On this page…
What this is / meeting info
Cycles of anti-racist initiatives
What BiCon racism looks like day to day
Erosion of trust
Recent initiatives, BiCon 2019 to BiCon 2020 and after
Code of Conduct, and applying it
Recommendations for future organisers of BiCon and similar things
Other than organising a BiCon
Appendix A: Current learning opportunities
Appendix B: Backstory timeline
Appendix C: Comparison of tasks and progress
BiCon is the UK bisexuality conference/convention, a mostly-residential gathering once a year in the summer.
BiCon 2019 voted to take some actions on anti-racism, and to review after a year. This write-up is part of that review process.
shall also have had an online meeting to talk about this and what next.
- Sunday 22 November 2020, 2.30pm
- Open to all interested people!
- Free tickets available via Eventbrite.
- BiCon as an organisation is systemically racist.1 Power dynamics favour white participants, keep the system as it is, and prevent addressing harm.
- BiCon has been going through cycles of anti-racist initiatives that aren't sustained long-term.
- There is good stuff going on at the moment – but so far, it could be just another one of those cycles. What's going to be different this time?
- Organising teams don't always respond adequately/consistently to problems; this also means people are less likely to report in future.
- The lack of care, consistency and progress has eroded trust from people of colour, even while some PoC continue to get value from participating.
- Racism can be subtle patterns, not only obviously horrible things. White people must learn to recognise and address it, not wait for people of colour to point it out.
- Some white people around BiCon have only a beginner or nonexistent understanding of racism & anti-racism.
- There are many practical things which can be done to make things better for bi people of colour. We list some specifics, both for people organising BiCons and for people wondering what else they can do.
- Being able to sustain those good practices has implications for the structure of how BiCon is organised – e.g. people, teams, energy, training, prioritisation. Treating anti-racism as a wishlist or add-on won't work.
Looking at the backstory timeline (see appendix), we can see several pushes to start or re-start anti-racist work, and several different things tried (such as workshops on anti-racism, discounted admission for people of colour, etc). It isn't that nothing's been done; it's more that pieces are done, while not adding up to fundamental change.
The cycle plays out over a timespan of a few years:
- Someone – usually a person of colour – flags up that BiCon is still racist.
- Organisers try to do a good thing, or ensure a bad thing doesn't happen.
- Progress is visible for that year.
- Same progress is possibly visible for another year or two.
- An incoming team lets the improvement lapse, perhaps because a key person moved on or the team was overloaded that year.
- Cycle repeats.
How do we know that this review isn't part of another of those cycles?
What will be different in future to ensure that this information is remembered and built upon?
(More on this in the section on structure.)
Content note / trigger warning: numerous stories of racism & excuses. White people please read this section to understand; people of colour may like to skip to next section.
Mainstream culture tends to present racism as only the most obvious examples, like someone being called an obviously racist word in a hostile tone. The kind of racism which happens at BiCon is more about subtler incidents adding up over time, plus a pattern of "explaining away", minimising or excusing.
- Relating to someone as a novelty / fascination:
(bold text in all of these is added for ease of reading)
At Bicon in 2019 I experienced a microaggression where someone I met in a workshop later tried to practice their Chinese on me during the evening event. I didn't feel like it was worth mentioning to any organisers because I got used to brushing such things off and I guess he was well-intentioned enough. But later on it did make me think that feeling excluded from a space can be caused by subtle and seemingly well-meaning things. No one else around me at the time told him to stop it either. I guess nobody spotted it as a microaggression. I ignored him for the rest of Bicon and he got the point eventually.
I guess I am saying this to point out that not all actions which make people feel like they don't belong are obvious or even seem that rude on the surface. I didn't even feel bad about it initially, only later on I realised that it was a moment in which I realised that I was a novelty in that space, pointed out because I didn't belong.
… It's not always hate, sometimes it's just a bit too much fascination.
– Review contributor of colour
- Treating someone as defined primarily by their race, "making a thing of" their race:
Discussion of dressing up – someone chipping in to tell a Black person "you could come as an African Queen".
– White review contributor
- Responding with ideas of why something maybe "wasn't racism", not believing people of colour:
[During BiCon, a] friend and I were both repeatedly stopped by campus security type people in a very clear case of profiling, and the BiCon team's first reaction was to assume that we weren't displaying our badges (we were), or were in an out of bounds area (we were on our way to our rooms, following the main path) rather than believing that we were being targeted and racially profiled.
– Review contributor of colour
- Nosey questions based on people's appearance:
Inappropriate questions about any dress that isn't perceived to be standard is very common. Some BME people may feel comfortable with explaining their outfits to curious white bisexuals, whereas others get sick of it very quickly. Honest enquiry may be fine, but the constant questions can often feel like BME people have to verify that they are in the right place, to prove they are indeed bisexuals and not interlopers. This is something rarely experienced by white bisexual people, especially as questions about clothing are usually followed up by 'Where are you from? I mean really from?'
– Jacq Applebee, writing in Purple Prose, 2016 (about bi spaces in general)
- Excusing objectifying/exoticising comments:
"I reported [unwanted comments about racialised aspects of my body] to the info desk, nothing happened, it was played off as "harmless curiosity".
– Review contributor of colour
- Excuses based on how BiCon runs:
In my feedback on BiCon 2017, I brought up the issue of the Home Office being invited to run a stall on the same day of a session on bi+ asylum seekers. The Bis of Colour session was that day as well. Considering the Home Office's record of racism and biphobia, I felt it was deeply inappropriate to have them there and made the space unwelcoming for POC. However, the excuse made for no action being taken on feedback was that 'it's a different team of organisers every year'. This is a way of BiCon continuing to avoid accountability for mistakes made in the past, and having things continue as they are.
– Review contributor of colour
- White organisers not thinking through how something could come over:
BiCon 2010 named the rooms after countries which had passed "equal marriage" laws. But this ended up with them all named after majority-white countries.2
– White review contributor
- Talking as though BiCon's better than it really is:
I think the nadir came years back when a photo of a few Bicon attendees (including a single BME person) was published with a caption championing our "racial diversity" or suchlike. It certainly did not go down well with one or two people I spoke to, and I can understand why.
