Longer Update from BiCon Anti-racism Working Group

Dear Community,

We wanted to give you an update about work in the last year around anti-racism and BiCon*. We also call for your ongoing support of this work.

BiCon attendees have known that we have a problem with systemic racism for years. It’s not like we haven’t been told, repeatedly, that the space a lot of us love is not as comfortable for Black people and all people of colour as it should be. The standpoint of BiCon Continuity, and of all the BiCon organisers you will ever talk to, is that no community member is dispensable, everyone is important. While we all hold this view, it hasn’t been backed up by enough action. Let us be clear on that as a starting point.

At 2019’s BiCon, the Decision Making Plenary** asked BiCon Continuity to ensure there was a working group to address systemic racism at BiCon, an Anti-Racism Working Group. In the end, of the people who were interested, four of us have found the time and focus to work on this over the last year (Elizabeth, AC, Naomi, Jane). [EDIT]: We were asked about who comprised the working group. No volunteers were turned away from the group. There were no black or people of colour who wanted to volunteer for this work and had the time and energy to participate. From the start, it was emphasised that it was important for white people to do this work and inappropriate to seek out poc for free emotional labour.]

One of our stumbling blocks has been finding approaches that bring everyone along. Racism is fundamentally a White problem because it is a problem of power and privilege. Even in a community that understands we have an incredibly high rate of physical and mental health concerns and disability – and understands those are made worse or wholly created by the pressures of prejudice – we kept finding unwillingness to recognise prejudices around race and ethnicity. Alongside this is a fear of doing wrong that was so strong people could not listen long enough to do right. Now, in June of 2020, we could refer to that easily as the ‘All Lives Matter’ problem and everyone would know exactly what we mean.*** Moving forward from here, we have to say that a failure to act must be seen as an intention to do harm.

In the last couple of months bi/pan community has been convulsed, first with ructions around our most-used symbol and flag, which included reactions that showed underlying racism, and more recently with the international response to police brutality ending in the death of an African American man, and others since. One of the moments of change we see is the realisation, by the White members of our community, that something is seriously wrong, and that we have the capacity and responsibility to re-learn our entire world in order to centre and support voices from Black people, Indigenous people, people of colour. Also, as we’re in the midst of a global pandemic, BiCon and Bi Pride UK will be online this year. Lots of our organisers and attendees are in high risk groups and either isolated or stuck without support. This week the UK government appears to be rolling back gender recognition. Stress levels are really quite high.

That moment of light dawning, however, makes it feel as though our anti-racism work in the last year has been overtaken, in many positive ways. So, the promised update on work:

  • We have applied for two grants to pay people within our community to lead training for organisers, and to roll that out to BiCon. We did not receive those grants. The funding that came to BiCon this year, that you will have seen announced, came from the Equality Network. BiCon is benefitting from the fact that Scotland’s national bi+ gathering is cancelled and has been rolled in with BiCon. We are incredibly lucky and grateful, again, to the spectacular work of the Equality Network. The funds come with organising time from their Intersectionality Officer. It’s amazing. BiCon Continuity is the charity that is able to apply for funds, and thanks to the trustees who ran around at the last minute supplying letters of support and promising to administrate funds, and to the trainers who put time into shaping those bids.
  • In preparation for the grant applications, we talked to other organisations that have some similarity to BiCon in terms of what has worked (or not worked) for them.
  • We put together a list of anti-racism reading and viewing, and agreed with BiCon organisers that we would send it out, and that attendees should be expected to read, watch or listen to at least one source. In a similar way to BiCon requiring attendees to read and understand its Code of Conduct, we would request at least one act of self-education to understand systemic racism.
  • The training, and the self-education, would have follow-up at BiCon with discussion or presentation space. We recommend that these sessions should not be scheduled such that they do not have competition in the BiCon schedule: this should be a community focus, and understood as such.
  • We also sought support to review and suggest amendments to the BiCon Code of Conduct and Guidelines. The Code of Conduct is here: https://2020.bicon.org.uk/access-and-inclusion/code-of-conduct/

Goodness but our little list of resources has been overtaken in the last two weeks alone.

Here’s a call to internal action, for us as a BiCon community. We do need to fund the training, and the support to broaden the sense of community, to remind ourselves what valuing every member actually means. Self-education only takes us so far. If you have the funds to do so, please can you contribute to a fund for anti-racism training and support, administered by BiCon Continuity

Sort code: 40-06-32, Account number: 51685848

Put anti-racism work, or similar, as your reference so that we can ringfence. Update from Continuity: HMRC has promised our letter setting up Gift Aid is ‘in the post.’ If you would usually Gift Aid your donation, just email us to say you are willing to donate and we will come back to you.

We started our list of things to fund with requests we have heard in the past, and from the advice we sought from organisations and individuals early on (plus, or course, what we thought funders would support):

  • Training
  • Travel to training
  • Talks/performance at BiCon
  • Reduced rates / supported places for attendance for people of colour (because it’s miserable feeling like you don’t recognise yourself at BiCon – it’s the thing so many of us shout about, feeling at home and ourselves).

This is on top of the Access Fund, which is used by many attendees.

If there are particular things you want to see funded in order to improve BiCon and its approaches to addressing systemic racism, please send them to antiracism@biconcontinuity.org.uk

Related: at the same time that the Anti-racism Working Group was requested and set up, there were plans for a Disability Working Group. The volunteers for that weren’t able to find the time and space to come together. We have had a lot of very knowledgeable volunteer support for many years. It would be really, really good to be able to pay them to overhaul some key guidelines and create a checklist of things BiCon needs in order to be a better place for all of us with our wide-ranging needs. You could fund that using the same bank account details, with a different reference. On that matter, you can reach BiCon Continuity on info@biconcontinuity.org.uk.

That’s the whole update, thank you for reading, and for pushing toward a better community and event.

*’We wanted…’ – There are four of us who have been working actively in the last year. It’s hard to write this as organised groups of volunteers, to define ‘we’ and who we are speaking for. It is mainly written by Elizabeth, because I have feet in lots of camps: one of the trustees at BiCon Continuity, who also volunteers on the Anti-racism Working Group, and I’ve been around at BiCon for a lot of years, involved in bi/queer community first in the US and now in the UK for the last 20 years. I understand that makes me four-footed, but you see what I mean: the things we have to say are both personal and organisational.

** Decision Making Plenary: a meeting of all BiCon attendees who care to come, where we vote on the fundamental guidelines we want BiCon organisers to follow, and generally discuss issues of importance to BiCon. Anyone who attends can vote, and it is scheduled such that there is no clash in the timetable. Discussion points are almost always around making BiCon more accessible and equitable.

BiCon Continuity: the charity set up to oversee funds and support BiCon year-to-year, particularly with regard to finances, but Continuity has taken on other roles as there has been a need for multi-year support. BiCon organisers come together for a single year, and then pass on to the next year’s organisers and BiCon Continuity.

*** For a good suggestion of action on this, see the London Bi Pandas advice https://www.londonbipandas.com/blog/white-people-talking-to-racists