BiCon Continuity AGM 2020 and Q&A

If you are interested in knowing more about Continuity (the charity that manages BiCon’s money), the Trustees will be holding an open forum / question & answer session from 2 – 2.45pm on Sunday 23rd August 2020 by video conference. This is scheduled to take place just before our General Meeting that will run from 3 – 4 pm as the General Meeting will probably be easier to follow for some people if they have been able to ask questions about Continuity in advance. If you would like to come to the open forum session and/or observe the General Meeting, please email info@biconcontinuity.org.uk (and please do email, rather than tweet at us or comment on Facebook). Our selection of video conferencing software will depend on how many people in total want to attend and we will confirm the software and any information needed to join the meeting by email in advance of the meeting.

If you are interested in joining Continuity as a Member and/or becoming a Trustee, please let us know. It isn’t going to be possible to just turn up at the open forum and join as a Member / volunteer as a Trustee without there having been some pre-discussion. Indicating you are potentially interested in finding out more doesn’t commit you to anything. As a charity dedicated to looking after money, it helps if you are at least a bit interested in finances, and we are specifically looking for a treasurer.

This year’s General Meeting has been deliberately scheduled for the weekend after Virtual BiCon rather than during it. When there isn’t a pandemic, there are considerable advantages in us meeting in person at a BiCon. This year that’s not possible; whenever the meeting is, it has to be by video or telephone conferencing. Being in long talky video conferences is now known to be quite tiring, so we decided not to squeeze this meeting in to a weekend when there are a number of talky video conferencing sessions – we didn't want to compete with BiCon. The timing will also allow us to consider any discussions that take place as part of Virtual BiCon as part of our ongoing decision making.

Virtual BiCon – new organiser!

We trustees at BiCon Continuity were sad Rowan felt unable to continue organising a Virtual BiCon for August 2020. A few of us are attached to a Facebook group of past BiCon attendees. Some of the conversation there caused us to stop to consider whether a BiCon was viable while conversation moves between holding to account and optimism for the future, and multiple organisers stepped down in the space of two weeks.

BiCon Continuity has two basic powers:

  1. Releasing funds we are trusted to hold for the community, which are dedicated to keeping a BiCon going, and
  2. Holding the registered trademark of BiCon, what can legally call itself ‘BiCon.’

Issues we consider most years are therefore, ‘reputational damage’ and viable budgeting, often looking at funds needed three years into the future due to the nature of deposits at university venues.

Our role this year in the question of ‘Should there be a virtual BiCon?’ is mainly about reputational damage – will a Virtual BiCon be close enough to BiCon to have that title, and will it be safe for organisers and attendees. We also do a certain amount of behind the scenes making sure that structures are in place, though we don’t deal with those structures directly – is there a bank account/way to move money around as needed; what kind of conduct oversight and safety is in place (aspects of ongoing conduct oversight is a particular role we were requested to take up in 2016/17). These are most closely related to Reputational Damage, but also to wider support for making BiCon happen.

Our decision-making as trustees has to be from the perspective of public benefit to bisexual people in the UK. We cannot and would not make decisions about BiCon solely on the basis of commentary on Facebook (or any other social media platform). Recently, we have had requests from people who have never been to BiCon before, asking what is available for them, especially  people who are newly out. It is our view that if there is someone willing and able to organise a Virtual BiCon this year, in a reasonably safe* way, then the event should go ahead.

We are extremely fortunate Kate is willing to take over and organise a Virtual BiCon. We have spoken at length with Kate and feel confident that she embraces the mix of holding to account and optimism for change. She has both reflected on decisions she would have made differently in past organsing, and has been supporting community events for several months.

The risks to participants of attending a Virtual BiCon are different from those of an in person event; Kate will provide an update regarding the Code of Conduct for the event in due course. A lot of in person opportunities for socialising are either not possible due to COVID-19 or not practical for many people to participate in due to their own health, changed caring or work responsibilities, poorer finances or other reasons. A Virtual BiCon is, for some people, one of the few occasions this year they’ll be able to be in bi space and that’s important. Group internet calls / chat spaces will not work for some people, and we have great hopes for returning to Leeds in 2021.