– White review contributor
- White participant mistakenly thinking that anti-racist initiatives are racist:
I would like to say that I am quite reluctant to participate in the anti-racism training sessions, based on what I read about it beforehand. …
In various places where the anti-racism training is mentioned, it is said that if you're Black (or BME, or maybe some other specific term was used), it isn't for you. Let's be captain obvious here: that is making a distinction based on skin colour, i.e. racist.
– White review contributor
This echoes the 2010 decision-making plenary, noted in the timeline in appendix B, where some white people questioned having "safer space" sessions at BiCon for marginalised groups. Doing something to counteract oppression isn't racist.3
(For background, this is an over-simplification of the team's approach to promoting the training sessions. The point was that the training was going to be at a beginner level of anti-racist awareness, and PoC have "lived experience" of racism and therefore don't need that beginner level. As a point of fact, PoC are/were welcome to come to the training sessions – and some have.)
- Pattern of not recognising racism even when you're part of it:
I don't believe BiCon has become less racist – the people I have experienced doing racist stuff are generally embedded regular attendees or organisers, and sending them to a workshop just makes them feel good about themselves, they don't think it applies to them and it doesn't change their behaviour because they don't clock their own behaviour as racist.
– Review contributor of colour
One contributor observed:
The question needs to be 'in what ways is BiCon excluding POC?' rather than 'what can BiCon do to be inclusive of POC?'.
– Review contributor of colour
Cultural appropriation has been described as
when people from a dominant culture take cultural elements from a marginalized group without knowing or caring about how their actions affect marginalized people.4
For example, it could include taking something out of its sacred or significant context, or making financial profit which primarily benefits yourself and not the original community.
That short description can't fully explain the nuances of it. Here are some resources:
From the point of view of bi people of colour, cultural appropriation has been a noticeable and painful part of BiCon's racism:
The amount of exoticism of other cultures, and cultural appropriation (white people teaching belly dancing, for example) revolts me, and it seems to be treated as exempt from the conversation about how to make BiCon less racist.
– Review contributor of colour
Hippy or New Age outfits that involve a white person wearing a bindi or sporting dreadlocks may also be offensive, as both of these are religious and cultural items to many BME people. Cultural appropriation is an issue that is often faced in many white-dominated alternative spaces; bisexual spaces in the UK are no exception.
– Jacq Applebee, writing in Purple Prose, 2016 (about bi spaces in general)
The theme we picked up from white people was more like wanting rules or explanations of why one thing was and another wasn't.
I have to question how [specific example] can be in any way considered cultural appropriation.
– White review contributor
We need people to develop their understanding of cultural appropriation, rather than coming from "what am I allowed to do?"
[Name] seemed to want there to be a list of what's OK, and that isn't the way it works.
– White review contributor
After years of racism, pain, excuses and dismissals, some participants of colour now have no trust in BiCon as a whole or its organisers.
We received no comments from PoC that they had a high level of trust in organisers to respond well to a report of racism; where mentioned, it was none or middling.
Some key factors we identified in destroying trust:
- Poor responses to specific incidents.
I didn't even bother reporting this one to the BiCon organisers because I knew they'd do nothing about it, just like all the other times.
– Review contributor of colour
- A sense of some people being more valued or believed than others:
- cis people more than trans people
- white people more than people of colour
- "regulars" and organisers more than newcomers.
People didn't trust that they'd necessarily get a fair hearing, especially if the person who'd crossed a line (or skated close to it) was a long-time contributor, or part of organiser friendship networks. Even if this were only a perception with no reflection in reality, it would still be a problem, because it's likely to deter reporting.
Someone who's behaved badly, and complaints haven't been made because of who they are. If you're a big-name person, or hold a lot of social capital, you can get away with more than other people.
– Review contributor of colour
- The repetitive cycle of "claim to be listening, try to do something about racism, nothing much changes".
… the issues have been brought up repeatedly over the past 10+ years without any real action being taken.
– Review contributor of colour
We are told to appreciate that Bicon ‘is run by volunteers’. We are told that it takes a lot to organise an event. We are told that organisers get burnt out. We are told that it is a structural issue. … At the end of the day, all those things we are told are white excuses for racial bias.
– @Angreebindii, on the Bi's of Colour blog, September 2017 (and see related longer quote in the timeline appendix)
I first went 17 years ago. Any ‘progress’ in that time has been forced by the blood, sweat and tears of BIPoC Bi’s.
– Nila K, on the Bi's of Colour blog, June 2020
What's been happening recently?
- All session leaders of colour at BiCon 2020 were paid, as were two DJs contributing to the entertainments.
- BiCon 2020 had two sessions of anti-racism training, 25 participants each. Each session was two hours including a half-time break, led by Titilayo and Navan from the Anti-Racist Educator collective.
I really appreciate the anti racism training. The only thing is that there is never enough time to go over all the subtleties of the subject! It is so hard to make others understand our lived experiences when they don't experience it. Particularly in the subtle things that I described in what I wrote earlier.
– Review contributor of colour
The training has run again twice since BiCon, bringing the total participants to 92.
- In the run-up to BiCon 2020, Suzy Rachel set up a GoFundMe for anti-racism work around BiCon. This has raised £938 in donations at the time of writing.
- The two trainings at BiCon were initially funded by the Equality Network. Participants have been asked to contribute £10 if they can afford it (into the GoFundMe), to sustain a pot of money for future similar things.
- A video was made of one of the training sessions at BiCon. This video is now captioned, and available to people who, for access reasons, can't make it to a live-in-real-time session.
- In the run-up to BiCon 2020, there was discussion of a possible new rule: that in future, before booking for the accommodation at BiCon, you'd have to show you'd taken part in an anti-racism training session, or equivalent. However, at present it's only a suggestion, not formally adopted by future BiCon teams. (There is a consensus that people should be asked to start educating themselves in some way before they arrive.)
