Raising the Flag at Notts County Hall

Yesterday morning I attended the first event held this week in Nottinghamshire for IDAHoBiT 2015.

Representatives from the council, police, emergency services, unions, colleges, universities, and local LGBT groups and organisations made their way to Notts County Hall to watch the rainbow flag being raised by the river.

It was wonderful to see so many in attendance and to see people of all age ranges there too. The organiser Richard Townsley did a great job in bringing together a diverse range of people from the LGBT community from all over the county. A lot of us ended up doing some speedy networking and swapped emails whilst we slurped tea before we all walked outside to the flag poles for the speeches, flag raising, and photo taking. 

Thankfully it was a windy morning so the flag was flapping merrily whilst it was being hoisted to the top. Very photogenic.

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The photo shows two people pulling the rope to raise the rainbow flag on a tall, white, flagpole. They are on the bank of the River Trent.

The short ceremony was quite a moving and auspicious moment for me. One of those speaking (Sorry, I’m terrible with remembering names!) mentioned the launch of a new anti-hate crime campaign run by the police, as well as how any homophobia, biphobia and transphobia would not be tolerated. Another also spoke of how the LGBT community needs to unite and stand together to support each other.

I’m sure these kinds of sentiments get mentioned every year at these kinds of events. :P But it felt particularly relevant to me as the LGBT community in my area does feel very fragmented at the moment. Lots of smaller groups exist in Nottinghamshire/the East Midlands without ever working together, talking to each other or, in some cases, being aware of each other’s existence at all.

After the flag had been raised, the leader of Notts Trans Hub and I were discussing these things, along with how so much prejudice and discrimination exists between different groups of LGBT people. How discrimination and prejudice causes LGBT people to turn on each other. One thing that we talked about was how some pansexuals have appropriated the meaning of bisexuality, then wrongly labelled bisexuals as transphobic and upholders of a gender binary.

Yesterday made me glad BiTopia, QT Notts and the Notts Trans Hub support each other and are forming close relationships. It also encouraged me to overcome the fear caused by previous biphobic incidents of discrimination and harassment at LGbt events and engage more with LGbt organisations in the future.

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Preparing for Pride Season

These days I try to get ready for summer a few months in advance. This is partly because some things like ordering flags, leaflets and stickers can take a while to sort out and get delivered. It’s also because you’ll be a lot busier nearer the time than you are now. The weeks fly by and big events tend to sneak up on you. You think you have loads of time but before you know it you’re rushing round town searching for something to stick signs to just 10 minutes before the parade starts.

*dashes into shop wearing a bi flag as a cape*
“Do you have any broom handles?”
“No.”
“Washing line poles!?”
“No.”
“OK. Thanks. Bye!”
*dashes out*

purple umbrellas

The photo shows a wall display of umbrellas in Poundland. They are mostly purple.

Earlier this year I managed to pick up a bunch of purple umbrellas in Poundland and Wilkos are now selling purple bubble wands for 100 pence each. Soon I’m going to get some washing line poles and make some more signs.

I wrote a piece in BCN last summer for people who have never taken part in a Pride parade before, and the BCN website has a guide on how to run an outreach stall on their page of resources.

Help, where did everyone go!?

Having a quiet meet up can be scary, especially after a few months of meetings with a high turnout. Try not to be feel too worried. Your group is probably not fading into non-existence!

Here are several possible reasons why it wasn’t as busy as usual:

  • The weather was too bad, so people wanted to stay in.
  • The weather was too good, so people wanted to stay out!
  • It was too close to Christmas/New Year/Easter/a bank holiday, and people were away, were too tired or didn’t have enough money to come.
  • It happened on the same day as, or a few days from another bi event.
  • It was during the school holidays.
  • There were roadworks or problems with public transport.
  • Some people were ill/busy/feeling lazy/couldn’t find childcare/ had work the next day/didn’t feel the need to come/ didn’t have enough spoons etc. etc.
image

Stock photo of empty tables and chairs.

Chances are if your group usually runs without any problems then this is just a quiet month. They happen from time to time and there’s not much you can do about any of the above. If you think that your next meet up might be a quiet one, you could always bring something like a few board games, or change the format of your event to cater to a lower number.

If you are noticing that your event has become quiet for several months in a row, why not take a look at your current advertising strategy? Is there anywhere new you could promote your event? Could you re-design your flyers and social media sites? Are you displaying the event information clearly enough? Is it easy to find out what’s on when? If your blogs and websites are rarely updated and it’s difficult to find out information, people will soon stop looking and forget about you. If you use sites such as Facebook and Twitter, try to post bi related news, links and resources in addition to any information about events. Give people a reason to revisit and get involved!

