Building on the outline already contributed to the write-up, Natalya brought up some key points from her experience:
Vital to marshal our financial resources and pay people of colour to provide structure, not only policies.
Anyone who deals with conduct issues "at the coal face" needs training. All training so far has been informal; some teams have done it better than others. People have learnt through practice and mistakes. Need to prioritise training, e.g. what's the process when someone makes a report? What are the options?
Need to define what BiCon's Code of Conduct is going to cover. For example, suppose a local group makes a credible report about someone (not at BiCon).
We need to look at the history: what we are doing "because of history" that we don't need to do any more?
In the past, there wasn't the community support to ban people, e.g. angry disagreement from others on an occasion when someone was banned for good reason. We need to bring the community with us. We need to have a conversation as a community.
How does it come over to new people? Explaining why we have a code of conduct. It can scare people. Example, a malicious allegation was made toward a person of colour who was new to BiCon, and they were scared – not wanting to put a foot wrong. Understanding what looks scary: white people in power against people not in power. Again, importance of having PoC involved.
Natalya explained she can't take a lead on this area now, due to work, health and needing to not burn out further. However, she can offer to share what she has, e.g. by interacting with someone in conversation.
Some more points from various people:
AC added that the Code of Conduct has to cover social media, and Natalya agreed.
Kate advocated for the Code of Conduct team to be separate from the organising team. Need to consider: Who are they? Where would they sit in terms of the wider structure? What are their responsibilities and roles? Next step could be considering how this would work.
Rowan said that like Natalya, they can't currently take a lead on this but can feed in their experience of working on it in the past.
Rowan questioned how much work was right to leave to PoC to deal with (even if paid), as a lot of the complaints aren't about race.
AC pointed out that until people of colour are available as listeners, we don't know how many complaints there would be about racism. We don't know yet the scale of the problem, and we can't find out without first addressing the organisation's whiteness.
Discussion of: what would be a realistic starting point.
Natalya suggested two actions:
ask Continuity for some money
draw up a basic job description for the next stage, e.g. "we are looking for a person of colour to do 20 hours to specify X".
AC suggested talking to Titi about who might do the work.
Rowan, who is one of the Trustees of BiCon Continuity, advised that for Continuity to give money, there would have to be a bit more explanation in the request: what you're going to do and roughly what it's going to cost.
General agreement about talking both to Titi and to Continuity. Discussion of who has energy/"spoons".
Kate offered to pick up whichever jobs other people weren't doing.
AC offered to start the conversation with Titi.
Everyone agreed it's important to be realistic about energy levels. Kate made the point that if people optimistically get involved when in reality they haven't got time, that tends to slow things down.
Rowan raised the possibility of collaborating with another organisation running events for bi people, e.g. Scottish Bi+ Network, so as to share the costs. Possibility of other orgs being able to apply for funding from different places.
Kate questioned whether that addition would introduce too much complication. Discussion of the "going shares" idea. Agreement that a Code of Conduct for "Bi events that happen over a weekend, conference style" could potentially be useful to more than one organisation. "Because then other organisations won't be reinventing the wheel".
Elizabeth offered to help with any grant writing. She will also pass on anything relevant which comes from people getting in touch with Continuity.
[In the discussion, no-one explicitly said that they would reach out to other organisations.]
We intend to hire a person of colour (or more than one person), to work on the Code of Conduct and how it's administered in practice. We may end up splitting the costs with another organisation with similar needs.
AC will talk with Titi about who might do the work.
Then AC and Kate will liaise about next stages.
Elizabeth will help with any grant-writing, and be a point of connection at BiCon Continuity.
Rowan and Natalya are happy to be copied in to updates, and potentially feed in info from their past experience.
End of meeting! Thanks to everyone who came.
On this page:
Past: a summary from the review
Present: current learning opportunities
Dividing into three smaller groups
Notes from one of the small groups
Feedback from small groups to main meeting
Future: next steps
Wrapping up, and dividing to topic groups
BiCon Guidelines "room"
Code of Conduct "room", including next steps
Conclusion & next actions