* No event can guarantee safety, especially when open to all bisexuals, friends and allies from across the UK and beyond. BiCons need to become safer, but it is also important not to raise expectations that cannot be met: prevention and follow-up are not a magic wand.

Virtual BiCon 2020 update

From Rowan:

"Having seen some of the reactions to the announcement on the 26th I've decided I cannot take on running Virtual BiCon 2020 and I therefore resign. I also want to say that I'm not turning my back on the BiCon community, and will continue to engage with the anti-racism work we've started to do within BiCon and elsewhere."

BiCon 2020 carrying on online with support from Equality Network

BiCon Continuity wish to thank Rachel for all of her hard work towards organising this year’s BiCon, including being willing to organise an online event in the exceptional circumstances that arise this year due to COVID-19 and for making the decision to stand down in sufficient time to allow others to take over this year’s BiCon.

Following Rachel’s decision to step down, we have been in discussions with Rowan, who has organised a number of BiCons. Rowan is willing and able to run an online BiCon over the same weekend 13-16th August 2020 and we are very grateful for their willingness to step in with limited notice. We would also like to thank the Equality Network for putting paid staff time and funding into this event. This is possible because BiTastic (the event the Equality Network would normally run), can’t happen this year due to COVID-19.

We are having continuing discussions over plans for 2021 and future BiCons and will provide further updates as we are able, but we did want to clarify the position in relation to this August as quickly as possible. Rowan will be updating the 2020 website to include details of their team and the steps they will be taking to address racism at BiCon. There will be a further update drafted mostly by Elizabeth reporting on what the Anti-Racism Working Group has been doing for the past year published soon.

BiCon as an event could really do with some more volunteers. Please think about what the event means to you and how you might be able to give something back to it to help someone else have a similar experience.  Whatever your skillset, interests, accessibility needs and available time there is likely to be a role for you; please email info@biconcontinuity.org.uk  with offers of assistance.

Elizabeth, Karen, Hessie, Ian and Asha

Shorter update from BiCon Anti-racism Working Group

A reasonably quick update is here, with a link to a much fuller note.

Longer update: https://biconcontinuity.org.uk/longer-update-from-bicon-anti-racism-working-group

Following a vote at the Decision Making Plenary at BiCon 2019, in late 2019 BiCon Continuity formed an Anti-Racism Working Group. There are 4 active members (Elizabeth, AC, Naomi, Jane).

This Group has:

  • Acknowledged decisive and ongoing action is needed to address mistakes made at past BiCons in regards to Black and other attendees of colour;
  • Sought advice from other groups tackling similar issues;
  • Applied for two grants for training and support, which we didn't get;
  • Collated UK-specific resources on anti-racism;
  • Agreed with BiCon that white attendees should use at least one resource before arriving.

Three areas we were trying to fund via grants were:

  • Paying anti-racism experts who come from Black and other communities of colour to lead training for organisers.
  • Paying anti-racism experts to lead sessions at BiCon, to deepen that training.
  • Seeking external support to review and suggest updates for BiCon’s Code of Conduct and Guidelines.
  • Subsidising BiCon for Black attendees and attendees of colour, on top of the existing Access Fund.

Can you help us to fund that work? Please donate to

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

This is administered by BiCon Continuity. Please make a reference to anti-racism work with your donation. Grants sought were in the region of £2500. 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 are incredibly grateful to the Equality Network, especially their Intersectionality Team, which has pooled its resources for this year’s online BiCon and provided organising hours, as well as funding to pay speakers who are from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds. Thank you also to the potential trainers who gave their time to support the bid-writing processes.

We also take this opportunity to invite Black Bi+ people & Bi+ people of colour to tell us what you would prefer to see funded, as we will no doubt embark on seeking grants or looking at internal funding again.  Please email antiracism@biconcontinuity.org.uk

A note on the perspective of the working group. We uphold the focus on Black Bi+ people especially, in the spirit of the Black Lives Matter. We believe the white-dominated BiCon extended community have collectively failed in our anti-racism work, and we see our responsibility as centring voices that have been pushed aside, and also creating pathways to engage people who want to improve BiCon for everyone.

For information: BiCon code of conduct: https://2020.bicon.org.uk/access-and-inclusion/code-of-conduct/

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

BiCons 2020 and 2021

We are delighted to announce that BiCon 2020 will be at Leeds Beckett University (Headingley Campus) from Thursday the 13th to Sunday the 16th August 2020, run by Rachel S and team. This is the same venue and team leader as 2017. Bookings are expected to open on 1st September 2019.