Have you been reminding people enough? I hold my pub social on the second Thursday of the month, every month. I find that if I don’t remind people about it a few weeks before, a few days before and on the day of the event only half the people show up!

If you feel you’ve got that side of things sorted, ask around and see how people feel about what you’re organising. Do they enjoy it? Would they like something to change? Does it clash with another event? Do you hold it just before payday; the time of the month when people are least likely to be able to afford to come?  Perhaps your venue is too inaccessible or your event too expensive?

Another thing to consider is that something might have happened that you weren’t aware of, such as a falling out between attendees or an incident of discrimination from an attendee, that has put people off coming back.

If any unacceptable behaviour has occurred, you will need to speak to the relevant person(s) and explain why it wasnt acceptable and that it mustn’t happen again. If it does, you may need to ask them to leave the group. Depending on the incident, telling someone to leave may be your first point of action. Once an incident has been dealt with, you may need to explain to other attendees what action you’ve taken, and invite them to come back to a future event. You might also need to review your group guidelines and  anti- harassment & anti- discrimination policy and make sure it’s visiable on all your sites.

Whatever the reason, I wish you the best of luck in overcoming it!

Your Bi Group Brand

Once you’ve set up a bi group and thought of a name, the next thing to look at is the branding for your group. This is important as it helps people recognise you across lots of different websites and social media sites. It lets people know who you are and that you’re something to do with bisexuality. Finally it also helps you look more professional & established. Using your own stuff means you will avoid any copyright issues too.

I taught myself how to use some free photo editing software called GIMP, but if this isn’t something you feel comfortable doing why not ask around and see if someone will draw or make you something for free?

If you can’t find anyone to do this and have some money to spare, you could try commissioning someone on www.fivesquid.com to create a logo for you for a fiver. Just search for graphic designers on there and look for someone who’s style and design you like.

Logo and Brand Ideas

  • The Bi Flag
  • Something using one of the symbols of bisexuality
  • Something using purple, or purple, blue and pink.
  • Something representing what your group does, e.g. a tea cup if you meet for a cuppa once a month.
  • Something related to your local area, e.g. arrows for Nottingham

Need some more ideas? Here’s a quick look at what some other groups have done:

Advertising Your Bi Group

Once you’ve decided to start running a local group and you’ve found a venue and set a date, you just need to get some people to come! Below is a list of ways to promote your events.

Bi Community News Magazine:
You can get your group added to the listings in the back. The editor can also put leaflets for your group in the magazines of subscribers who live in your catchment area. You could also write a short article about your new group for the magazine itself.

Facebook

Search for groups about bisexuality and post links to your group and events. Create your own group and Facebook page. Ask people to like and share content. Find other bi groups around the world and follow, like, share and interact with

Twitter
Follow other people and organisations tweeting about bisexuality and LGBT things. Every week or two post the date, time and location of your event. State who can come and what it is. E.g pub social, discussion, meal out…

FetLife
This is essentially a kinky version of FaceBook. It works in the same way. Some bisexuals are into BDSM, and they feel welcome on the kink scene but avoid going to LGbt events because of biphobia or feeling like they don’t fit in at gay and lesbian majority spaces. Setting up a group and creating an event listing on FetLife is a great way to reach these people. Make sure you state that your group is a kink friendly but ‘vanilla’ one though! In my event listings I ask people not to talk about anything BDSM related unless they know anyone who can hear is ok to talk about it/hear it being discussed. I also state the dress code is normal every day clothing and that as the meet up is in a pub, we don’t have the venue to ourselves.
Social Media Tips
Don’t just post the basic info about the group and its events. Find and post cool links, photos, interesting articles, news etc. Give people a reason to like and share. All these things encourages them to comment and will keep them coming back to look at your stuff.

If you can be arsed you can also learn about the best time to post. For example on Twitter more people will see your content and interact with you from 5pm. So you can post around that time or write your tweets when you have time and schedule them through software like Hootsuite.

Don’t put all your eggs in one social media basket. Some people might not use FetLife, some people boycott FaceBook because of privacy policy issues and discriminatory policies towards LGBT people. It sadly means more work for you to use all the sites, but it’s better to spread it out across lots of different platforms.

LGbt centres within a 1-2 hour travel time radius from your location.

