The Bi Report story – so far

BCN 121 cover

This article originally appeared in shorter form in the October 2013 edition of BCN, issue 121.

Over the past two years The Bisexuality Report has put the UK bi scene on the policymaking map as never before.  At BCN we thought it was time to review its story – which starts with cornering our editor.

Jen Yockney says, “It came out of years of running a local bi group in Manchester.  I’d had some small success with funding bids for bi research and resources and knew there was a growing body of research into bi experience.  In 2003 we’d produced a report on bi people’s needs in Manchester, breaking things down into policy and service provision areas like crime, employment, youth services and health.  It was a helpful starting point but it was based on a small research project. I wanted a report like that but bringing together the other research I knew was out there into one place to make life easier for campaigners and funding-bid-writers alike.

“But without being employed at a university and so having access to those academic papers – how could I find evidence that supported my funding bids and lobbying of service providers to treat bis seriously?

At the start of 2011, the government unveiled its LGB&T Action Plan – full of tackling ‘homophobia and transphobia’ – the index listing a host of references with a big gaping B-shaped hole.  Jen says, “I looked at the research listed and knew I couldn’t point at a similarly thorough bi document that civil servants could treat comparably.  The gap was not just frustrating me, it was holding bis back compared to the rest of the LGB&T umbrella.  So I took the idea to a bisexual organising conference in summer 2011 to see if it would gain support.”

She’d hoped for a general endorsement and a ‘off you go and do it then!’  However it proved a much bigger hit of an idea, with academia & research organisation BiUK and visibility group Bisexual Index stepping up to make the report happen and build a coalition of national bi organisations to back it.

Meg Barker from BiUK takes up the tale: “My vision for the report was that it would work best, in terms of getting it done, if one person led and then elicited content and editing from other people which they incorporated. It seems like one person overseeing a project prevents it from getting stuck or ending up with multiple different versions which are complicated to synthesise.”

Collating Evidence

The original plan was to assemble all the data that was out there about bi life in the UK, but that left a lot of gaps.  Meg again: “We took a look at the San Francisco bisexual invisibility report which gave us a few more ideas about what we needed to include, and decided that it’d be really useful to bring the international research together with UK specific research of the kind that BiUK itself has been gathering.”

“Fortunately I had the time, plus a lot of support from my work (The Open University) so I was able to offer to do this without funding. I put together an initial structure and checked that with the group of co-authors. Then I fleshed out all the sections I knew something about and passed it around the others to edit those bits and to add sections on their own areas of expertise.

Tracey reflects on that group effort, “I didn’t have a section to write by myself, but I added to several sections where needed. This was a great opportunity for me to learn more and read more broadly about bisexuality, I remember in particular reading about bisexual asylum seekers, something I didn’t know much about before working on this project. I also contributed to discussions around what terms to use in the report – we all thought it was very important to use inclusive, people first language and spent time on making that happen.”

Christina then helped shape it up: “my main involvement was probably from my policy background in the NHS and third sector provision as a Governor and Trustee respectively. The skills I gained in those roles allowed me to format the document such that it would be useful for people in the sorts of roles I held, rather than in just community or academic contexts”

Various contributions were blended together. Meg again: “Finally Christina did an amazing job of copyediting the whole thing, and we sent it off to OU to get it designed up into the shiny version you see today.”

Bi Report is GO!

Avariety of organisations were persuaded to endorse the report on the basis of a nearly-ready-for-publication draft, which helped add more weight: now it was not only backed by the OU, Bisexual Index, BiUK and BCN, but by Stonewall, the LGF – as the two biggest LGB charities in the country – and a fistful of other organisations too.

A launch event in London at the Open University’s Camden campus brought an audience of about sixty people and representatives from a host of LGBT organisations.  Speakers from LGBT projects and the Government Equality Office joined the report writing team to talk about how the report had come about and where we might go next.

A few months later it was followed up with the Report Summary, a double-sided A4 leaflet condensing the main findings in five key areas.

Outcomes and Futures

Tracey: “I think it has caused some organisations, including parts of the government, to consider the needs of bisexual people as more distinct and more important than they had previously. I think when bisexual people are often still fighting to be recognised as existing at all, changes might be slow – but projects like this one are a big step forward.”

Jen: “The aim was to have something which worked not as a report on a shelf but as a tool for activists to make the most of bi research.  Something that would present information in sections that reflected how government and funding works – bi experience of work, education, health, housing, all in one report but clearly separated out.  It did that beautifully.”

“For volunteers who want to build bi projects, or press for bi inclusion in existing work, the report is there as an enabling tool.  It’s back over to us as a community to identify our needs and create the projects that use it to meet those.”

Three of the authors, Jen, Marcus and Meg, had a series of meetings with the Government Equality Office as a result of their work on the report.  Jen reckons a large part of why the official press statements about the same-sex marriage bill got the language right on bi inclusion is a direct consequence: “it was an ideal piece of timing, to be able to talk to the people at GEO about bi inclusive language just at the point where this big bill was taking shape.”

Christina concurs about the value beyond the ‘bi bubble’: “It’s opened doors for BiUK as an organisation which produces things, isn’t fraught with infighting, and doesn’t get lost in the minutiae which is terribly important to the communities, but irrelevant to policy makers”.

The report helped propel BiUK onto the national LGB&T Partnership, a closed network of a dozen or so organisations like LGF, TREC and Stonewall that have the ear of government on health provision and related issues.

Even so, it only works where there’s a willing audience. Rebecca says: “I think it is helping, at least among organisations and individuals who want to do better at bi inclusion. I’ve done talks about it to LGBT groups and also in more academic contexts and I’ve referred to it constantly in my writing.

“Sometimes I think it is making a difference. Other times I feel I am talking to a brick wall but at least I have a good sledgehammer in my hand now!”