- Following the vote at BiCon 2019, an anti-racism working group was formed, linked specifically to BiCon. Its main energies went into seeking grant funding from two different places, but neither application was successful. The group gave a report to BiCon 2020, and has now wound up.
The grant applications were about subsidising PoC participation and paying PoC advisors. Anyone who's working on similar grant applications, and would find it useful to see these ones, please contact Elizabeth via BiCon Continuity.
Over the year, it emerged that some other people had thought of joining the working group, but had decided not to, because of disliking the politics or approach of one or more people in the original group. The group was criticised for leaving that situation unaddressed: e.g. it could have divided into subgroups to work on different tasks, so that if one person doesn't fancy working with another, they can both contribute in different ways.
- In the summer of 2020, around the same time as the anti-racism training was being planned, Blake set up a "white affinity group", online: "a meetup for white people to grow our understanding of how white supremacy shapes our lives and work through the feelings which hold us back from being better allies." This was suggested by Yas Lime, a Brown bi person, who recommended resources to guide the group. It's met roughly fortnightly, with participant numbers varying from 2 to around 20.
- BiCon 2020's organisers turned down an offered session which was seen as potentially cultural appropriation.
- Some of the people who've done the anti-racism training have been inventing follow-up events of various kinds. See the appendix on current learning opportunities.
What hasn't yet seen progress, or not much?
Among the key things named by @Angreebindii in 2017 was
a stronger decolonised code of conduct
This has not yet happened, and would be a prime candidate for paying for advice from people of colour.
@Angreebindii's next point was:
the proper enforcement of the code of conduct
As to how that stands, here's an outline and some analysis from Natalya, a many-time BiCon organiser and former Trustee of BiCon Continuity. In recent years, Natalya has been a key person for Code of Conduct stuff. (Divided into topics for ease of reference.)
- Long-term record-keeping:
We do need a BiCon record of conduct issues that goes back a long time.
Some people who are warned for misconduct will stop coming to BiCon for many years. They then return years later (sometimes using a different name – but often recognised by a few people). If they misbehave again, their history may not be known to the current conduct team. When the team has access to this information, they would often apply stronger or more clear "permanent banning" style sanctions.
Conversely, the more people who know about something, the less likely it is to stay confidential. I know of at least one or two instances where a BiCon team member has had access to conduct information who then shared it inappropriately. When volunteer organisers are part of the same community as people whose details are recorded, it's challenging to find a balance between restriction and necessary access.
Continuity may not be the best organisation to hold centralised information, for a range of reasons.
Structures, training, and the difficulty of challenging powerful people in a small community:
I have to be honest and say that perpetrators of misconduct have not always been challenged appropriately or quickly enough, wholly or partly because of their position of power or association with someone in power.
There are a range of reasons for that, including:
- denial of the problem
- fear of the perpetrator
- lack of clear guidance and planning in advance for how to deal with conflicts of interest ethically and appropriately.
Conduct management at BiCons is still too ad-hoc. I have tried to do bits and pieces of formalisation as an organiser and continuity trustee, but I have failed to embed the idea of "training around conduct management" into the wider community.
Realistically, anyone handling conduct needs training in
- taking reports sensitively
- making inquiries
- how to analyse an unexpected issue
- dealing with perpetrators, e.g. warning people, sanctioning people
- understanding why we've not made it safe enough for people to make reports.
We also need clear policies for when someone has to step back from involvement because they can't be impartial, or wouldn't be seen as impartial: for example, if an organising team member or conduct team member themselves is accused of misconduct.
It is very clear more needs to be done, and I'd welcome constructive discussion on making this a lot better. I would like future conduct-management volunteers to have a less ropey introduction to it than I did.
- The legal side:
There are legitimate Data Protection concerns around how we talk about people who are accused of misconduct at BiCons. Even anonymised, some people can be identifiable to others.
This has legal implications. I know of at least two people accused of misconduct who have reacted by making quite scary written legal threats against BiCon around information sharing.
There have been people in the past who were unhappy that details of their reported-misconduct and sanctions were passed from one BiCon team to another. In the past, this was not made clear in the Code of Conduct, and possibly some of the warnings.
The Code of Conduct has largely been updated to reflect organisers' right to pass information on, and I have worked with teams to make sure warnings are clearer about likely information sharing, where possible.
BiCon teams and Continuity still have to be careful about any information sharing, and make sure they document their reasoning so they can provide justification in the event of a formal or legal complaint.
[See quote from Privacy Statement in footnote: 5]
- Conduct standards & processes must be "owned" by the community as a whole:
Beyond legal data protection issues, though, I think the wider BiCon community needs to have a serious in-person discussion about Conduct. This discussion needs to include how allegations are handled and how allegation-information (about individuals) is shared, as well as how to make people feel safer to report misconduct.
I believe the wider BiCon community needs to be "on-side", because conduct management is as much a social contract as a formal or legal one.
In the past, BiCon organisers have received considerable flak from some parts of the community for trying to manage misconduct. There need to be conversations about what can and cannot be managed within a BiCon setting.
Conduct teams try hard to "get to the truth" but sometimes a sanction has to be applied to someone who denies behaving badly. BiCons do not have the resources of police, courts, etc (and we know they don't work either) so have to do the best possible with limited time and resources – and an aim to keep other people safe and secure.
A question I'd like to ask people is, "How would you feel if you were sanctioned for an allegation you felt was untrue?".
- What makes people feel safe enough to report?
There is also a lot more work needed to be done to make people feel safe and able to report conduct issues in general, especially racism issues.
There are things organisers can do.
For example, at BiCon 2018, the team had a conduct report HOW-TO sheet at the registration desk for desk volunteers to follow. This sheet explicitly acknowledged BiCon's historic failings around racism and told desk volunteers some ways to ensure they took reports of racism carefully and sensitively.