2021 BiCon will be run by Carol T and team, with a provisional location of Colchester and dates 'to be confirmed'.

If you are interested in leading or being part of one of the teams that organises a BiCon in the future please contact BiCon Continuity. We can put you in touch with the teams for 2020 or 2021 if you'd like to "shadow" someone in a particular role. This is recommended before being part of a team yourself.

Anti-racism and anti-ableism working groups for BiCon

We have been asked to facilitate and support the establishment of two working groups on 'anti-racism' and 'anti-ableism' by the Decision Making Plenary (DMP). These groups have been asked to explore the issues and produce advice on actions by the next BiCon for future BiCon organising teams.

Why are working groups needed?

BiCon remains very "white" and are not as good at welcoming and including People of Colour as we want to be. People of Colour have been harmed by racism at BiCons and made to feel unwelcome.

While Access at BiCon for disabled people is historically seen as quite good, the quality of accessibility information and provision by teams and venues can be variable.

What next?

Continuity are still finalising how we will set up the groups so they are accessible, accountable and make best use of people's limited time and energy to be constructive. It is likely they will start with regularly scheduled online meetings.

If you are interested in joining either or both of these working groups, please email us on info@biconcontinuity.org.uk.

Gender Recognition Act (GRA) Consultation Response from BiCon Continuity

BiCon Continuity submitted a response to the government's Gender Recognition Act (GRA) consultation. Our main reasons for doing this are:

1) Since 1992 BiCon official policy has recognised people's self-identification of their gender for all purposes including access to single-sex spaces and workshops. BiCon has a large number of trans and non-binary attenders. In the 25 years since this policy was put in place we have seen no evidence that anyone is harmed by it.
2) We recognise the similarities between accusations and implications currently being made about trans people (especially trans women) and their rights and those made in the 1980s and 1990s about lesbian, gay and bisexual people with Section 28 and other discriminatory laws and policies.

While the response will be published in due course by the government, we felt we should upload a copy here for the BiCon community to read. Not all questions were appropriate for us to answer.

Continuity's consultation responses

Question 3: Do you think there should be a requirement in the future for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria?

No.

Requiring a diagnosis of gender dysphoria is a medical not socio-legal issue. Not all trans and non-binary people wish to access medical transition.

There are excessive delays for trans and non-binary people in being able to access gender identity clinic services with waits of over 1-2 years being common for first appointments. Some GPs will not refer people to gender identity clinic services and self-referral is not usually possible. Further appointments and access to medical transition treatment take years because of delays between appointments and waiting lists.

BiCon Continuity supports a simple process of self-identification of gender identity (including non-binary gender options) via statutory declaration.

Question 4: Do you also think there should be a requirement for a report detailing treatment received?

No.

We do not believe medical treatment received is a useful metric in the GRC process. Details of any medical treatment focus on only one aspect of transition or gender-reassignment activity. Access to NHS gender reassignment treatment is often excessively delayed: 1-2 years until first appointment is not uncommon; subsequent appointments and access to treatments are often delayed years by further waiting lists.

Access and option to access treatments are affected by other characteristics such as disability (other health and impairment issues may limit options) and stability of housing as moving areas can affect access to NHS services. This all delays people's ability to apply for a GRC at present.

BiCon Continuity support a simple process of self-identification of gender identity (including non-binary options) via statutory declaration.

Question 5: (A) Do you agree that an applicant should have to provide evidence that they have lived in their acquired gender for a period of time before applying?

No.

People's lived experiences are not accurately reflected by paperwork. Ability to obtain, retain and manage paperwork needed for a GRC application is linked with other privileges like education, social class, stability of employment, stability of finances, stability of housing, age and disability. Many trans and non-binary people have additional protected and non-protected characteristics which make dealing with evidence, bureaucracy and health services difficult or impossible.

BiCon Continuity Ltd support a simple process of self-identification of gender identity (including non-binary options) via statutory declaration.

Question 5: (D) If you answered no to (A), should there be a period of reflection between making the application and being awarded a Gender Recognition Certificate?:

No.