For example I emailed centres in Derby, Lincoln and Leicester to advertise. Lincoln and Leicester ignored me…but it was worth a try! Derbyshire Friend we happy for me to post about my event on their website.

At the time of writing none of these areas have a bi group and the centres all neglect bisexual people’s needs so if people can travel, they’ll come from far and wide!

Other places to advertise:

*Stonewall local listings

*Local council listings (I just filled in an online form on the Notts County Council website and it went straight up. However I still can’t get them to change the out of date information, so make sure what you put up won’t change any time soon!)

*meetup.com

*Gaydio national listings

*University LGBT Societies
Again these are typically places where bisexual people face biphobia or self exclude because they don’t feel welcome or don’t fit in. Larger universities will have groups with hundreds of members. See if you can contact the group leaders and ask them to post info and put leaflets up on campus.

*LGBT Switchboards

*Local magazines, especially if there are any LGBT ones.

*Anywhere you can put leaflets!
Libraries, doctors surgeries, LGBT friendly cafes…

*Local Prides
I go round the stalls at local prides with leaflets for my group to see if I can get on their list of organisations they signpost people on to! E.g. Local NHS services, counselling services… This is a great time to do it because those organisations are at Pride to specifically promote awareness amoung LGBT people.

*Networking
Do you know any other bis in your area? Do any of your friends know bis in your area? Ask around! They might know lots of other people who would be interested in attending who you haven’t met yet.

For the braver, more journalisty people out there: you could get in touch with local radio stations and newspapers and ask them to see if they want to feature you/the group. Good times to do this are around Coming Out Day, LGBT History Month or Bi Visibility Day. You can talk about your group and bi issues whilst linking it to something topical that people might have already heard of that already gets some media coverage.

Speak to someone who has done this before to get some advice on the best ways to do it. Read up on bisexual stats and information beforehand.

A note on inclusion:

Are local groups for BME people aware you exist? Or other minority groups such as trans groups? Have you tried to contact them and invite those who might be interested to attend? Do you have anything on your advertising that states people are welcome to attend regardless of race, gender, religion, disability, orientation and nationality? Do you have a code of conduct that outlines what behaviour is and isn’t acceptable at your events, and what people should do if any instances of harrasment or discrimination occur? When talking about discrimination, have you remembered to include things often left out such as transphobia, ableism or fatphobia?

Finally it’s also good practice to include a description of the venue in terms of accessibility on your leaflets and event descriptions. For example are there a lot of steps inside? A step free access? A disabled toilet? Loud music that might affect those who are sensitive to noise?

It’s normal to have a small group when you first get going but it will grow in time. Numbers will vary from month to month and season to season, so don’t panic if numbers drop all of a sudden! Good luck!

Big Bi Dreams for 2015

Here’s what I’d like to make happen in 2015:

  • Print off and distribute leaflets advertising Nottingham BiTopia.
  • Organise at least 3 BiTalkia events.
  • Get this blog featured on Bi Bloggers.
  • Find a way to raise funds for the group to do things like pay for stalls at Nottinghamshire Pride and the cost of hiring a room for BiTalkia.
  • March in Nottinghamshire Pride again this summer, and maybe run a stall.
  • March in Manchester Pride again.
  • Have some kind of presence at Leicester and Derby Pride.
  • Go to The Big Bi Fun day in Leicester.
  • Set up some kind of quiet-cup-of-tea-more-chilled-out social to cater for people the pub social (unintentionally!) excludes. I feel like I’m currently letting those people down by not holding an event that meets their access requirements.
  • Get a map of the UK and mark down where bi events happen.
    Work on finding a way to set up some kind of bi event in the least purple areas!
  • Write a code of conduct/anti harassment policy for the meet ups.
  • Learn more about how to do more to include more BME people.
  • Run a ‘bi group runners’ and ‘So, you want to set up a new bi group?’ workshop at BiCon.

and last but not least…

  • Have a rest!

Should you use your real name to run a bi group?

Should you use your real name to run a bi group?

My answer to this is if you feel comfortable in doing so, then yes!

However if you don’t feel comfortable in doing so, or there is a potential risk of being outed to friends, family, a partner or an employer then don’t worry. There are lots of easy and free things you can do to run a bi group to ensure partial or full anonymity. Most of these things are just down to being cautious and careful and changing a few habits and behaviours.