A few People of Colour noticed this, and told the team that they found this helpful and reassuring.
I am sure there are other things simple and less-simple that teams could do on this matter. Again, worth discussing with the wider community to make it a community problem to be solved together.
See also the point on paying PoC to be on listening teams, in the section with recommendations for BiCon organisers.
- The flow of information:
Sometimes there can be an assumption that if something has been raised somewhere (on social media for example) that the team know about the issue and are choosing to ignore it.
The most helpful thing anyone can do is to alert the organising team to any issues that come up, so they can respond appropriately.
At BiCon 2017, I was told about some reports online about racism, that the team did not know until someone told them (I can't remember if it was me who told them or not).
Once the team knew, they quickly posted to BiCon's social media channels with a strongly worded message, naming the racist behaviour and telling people to stop doing it. They also invited anyone who did not understand the issue, to talk to team who would take the time to explain it (I doubt anyone took this up).
To the best of mine and 2017's knowledge, that specific behaviour stopped. But it might not have done! We may just not know.
Also, the wider issue that led to the racist behaviour happening is still prevalent in the community – which is one reason this anti-racist work is so important to engage with.
The BiCon Guidelines form a framework for setting expectations between BiCon teams and the wider community.
The idea is that if you offer to run a BiCon, either you do what they describe, or you say up-front that you're not going to do that bit.
That way, organisers can't unilaterally decide to ditch important bits (such as having cheaper tickets for people with less money). If new teams want to do something differently, and that area was perceived as important enough to be in the Guidelines, then the team has to ask the community up-front first. This optional stage would happen before that team is "officially" approved to run that BiCon.
This means that the BiCon Guidelines are (in theory at least) a key structure for ensuring that important things don't get forgotten.
It's not yet clear to us exactly what needs to be added to the Guidelines, or changed in the Guidelines, to lock in the commitments on anti-racism.
We think that a possible good next step after the meeting is for some people to start talking about this.
Meanwhile, we have gathered a lot of practical recommendations for BiCon organisers (and there could be more!)…
(Not in order of importance, just numbered for ease of talking about)
- Always have at least one session for people of colour only.
I always look forward to the Bis of Colour space each year where we can talk amongst ourselves about how life and Bicon is going that year 🙂
- Think about schedule clash implications:
Don't schedule two "safe space" sessions at the same time. For example, don't schedule the Bi's of Colour session at the same time as the trans people's session.
- Invite PoC as contributors in a variety of programming that isn't specifically about race.
It's important that there is a Bis of Colour space every year. However, there needs to be space for POC to run sessions where race/racism isn't the subject and they're not expected to talk about race. It's tiring for POC to talk about and think about race all the time, and we do want to discuss other things too.
An example of a conference that got this right was the UK Asexuality Conference I went to in September. There was a POC panel as well as POC speaking on other panels (aces in fiction, research, aces and mental health). The participants were able to talk about other subjects related to the asexual spectrum without being expected to primarily talk about race. I feel the reason the conference got the balance right was because of the involvement of Yasmin Benoit (a Black asexual activist).
POC want to have a good time at BiCon too!
- Put BiCon in a geographical area where a lot of people of colour live:
One thing that could be considered is the location of BiCon – I've noticed that there are more attendees of colour when BiCon is in or near a major city. A town or city that's seen to have fewer communities of colour may give the impression to attendees that a BiCon hosted there will be a predominantly white one.
- Make it easy for new bi PoC to dip in, low stakes:
Day tickets for local first timers free or cheap on the day the Bi's of Colour session is happening. And advertise which day that session will be. It means people can try it out without spending much money, and they know they will definitely meet other bi people of colour.
(Note that London BiFest has been free admission for PoC since 2018.)
- Run some BiFests for PoC:
Hold all-POC events – mini/regional bicons … There absolutely can and should be BiCon resources put into closed POC spaces.
Financial access is key for many PoC. More publicity for the access fund…
Flag up financial help.
… and more consistency with it:
There needs to be more consistency with the access fund – this needs to be available every year.
One PoC contributor commented:
Also, it needs to be optional for POC to apply to [the access fund] – there are some POC who can afford to pay the full ticket price.
Another suggested proactively offering financial help to PoC at the time of registration:
Supposing they've self-declared band C, proactively offer band B – ask "would this help?"
- If someone is racially harassed at BiCon:
(a) offer to refund their ticket:
Also, if somebody is racially harassed at BiCon, refund their ticket otherwise we're literally paying to be traumatised.
(b) make known publicly that there's been an incident, even if the person doesn't want any details shared:
this must also be advertised, or put somewhere for people to see – it could help for people to come forward.
Outreach to local groups & communities:
Go into local bi/queer BPoc communities a year in advance / as soon as location is decided, to build local connections and ensure that local communities know what's coming up and how to get involved.
Outreach to national groups, such as Black Pride and LGBTQ faith groups:
Outreach and publicity in adjacent cities:
If you can't afford to be out where you live, sometimes it's less scary to travel to the next city and go to something there.
Listening team at BiCon:
I was thinking with the listeners team each year that it could be good to have someone specifically there to speak to about racism issues.
Our recommendation is that two people of colour be paid to be part of the listening team at each BiCon, so that (as with this review), if a PoC requests listening – especially if they need to flag up something racist – they can choose to talk with a fellow PoC. Further consultation would be needed about what exactly the role would be of those two people, what support they might offer to someone who'd been harassed, what support or training would be provided for them in turn, etc.
- If you're getting complaints, be pleased you're hearing them. There are bound to be some, so if you're not hearing any, that's not a good sign.
- Recognise informal dissatisfaction as a kind of complaint. Keep a note of grumbling you hear about, alongside complaints more formally presented, and fix or acknowledge the problem as appropriate.
One year, the signs on the toilet doors got graffiti'd. We replaced the signs but we didn't do anything else about it. In retrospect, it would've been better if we'd treated the graffiti as a kind of complaint.