People are already aware of the legal significance of a statutory declaration and application for legal gender recognition. A 'reflection' period is infantilising and only adds unjustifiable delays to the process.

Question 6: (A) Do you think this requirement should be retained, regardless of what other changes are made to the gender recognition system?

Yes.

Statutory declaration is an existing well recognised legal process which is very low cost and accessible to most people. It has existing and well understood safeguards for fraud and misuse.

Question 7: The Government is keen to understand more about the spousal consent provisions for married persons in the Gender Recognition Act. Do you agree with the current provisions?

No.

No other life or health process (including tattoos, plastic surgery, spending large amounts of money, changing housing or employment) has a system where a person's spouse has to give written consent for that person to proceed with the activity. This provision is cruel to trans and non-binary people and singles them out as people that others need protection from which is not supported by any evidence. Trans and non-binary people are much more likely to be the victims of abuse than the perpetrators.

BiCon Continuity recommend that there is a system in place that allows the trans person to obtain a GRC and if their spouse objects they can file for rapid no-fault legal separation/divorce with appropriate systems for minimising adversarial aspects of this process and protecting any dependants appropriately.

Question 8: (A) Do you think the fee should be removed from the process of applying for legal gender recognition?

Yes.

Question 8: (C) What other financial costs do trans individuals face when applying for a gender recognition certificate and what is the impact of these costs?

Trans and non-binary people are likely to experience marginalisation for multiple reasons related to their trans/non-binary or other protected and non-protected characteristics. Any significant cost becomes a barrier to people most in need, especially those in precarious financial and housing situations. Remission schemes require applications [sic, error should be applicants] to have the capacity and ability to deal with bureaucracy and be able to provide evidence of their financial hardships which is often difficult or impossible – so in itself creates another barrier. Remission schemes often cost more to administer for the government than is saved by the fee.

Many people live some distance from gender identity clinic so have travel and accommodation costs. Medical reports to support a GRC application cost substantial amounts as letters and reports are not covered by NHS. NHS delays often mean people feel the need to pay for private treatment so they can get on with their lives. Trans people are likely to be in lower paid and less secure jobs due to stigma about their gender identity status. These all exist alongside other incidental costs of transitioning like potentially having to move house (especially if a relationship breaks down), replace clothing, change other documents etc.

Question 9: Do you think the privacy and disclosure of information provisions in section 22 of the Gender Recognition Act are adequate?

No.

There are too many loopholes in s22 that leave trans and non-binary people at real or perceived risk of being unnecessarily outed in their everyday lives. An example is the fear of being outed for taking any kind of case to court, disclosure of a GRC or trans/non-binary status should be avoided as a default with a private hearing before this kind of disclosure is permitted. The permitted disclosure circumstances should be strictly limited with those reasons clearly published for reference. Judges should be required to follow those reference reasons and have to specifically justify deviation from them rather than it being decided on a case by case basis. Being "outed" as punishment for taking a court case or any other activity should never be something a trans or non-binary person has even a small percentage risk of having to face unless their trans and GRC status is directly relevant to the case.

Health professionals should include clinical psychologists and should be broadened to be less specific to avoid future loopholes.

Enforcement of breaches of s22 should have no period of statutory limitations, a breach is a breach whether it was 6 months or 6 years ago – it often takes people a long time to process the effects of traumatic situations and they should not be further punished by being unable to enforce a complaint later. Enforcement should also be handled by a statutory body rather than a complainant having to make any kind of individualised complaint which leaves them vulnerable to "robust" bullying and outing defence tactics used by respondents.

Clarity should be provided to everyone about the security of the database of GRC applicants or holders so they can be assured this data will not be inappropriately shared or used to put GRC holders at risk in future.

Question 11: Is there anything you want to tell us about how the current process of applying for a GRC affects those who have a protected characteristic?

As there is now same-sex and different sex marriage, marriages do not have to be dissolved if one or both spouses seeks a GRC, however until civil partnerships legislation is updated (as is now likely as of Oct 2018 and the recent supreme court judgment) there is a discrepancy here.

Some trans people may be wary of applying for a GRC as they do not know where the data about their application and or outcome is stored, used and secured from improper abuse. There is a worry that governments themselves may abuse this data in future, especially after Brexit.