There are several downsides to this:

  • The fear and anxiety of someone finding out who you are/where you work. If they do, will they out you? Threaten you? Post the information online where anyone could see it?
  • The extra work in setting up dozens of additional accounts and profiles.
  • The confusion of having so many additional accounts and profiles. (Hope you’re good at remembering passwords!)
  • The extra difficulties it may cause when filling in forms or making bookings if you have to use your real name.
  • Group members may constantly ask and badger you to tell them personal information such as where you work, or what sector you work in.
  • People feel shocked, surprised, upset or hurt if/when they find out that’s not actually your name.
  • People feel shocked, surprised, upset or hurt when you won’t tell them where you work or what you do for a living.
  • It sucks that you can’t just be yourself.
  • You hate lying, avoiding and hiding all the time.
  • All of the above can be emotionally d-r-a-i-n-i-n-g.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. Sometimes leading a double life under your super alter ego can be quite fun and exciting! A little bit 007.

So what kind of things can you do to keep your personal information private? (You don’t have to do all of these things, you can do as many as you want or need to.)

  • Create a fake name.
  • Don’t tell anyone where you work, or lie about where you work.
  • If you need to pay for bookings, pay in cash where possible.
  • Set up a completely separate FaceBook account, and make sure your original one isn’t search-able. Don’t add anyone as a friend to both accounts. Don’t join any public groups or like pages under your original account if people know that information about you. E.g. Don’t like the Nottingham baseball club if people know that you like to play with that group every Wednesday.
  • Don’t use a photo of yourself for your original Facebook account userpic.
  • Delete any information about where you work from any social media accounts, blogs etc.
  • Avoid putting any photos of yourself online as much as you possibly can, or being photographed in situations where you photo might go online. E.g. a friend uploads pictures of you playing baseball to the public group and tags you without you knowing. Gah. People generally aren’t clued up about consent in this area, and put your picture up anywhere without asking first!
  • Avoid publishing any potentially identifying information about yourself or daily activities on social media accounts. E.g. if you tweet about your strawberry allergy one week…and that your cat died another week…someone could see all this and work out who you are just by scrolling down your page for a while.
  • Avoid posting the same things to both your accounts at the same time for the same reason, someone could end up seeing both and recognising the information.
  • If you make a casual booking (where you don’t have to fill in a form) USE YOUR FAKE NAME! Pubs especially have a bad habit of putting a sign up in your reserved area without asking or telling you beforehand. They’ll say something like: Reserved for Joe Bloggs for the bisexual group! Argh!
Pub Sign

The photo shows a reservation sign the pub staff made. Luckily I’d booked it using my activist name rather than my real one. Otherwise I’d have been outed to everyone who arrived before me! 

  • If you need to make a formal booking or pay by cheque or something, you could always ask a trusted member of the group to do this for you.
  • Use a different sim card or buy a cheap handset for £10 if you can afford to. Use it for any bi group related contacts, or phone numbers for members of the group. This avoids you giving out your phone number.
  • If you decide to stick with using the same sim and phone, don’t answer the phone with your name if you don’t know who’s calling, say hello instead. Save any contacts from the group as something like “Chelsea, Bi Group”. This will save you from accidentally texting a work colleague about BiCon or something.

This isn’t an exhaustive list. If you can think of any other things to add to it please comment below!

Some people might be a bit shocked by this. Why go to such lengths? Is it really worth bothering with? Sometimes remaining anonymous is the only way some people can do bi group work like this. Others prefer this option in order to play it safe. They may risk damaging a relationship with someone near and dear if the other person found out about their sexuality. You may hate hiding who you are from your mum, but if the alternative means never being friends with her again, then it’s reasonable to want to stay in the closet.

Whilst bisexuality is covered by the Equality Act 2010, the reality is you can be forced, bullied or pressured out of work and it can be very hard to prove this was because you’re bi. (If you could, it’s still a lot of worry, hassle etc. to go to a tribunal.) Even if you weren’t forced to leave, you could face discrimination, biphobia, bullying or harassment. Other more subtle things include being looked over for a promotion because your manager doesn’t think you’re reliable and trustworthy any more since they found out you’re bi. (from The Bisexuality Report, 2012)

I always feel pissed off when people make light of someone wanting to remain anonymous. There are clearly valid reasons for wanting or needed to hide who you are, even if it’s a horrible way to live your life and it’s unfair and it shouldn’t be this way.

If you know someone who does some or all of the things mentioned on the list above, whether they are a group attendee or organiser, please respect that. Don’t ask them questions you know they don’t want to answer. Don’t try and trick them into revealing information. Understand they are doing this for a reason. Support them by not sharing any personal information they trust you with.