[Update from the meeting: another recommendation would be
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.]
What can you do that isn't organising a BiCon?
- Take responsibility for your own learning about anti-racism, and encourage others to do the same.
It's important for white people to educate themselves (even by googling) rather than expecting PoC to do it.
– Review contributor of colour
Racism isn't something that people of colour need to take a shovel and dig themselves out of, by themselves.
– Review contributor of colour
For people wanting more than articles, books and videos, some BiCon-community learning meetups already exist. Or you could suggest a meetup of a different kind and see if anyone else wants to join in.
- Think ahead to how you'd handle it if someone picks up on something racist you did or said. Would you feel you knew how to respond? Would you be so knocked off balance that it becomes "all about you"? Who's in your life that you could talk it through with?
It's normal to feel uneasy or vulnerable in conversations about potential racism you've committed – but it's worth developing your ability to receive & respond to that kind of criticism. Remember that in that moment, the harm you may have done to someone else is more important than how you're feeling. (You can have all the feelings later, of course!)
When you know you can cope with making mistakes, it can give you more confidence to speak up when someone needs to speak up.
- Might you have access to resources that could be useful to the group Bi's of Colour?
Wishlist at the moment:
- Accessible meeting rooms around the country, at a good price (for when there isn't an epidemic).
- Free or discounted printing, e.g. for leaflets.
- Money is always useful.
- If you don't want to organise a BiCon or be officially on a team, but you do want BiCon to continue existing, could you take on a small task? (This is of course dependent on teams making tasks known.)
- You could follow the social media of PoC-led groups local to you (LGBT-specific or not – bi people of colour are everywhere). You could amplify what they're doing & what they need, and see if there's anything practical which you might be able to offer. You could make sure your local networks know about the existence of the group Bi's of Colour.
It's not acceptable to use BiCon's limitations as an excuse for racism to continue. Yet the way BiCon runs does have implications for volunteer energy, and for the ability to learn year-on-year.
Instead of using that fact to excuse problems continuing, we need to identify what structural changes would be needed to put BiCon in a position to improve.
As we (Titi, Asha and Jennifer) discussed the input to the review, it seemed clear to us that progress on anti-racism is interlinked with the health of BiCon organisation overall. A wishlist of anti-racist moves "only goes so far"; then people have to make it happen.
Volunteer energy: BiCon 2020 got to BiCon weekend on its third group of organisers (two sets having dropped out mid-year for different reasons). The current 2021 team stepped up at short notice to replace a team which dropped out, and itself could currently do with more people. This contrasts with a more thriving BiCon of 10 to 15 years ago, when it wouldn't have been unusual to have team leaders and most of a team in place two years ahead, with bookings for the next BiCon opening at the current one or soon after.6
A lot on a few people's shoulders: Looking back over the last 10 years of anti-racism efforts, the same few names recur as having run workshops or pushed things forward. When this happens, it's a kind of weakness, in that one person stepping back can leave a big gap.
Pre-Internet traditions: Some of how BiCon runs is inherited from a long time ago – before we had the internet, when teams were much more likely to all live in the same town.
Kate, one of the organisers of BiCon 2020, had made some structure-related suggestions in an explanation brought to the BiCon 2020 Decision-Making Plenary:
When I realised this year that Bicon keeps making racist errors (from Bi’s of colour statement/published on website June 2020), I reflected a lot about why this might be. I could find 2 main areas. Firstly, attendee mistakes, and secondly larger organiser mistakes.
The structure of bicon teams is in and of itself enabling racist mistakes by having yearly teams, (who are often new to organising Bicons or new to the roles), take sole responsibility and ‘carry the can’ for everything. At the end of the year they are usually burnt out and run away, often without doing the accounts or a handover to the next year or similar things. It’s a hard gig! …
- An end to yearly teams, people staying around for longer periods of time and tasks broken up smaller and more visibly to encourage people to participate for longer periods of time. Listing several years tasks on the board with names and accountability to encourage learning across the years.
- More transparency to be enforced in the ‘guidelines’ for organisers – (who is doing what, when, why etc?) including set up of a public task board where people can see these things progress (or not) and offer to pick up the baton where needed.
- A conduct team set up who span lots of different years and whom the organisers yearly teams are also accountable to
- Better restorative justice/community culture of learning system in place – including exploring accountability for things which could happen outside bicon time
- Mandatory anti racism training for all attendees we know of in advance (taking into account previous experiences or access issues etc).
- Transparency of structure of Bi Continuity, how it relates to Bicon and where/when it influences. Who has the money/why/how does the community access it etc.
While these might not be the exact points taken forward, we agree that these are the kinds of questions the BiCon community needs to be thinking about. It's hard to keep up momentum on the work of anti-racism when the whole organisation is tending to "burn out" its volunteers.
A few footnotes…
Institutional racism, also known as systemic racism, is a form of racism that is embedded as normal practice within society or an organization. …
The term institutional racism was first coined in 1967 by Stokely Carmichael [later known as Kwame Ture] and Charles V. Hamilton in Black Power: The Politics of Liberation. Carmichael and Hamilton wrote that while individual racism is often identifiable because of its overt nature, institutional racism is less perceptible because of its "less overt, far more subtle" nature. Institutional racism "originates in the operation of established and respected forces in the society, and thus receives far less public condemnation than [individual racism]".
2. "Equal marriage laws" background: Highlighting only the recent developments gives a superficial impression of majority-white countries leading the way. However, in many countries it was white Christian colonisers who introduced & enforced anti-LGBT laws, outlawing older LGBT traditions.
3. "Isn't racist": It's common for white people to be operating from a wayyy oversimplified, unhelpful, basically wrong definition of "racism", which is something like "any acknowledgement of racialised categories" or "any action which takes into account racialised categories". However, if you're trying to be anti-racist, your understanding of racism needs to take into account power, not only categories and labels.
4. Description of cultural appropriation: From 5 Things You Don’t Realize When You Defend Cultural Appropriation, by Maisha Z Johnson (also linked to as a resource from the main text).