Question 12: Do you think that the participation of trans people in sport, as governed by the Equality Act 2010, will be affected by changing the Gender Recognition Act?

No.

The existing safeguards have exceptions for trans people which have to be complied with (e.g. treatments) before someone can complete in single-sex and other sports. A GRC does not affect these requirements. This is handled by sports authorities.

More research into this should be supported as physical abilities are on a bell curve with athletes at extremes of that anyway regardless of sex.

Question 13: (A) Do you think that the operation of the single-sex and separate-sex service exceptions in relation to gender reassignment in the Equality Act 2010 will be affected by changing the Gender Recognition Act?

No.

The single-sex and separate-sex service exemptions from the Equality Act can only be used if they can be objectively justified as a proportionate means to meeting a legitimate aim. Unfounded fears or prejudice of staff or other service users are not (and should not) usually considered legitimate aims. The bar for exclusion of a trans person is and should remain high. All of these services should have safeguarding policies around staff and service users based on cautious prevention and any actual behaviour (and behavioural history) not an individual's sex and gender identity history.

Fear or prejudice against trans people, especially trans women should be treated in the same way that 'fear' or prejudice of BME or LGB people should be treated. It should not be validated or legitimised as a reason to limit or deny trans and non-binary people's access to services. Deal with behaviour not identities.

Question 13: (B) If you provide a single or separate sex service, do you feel confident in interpreting the Equality Act 2010 with regard to these exemptions?

Yes.

BiCon does not wish to use the exemptions and does not support the exemptions existing in the Equality Act even if they are rarely or never used as they suggest trans women are a group who others may need protecting from despite lack of credible evidence to support this.

BiCon Continuity represents the organisers of "BICON®" which is an annual 3-5 day residential and non residential conference style event with 200-500 bisexual people, their families, friends and allies attending. BiCons are organised by volunteers and have taken place every year since 1984 providing on-site accommodation from 1989.

In 1992 BiCon passed a policy to allow trans people to access single-sex spaces (such as toilets and some workshops) by self-identification for all purposes. From 2007 onwards BiCon has provided unisex toilet facilities to be more inclusive and welcoming to non-binary people.

Research has shown bisexual people, especially cisgender women are at high risk of sexual abuse with trans bisexual women's risk being even higher again. BiCon often runs survivors sessions and single-sex spaces. Since 1998 BiCon has had an official written code of conduct which applies to all attenders (including volunteers and organisers) equally. For the last 8 BiCons, attenders have had to sign to confirm they have read this code and agree to abide by it. Sanctions for serious breaches include asking people to leave BiCon event and banning people from future events.

From monitoring questionnaires and other data we know bisexual cisgender women make up a significant majority of BiCon's attenders. Between 25% and 40% of attenders identify as trans or non-binary. Women (of cis, trans or unknown status) are very rarely reported as perpetrators of serious misconduct or behaviour which harms others in any way.

Question 14: Do you think that the operation of the occupational requirement exception in relation to gender reassignment in the Equality Act 2010 will be affected by changing the Gender Recognition Act?

No.

The current law on occupational requirement exemption is unclear to regular and legally trained people as to whether it applies to people currently holding a GRC. We believe as having a GRC is only one factor in determining if exclusion of someone due to trans history is a "proportionate means of meeting a legitimate aim", it would still be down to individual employers' choices and decisions. That would, as at it is now, should be open to challenge and scrutiny.

Question 15: Do you think that the operation of the communal accommodation exception in relation to gender reassignment in the Equality Act 2010 will be affected by changing the Gender Recognition Act?

No.

People are not routinely asked to prove their legal gender with birth certificates before using communal accommodation. A passport and driving licence gender marker can be changed with a single medical letter including from a GP and proof of change of name. It is already unlawful to refuse a person who is perceived to be trans (have the gender reassignment characteristic) access to communal accommodation unless there is a proportionate means to a legitimate aim – which has a high bar.

It is our experience that when access to single-sex spaces is rigidly policed, the people who bear the brunt of this are anyone who is perceived as not looking like cis women (trans and cis people who are perceived not to present in an appropriately gender confirming manner) resulting in those people who are judged not to conform often being subjected to harassment.

