Review: Bisexuality conferences tackle hate crime, censorship and Shakespeare

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Two major events in the bisexual calendar took place at the weekend, suggesting that 2010 may eventually go down in history not just as a year for celebrating Gay Pride, but also as the year when the B in LGBT finally stretched its wings and took to the skies. The bisexual community is coming of age – and they believe it is time that government and other sexual minorities took them seriously.

First up, on the Thursday before the bank holiday, was BiReCon 2010. Variously billed as the first international conference on bisexual research and ‘Bisexual Reconnaissance’, BiReCon is positioned as the first day of the weekend-long BiCon and attracted around 70 academics and researchers from across the globe.

BiReCon 2010 described itself as “an event which brings together researchers and writers with activists, organisations and members of the bi community” – and according to conference organiser Meg Barker, this was the first time such a conference drew a truly international audience and participation.

The event welcomed contributions from a number of prominent international writers, researchers and activists, including Robyn Ochs of the Bisexual Resources Centre and author of ‘Getting Bi’ and Serena Anderlini D’Onofrio, who has written extensively on bisexuality, most recently ‘Gaia and the New Politics of Love’.

BiReCon showcased work on bisexuality currently taking place in the UK, as well as presenting experiences and practices related to current aspects of bisexuality worldwide.

A significant strand, in both workshops and presentations, was the sense that lesbians, gays and bisexuals continue to be discriminated against both in the workplace and socially – by both heterosexual and gay colleagues.

A survey of LGBT equalities work in local government by Surya Monro, a research fellow based at the University of Huddersfield, suggested that policies on inclusion remain largely rhetorical, with LGBT equalities work being placed low down the hierarchy, and bisexuality tagged on to the end of lesbian and gay. High levels of homophobia remain, particularly in rural areas, whilst bisexuality is virtually invisible. Even in areas where LGBT work is more established, Ms Monro found high levels of ignorance about bisexuality, and in some cases active biphobia.

BiReCon was followed by BiCon 2010. a four-day extravaganza that was part awareness raising, part activist forum and part pure unadulterated fun. As several participants described it, BiCon is more of a convention than a conference – although that is in no way to undersell its key importance in the bisexual calendar.

Old hands turned up to argue technical issues: first time attendees discovered – many for the first time – a sense of belonging in a world where their sexuality was neither constantly questioned nor attacked. As one delegate put it: the entire weekend was “highly affirming”.

The range of topics covered is overwhelming, if not daunting. Most sessions have a bi-related theme – but not all. There were sessions on the bi press, on coming out and on bi activism. Robyn Ochs stayed on to present a workshop that challenged the idea of binaries within the sexual spectrum, whilst academic Kaye McLelland may have raised a few purist eyebrows with a session titled ‘Queering Shakespeare’, which presented – and challenged – specifically bisexual readings of Shakespeare’s work.

There were sessions on hate crime and how to deal with it, as well as censorship, both within the bi community and by external sources. Interim results from the world’s largest survey of bisexual discrimination in the workplace were presented by learning professional Heidi Bruins-Green.

On the lighter side, there were workshops on BDSM for beginners, Tantra and “getting naked”. Evenings were an opportunity for socialising and discussion to go on long into the night, with a ceilidh on Saturday and a satirical coronation of bisexual ‘Kings and Queens’ on the Sunday night.

BiCon 2010 took place at the University of East London and, attracting over 500 participants, was described by organisers as the largest such gathering ever.

The focus now moves to BiCon 2011, which is planned to take place in Leicester over the weekend of September 1st-4th 2011