5. Quote from BiCon Privacy Statement 2019:
To attend BiCon, you have to agree to abide by the Code of Conduct. If you breach the Code of Conduct, you may be given a warning, or you may be asked to leave the event.
If this happens, we may pass on details about you and your breach of the Code of Conduct to the organising teams for future BiCon events, and to BiCon Continuity Ltd (the organisation that protects BiCon’s money and reputation). They may use this information to decide whether you should be asked to leave future BiCon events, or be refused entry to them. If we are doing this, we will tell you in writing, and will tell you how you may object to and/or appeal against this.
6. "Two years ahead": The 2007 DMP minutes even name team leaders for three years ahead, 2010 being the international BiCon which had more of a run-up.
Notes on this section:
- Events listed in this section are for people learning more about racism & anti-racism. People of colour may find more things of interest via the Bi's of Colour blog.
- This is a snapshot from November 2020 – it won't be updated. However, we're looking at setting up an ongoing page for this kind of thing.
Here are some events…
- Grant and Oliver are organising a monthly short "lunchtime learning" session online, free admission:
You don't have time to commit to a reading group or organise events, but you would still like to learn about racism and discuss with others? We are hosting a monthly lunch-time meet and talk. For 10 to 15 minutes, an invited speaker will present a racism related topic or something they feel like discussing with a group, and the remainder of the time is reserved for questions and discussion.
If you are interested or want to be a speaker? Please get in touch and we will let you know further details.
Oliver Lauenstein, email oliver at lauenstein.org
Grant Denkinson, email grantdenkinson at hushmail.com
- James is organising a fortnightly "Documentary Club" on Zoom (a bit like a book club) – watch in your own time, then meet to discuss online. Free to join in.
As part of BiCon's ongoing efforts to improve our racial awareness and inclusion, we'll be hosting fortnightly discussion sessions for documentaries and other materials that explore this theme.
How does it work?
Every two weeks we will send links to a documentary (or a few short ones) for people to watch at their own time and convenience. We might also send along some suggested questions to help people focus if they need it.
On the day of the discussion, we will meet up on Zoom. People are welcome to share their thoughts and their learning from that documentary. We'll address any pre-arranged questions as well as new ones that pop up on the day (you don't have to answer every question, or any at all if you want to just listen in).
We will then choose the next piece to watch – it could be your suggestion, a recommendation, or something entirely new and surprising!
Who is it for?
Anyone who likes to watch documentaries and engaging nerdy discussions afterwards.
The documentaries themselves are likely to be 30 min – 2 hours long, and discussions lasting about an hour (full disclosure: the Brazilian facilitator is more than happy to continue for longer if the engaging and others are also willing to stay. We can stay on for as long as little as people are willing to talk).
We can see if people also want to continue the discussions on Discord in between meetings.
The Next Session
Our first round of discussion will be on the BBC's documentary Black is the New Black. It's divided in 4 parts of half an hour each. Watch as many as you want – as of now they seem to be part of the "Black and British Season" running through November at the BBC, and I don't know how long they will be available for after that (so I don't want to risk setting just a few of them for this discussion, then find out that for the next meeting in December we will no longer have access to it).
Some question ideas for discussion:
- What story stood out the most for you? Why?
- Did any of the stories challenge something you took for granted?
The first discussion is: Thursday 26 November, 6pm
See you soon
James H.V., email jhiwatarikun at googlemail.com
- Blake will be continuing the "white affinity group" which started in summer 2020 (as mentioned in the "recent happenings" section of the write-up):
What it is: a meetup for white people to grow our understanding of how white supremacy shapes our lives and work through the feelings which hold us back from being better allies.
Format: informal discussion prompted by questions, on a Zoom meetup.
Timing: has been Thursday nights, roughly fortnightly, but may move to a different night in future.
The meetup links can usually be found on the BiCon Discord and Facebook page.
Blake, email banqwg at gmail.com
- Kate is running a waiting list to repeat the anti-racism training led by the Anti-Racist Educator collective. The session lasts 2 hours, with a break in the middle, and is a mix of video, slides, main group discussion, small group discussion.
When 25 people (or nearly that) are on the waiting list, Kate will schedule another session.
No charge to book on. Suggested donation £10, if you can afford it.
Kate, email biconuk2020 at gmail.com
- Or start a new thing…
BiCon currently has a paid Zoom account, which Kate looks after. If you're a bi person running a group for bi people and would like to have use of it for a session, email biconuk2020 at gmail.com.
BiCon currently has a Discord server, which is a good place to plan new things, and also has voice channels usable for discussions. Here's a never-expire link to the BiCon Discord. You have to introduce yourself briefly in the introthread channel before you get posting access to the other channels.
Here's some history of ups and downs.
Content note / trigger warning: Includes more stories of racism. Again, people of colour may like to skip to next section.
1980s-1990s: the tradition became that each BiCon was in a different city with a different organising team. In almost every case, the team would be people from a local bi group, who knew each other already, almost 100% white.
Early BiCons did have policy against racism, but typically only in a catch-all phrase such as "we will not accept bigotry of any kind".
1998: "BiCon Guidelines" created & voted in, forming a framework for what you were taking on if you said you were running a BiCon. Racism was mentioned in this first version, still not in detail – only as one kind of harassment which could justify telling someone to leave.
2003: The "community info zones" at BiCon included some basic info on racism & anti-racism (such as Peggy McIntosh's "Unpacking the Knapsack of White Privilege"), though this wasn't repeated consistently year-on-year.
2009: A white BiCon team member joked online that the team leader was the "Ayatollah" of their team, and was taken aback when people pointed out that was racist. After some arguments, that person withdrew from the team.
2010: Jacq and Nila formed Bi's of Colour, holding its first meeting at the International BiCon in London.
2010: A motion was put to BiCon's Decision-Making Plenary meeting (a.k.a. DMP) about sessions for specific groups:
If any part of BiCon is not open to all attendees, the reason should be made clear in BiCon literature.