BiCon Continuity note that current accusations that trans people in single-sex spaces putting other users at perceived or actual risk of harm are very similar to accusations from the 1980s and 1990s that gay, lesbian and bisexual people would put other users of single sex and other spaces at perceived or actual risk of harm. It is no longer considered widely acceptable to acceptable to automatically assume gay, lesbian or bisexual people as a class are a risk to others in same-sex spaces. It should not be acceptable to assume trans people (or trans women) as a class are a risk.

Safeguarding policies should cover conduct by all individuals regardless of their gender identity or legal gender status, anything else is scaremongering and discriminatory. The legal status of the Equality Act 2010, Schedule 3, Section 28 exemptions to provision of single-sex services to people with the protected characteristic of 'gender reassignment' are unclear as to what effect a GRC has upon the legality of using these. This should be clarified in either a renewed GRA or the Equality Act itself to make parliament's intentions clear.

We would hope these exemptions remain never or rarely used.

Question 16: Do you think that the operation of the armed forces exception as it relates to trans people in the Equality Act 2010 will be affected by changing the Gender Recognition Act?

No.

As the measure for whether a trans person can operate in the armed forces appears to be related to their combat effectiveness with or without a GRC then this should not change if the GRA is changed.

Question 17: Do you think that the operation of the marriage exception as it relates to trans people in the Equality Act 2010 will be affected by changing the Gender Recognition Act?

Yes.

More people having a GRC means that more people will have access to a birth certificate showing their correct gender which looks no different to a birth certificate of someone living in the same gender as they were assigned at birth. This means it may be harder for those who authorise or solemnise marriages to identify trans people except by asking everyone if they have a trans history or making random value judgements based on someone's appearance. Many trans and non-binary people are not identifiable by their presentation. Guessing if someone is trans by their presentation often results in (usually) cis women being mistakenly accused of being trans and subjected to harassment. There will of course be legal implications around the validity of the marriage if someone is not upfront about their trans history when asked – as there are at the moment.

Question 18: Do you think that the operation of the insurance exception as it relates to trans people in the Equality Act 2010 will be affected by changing the Gender Recognition Act?

No.

Question 19: Do you think that changes to the Gender Recognition Act will impact on areas of law and public services other than the Equality Act 2010?

No.

If a GRC does not provide an automatic right to access single/separate sex spaces then it still comes down to judgement on a case by case basis ensuring that any exclusions are only carried as a proportionate means to a legitimate aim and no reasonable alternative of service options being available. Trans people have been using single-sex facilities for decades often unnoticed and just getting on with their day to day lives.

Question 20: Do you think that there need to be changes to the Gender Recognition Act to accommodate individuals who identify as non-binary?

Yes.

Non-binary people currently have no protections under the Equality Act and cannot obtain an accurate legal gender identity assignment as non-binary with a GRC. This forces non-binary people to lie to statutory authorities by remaining with the gender they were assigned at birth, or transitioning to the other binary gender when neither is accurate or appropriate. Non-binary people are caused unnecessary detriment and distress as an appropriate gender identity and protections from discrimination are not in place.

Administrative and legislative challenges are not a good reason to deny non-binary people rights to accurate legal recognition and protection from discrimination on the grounds of their gender identity. We feel the government has delayed too long on this already and needs to start consultation and research processes around recognition of non-binary genders as soon as possible.

Recognition of non-binary people should not be used as a "separate but equal" way to push binary gendered trans people into separate "trans and non-binary services" as a way to avoid the perceived conflict between single-sex space provision and those who believe trans people are not their self-identified sex/gender.

Future BiCons 2019, 2020 and beyond.

2019

Continuity was delighted to hear the positive update from Claire H, BiCon 2019's team leader who is close to finalising the booking with Lancaster University and hopes to be able to announce dates soon. Watch this space – their website 2019.bicon.org.uk will be up and running soon.

2020

Rachel S who ran the successful 2017 BiCon in Leeds received clear and enthusiastic support from the Decision Making Plenary for her bid to run BiCon in 2020.

2021

We have also received expressions of interest in 2021 which is great news following our recent post about advance planning being helpful.

Getting involved – Volunteers still wanted!

All of these teams will need volunteers both to join their teams and help BiCon happen on the day. Continuity are happy to pass on any offers of support sent to us to support 2019, 2020, 2021 teams in any capacity.