Although the wording didn't name race, it would have affected the Bi's of Colour sessions – and from the timing, it may have been in part an aggrieved response to those having started up, although trans-only sessions were named in the discussion too.
The motion wasn't voted in; many people argued in return that "safer spaces" for marginalised groups were a good thing, which didn't need special justification.
In the book Purple Prose, Jacq Applebee describes the scene, beginning with the first Bi's of Colour session:
… 17 bisexuals of colour walked in the room. Each person talked, they cried, they got angry and they laughed. Then the next person did exactly the same. It was an incredibly moving experience. Everyone went off to have lunch together. Everyone was smiling.
A few hours later, at a decision-making session, several delegates got up on stage to complain that bisexuals of colour shouldn't have their own separate session. They said the same thing for trans people too. I sat at the back of the lecture hall, fuming, cursing under my breath as my girlfriend clutched my hand. When white delegates said we should justify why we needed a safe space – surely BiCon was friendly to everyone? – I finally stood up, walked down to the lectern and addressed the hall.
"Can everyone who is able please stand up?"
I waited a moment.
"Now all the white people sit down."
I pointed to the small scattering of black and brown faces.
"That is all the explanation you're going to get. It's all you need."
A white contributor to our review recalls the episode:
People of colour naturally felt attacked and argued against the idea of having to "justify" their safe spaces, as did other groups in the DMP … [some] arguments in the DMP sounded pretty clueless/racist even if that wasn't their intent.
2010: this was the year when (as mentioned above) the BiCon session rooms were named after countries which had passed equal marriage laws, all majority-white.
Early 2010s: BiCon often had a session space at BiCon for people of colour only, run by someone from the group, and sometimes there was a Bi's of Colour flat. (I.e. people could request to be placed alongside other bi people of colour in the accommodation, as with "I'd prefer to be with my friend so-and-so", which BiCons have sometimes offered.)
2011: BiCon voted money for anti-racism training for bi activists: a day and a half in the autumn, at Leicester LGBT centre, led by Sam Rankin & Laura McCrum. About 20 or 30 people took part. BiCon 2011 itself also had a well-attended session on anti-racism.
2012: The Bisexuality Report, first of its kind in UK bi research. Its Race and Culture section flagged up "double discrimination of racism and biphobia/homophobia". It was criticised for lack of consultation with people of colour:
All the authors of the Bisexuality Report are white; in the meagre few paragraphs dedicated to race and faith, it reads as if no BME bisexuals were even consulted at all.
– Jacq Applebee, writing in Purple Prose, 2016
2012: BiCon 2012's Code of Conduct (CoC) gave examples of what racism might look like in practice, and named fetishisation as a type of it.
New wording included:
An example of this could be, “that’s such an exotic name” or “your dreadlocks are amazing, can I touch them?”
Similar wording has been used ever since. Previous CoCs had mentioned racism, but assumed that people would know how to recognise it.
2012, 2014 & 2015: Natalya ran some kind of anti-racism intro session at each of these BiCons, e.g. "How to Avoid Racism in Bi Spaces".
2012: BiCon 2012 voted in an update to the BiCon Guidelines, to deal better with access and inclusion. This included
B7. BiCon should take a proactive approach to reduce and minimise its institutional racism and aim to become a more accessible, inclusive and welcoming place for black and minority ethnic (BME) people. Ways in which BiCon may do this include, but are not limited to: having specific race/cultural awareness policies which are communicated to all who are attending; seeking out facilitators to provide awareness and education sessions for BiCon attendees during BiCon itself; encouraging organisers to seek out and access training and education on race, ethnicity and nationality.
As far as we're aware, this was the first formal acknowledgement that BiCon is institutionally racist.
2013: BiCon 2013 had a web page devoted to "Race and Ethnicity", stating "We recognise that there have been issues around including and respecting racial, ethnic and cultural diversity in previous years."
2015: Jacq Applebee did the research, unfunded, which became the Bi's of Colour History Survey Report. Over 120 bi people of colour responded. Themes identified by Jacq from this research were: Isolation; Racism/Islamophobia; Hypersexual assumptions; Violence; White-domination of LGBT communities; Fear of family rejection and homelessness.
2015: BiCon 2015 had discounts for first-time participants of colour.
2015: BiCon 2015 covered the cost of leaving one room empty in the Bi's of Colour flat, so that the group could use it as a living room, and use the flat as a social centre for other people of colour to drop by.
2016: BiCon 2016 tried advertising in The Voice; it was unclear whether that led to any more people actually coming to BiCon.
2016: At BiCon, a team member made dodgy jokes from the stage in the evening, and the team leader initially minimised the problem. Not specifically racist, but relevant as part of a pattern where breaches of the code of conduct aren't adequately resolved.
One of organisers in 2016 made nonbinary ‘jokes’ as part of the night’s entertainment. Several people complained, but he was still allowed to run the entertainment on the following night, when he proceeded to make child abuse ‘jokes’.
Jacq, on the Bi's of Colour blog, June 2020
Apology is here (from team leader).
(Jacq's write-up mentions the same bloke appearing on the organiser list for the following year, so it seems important to mention that he didn't actually get to be on the following year's team.)
2016: Launch of the anthology "Purple Prose: Bisexuality in Britain", with many writers from BiCon networks. Jacq Applebee edited the chapter on Bisexual Black and Minority Ethnic People, featuring writing from four other bi people of colour as well as themself.
2017: Natalya ran a session at BiCon, "Regenerating momentum for anti-racist work", and did a write-up afterwards.
2017: BiCon had a stall from the LGBT section of the Home Office's Union, with "Home Office" on it in big letters. The Home Office is notoriously racist (as well as treating bi refugees badly).
2017: At BiCon 2017, a campus police officer came into sessions in uniform, having already been told not to.
They came into the Disabilities session, and nobody wanted to talk about their benefits in front of them.
– White review contributor
2017: After BiCon 2017, @Angreebindii posted on the Bi's of Colour blog, with a pointed and constructive criticism, naming both specific problems and the wider pattern of white people "listening" and not fixing things:
Bisexuals of colour are told to engage in the event’s organisational processes. We are encouraged to attend, to contribute, and to make complaints within the existing structures. And when we do, we are thanked and our ‘views’ appreciated. … we have done our job and contributed. And they have done their bit, they have acknowledged us. So the matter is closed.
Except that for us, queers of colour – the discrimination is ongoing. So each year, we have to do the same, contribute and be muted. It goes on until it becomes all too much for queers of colour. Then sometimes we let the less worse things slide. At other times, we get traumatised, burnt out and angry.
… We are told to appreciate that Bicon ‘is run by volunteers’. We are told that it takes a lot to organise an event. We are told that organisers get burnt out. We are told that it is a structural issue. … At the end of the day, all those things we are told are white excuses for racial bias.
2019: [Content note: insensitive/apologist talk of Nazis/death] A few weeks before BiCon, the team leader commented in a Facebook discussion of Dan Savage's politics, "Nazis were some of the most awful people – yet some did positive things too. A survivor I heard speak mentioned an SS officer who shot her brother but let her go – that's nuanced humanity". Follow-up is here.
2019: AC consulted with Bi's of Colour, and brought a motion to the Decision-Making Plenary on taking anti-racist actions, which was voted in. (That's the same vote which led to this review.)
(For subsequent developments, please see the 2019-2020 section in the main write-up.)
This chart is a way of checking through which aims have moved and which haven't.
Note that because it's a compilation of points from different places, some things get mentioned twice. (Bit clunky, but seemed best in case anyone wants to cross-check against the originals.)
|Progress (or not)
|Aims declared by @Angreebindii in 2017
|A consistent increase of Bis of Colour year on year
|Bi people of colour are likely to be very aware of the fellow-PoC presence (or lack of it) at a BiCon, but what about tracking the increase or decrease numerically? It could be useful to gather estimates for past years, or at least to start tracking this now.
It's possible that the best estimate is by the number taking part in the Bi's of Colour session each year – though there could be PoC at BiCon who for some reason miss that session.
(Some BiCons have tried to gather demographic data as part of a survey at the end of the event, but not everyone fills in the survey.)
|A stronger decolonised code of conduct
|Yet to be done, and we recommend hiring PoC to work on the process.
|The proper enforcement of the code of conduct
|The state of play on this is outlined in the main write-up. It would benefit from (a) making more clear & formal what's meant to happen, and (b) a system for training the people who are actually going to do it.
|The end to cultural appropriation
|In practical terms, Titilayo recommends working on "clear policy on cultural appropriation", commenting "Like racism, it won't end within BiCon's lifetime."
|People of Colour focused session run by People of Colour
|BiCon 2020 did have this, run by Yvonne.
|Not exactly an "aim", more a framework which underpins the other aims.
BiCon 2020 had a session on this subject.
|Areas named in the DMP-voted motion in 2019 (except specific items, next section)
|White people need to do much more and deeper work to be consistently anti-oppressive. … white bi+ people individually and collectively dismantling their white pseudo-supremacy.
|The trainings and self-study groups are steps towards this.
In practical terms, Titilayo suggests reframing this as "do much more, deeper and continuous work to counter oppression". They comment "Being anti-oppressive is unfortunately never a state of being."
|White people must be taught and held accountable by professional anti-racism trainers who are Black or people of colour themselves. Volunteers & white people can offer support to these experts.
|Recent/current trainings are an example of this.
|re-writing our Code of Conduct to be consistently anti-racist and anti-oppressive
|Slightly updated for 2020, but not yet properly reviewed. See above.
|All Black people, Indigenous people, people of colour must be able to openly and honestly call out any white person during BiCon for their racist behaviour, and talk openly and honestly about white pseudo-supremacy, for BiCon to be a safer space.
|We're a long way from this yet, although some of the other steps will be contributing towards it gradually.
|Increased advertising and outreach to people of colour
|In the run-up to BiCon 2020, Blake reached out to Rafiul at the Queer Muslim Project, who was interested in collaborating in a non-surface-level way. Yet to be taken further.
|Offering cheap/free attendance to people of colour
|Some BiCons have offered discounts, and London BiFest has been free for PoC since 2018.
BiCon 2020 ended up free for everyone, because it went online due to covid.
|Engaging with the local BAME community in the place BiCon is being held
|Unclear whether this got anywhere before 2020 switched to online.
|Better representation of religions at BiCon (beyond an emphasis on Christianity and Judaism, to include, for example, Islam)
|No specifically Muslim content at BiCon 2020. See outreach point just above.
|Specific items named in 2019 as for the working group to do, though in fact other people have taken actions on some of them
|Explore: How can BiCon raise and ring-fence funds for consistent anti-oppression training for everyone involved?
|GoFundMe set up (see recent initiatives section of main write-up).
Prior to the GoFundMe, the Working Group had invited people to donate specifically for anti-racism stuff, and this had raised around £100.
|Explore: In particular, how will the white members of the BiCon community collectively take responsibility for properly paying anti-racism experts who are themselves Black or people of colour, to train us and hold us accountable to be collectively, consistently, truly anti-racist and anti-oppressive?
|Many individual participants and organisers have now accepted this principle, and BiCon 2020 did hire experts to deliver training (as well as paying its contributors of colour who did other things). However, the principle is yet to be formally built in anywhere, such as in the BiCon Guidelines.
|Bring forward advice on action for future BiCon organisers
|Some recommendations were gathered in this review & write-up.
|Bring forward changes to the Guidelines
|Yet to be done. See discussion in main write-up.
|Bring forward advice on the Code of Conduct
|Yet to be done. See above, where this one point is divided into two: the CoC itself, and how it gets enforced.
You might also want to read… Notes from the meeting on 22 Nov 2020, where we discussed some of this and identified some next actions.