Lucy Brookes is bisexual rep for the University of Birmingham guild of students LGBT association, and has just been elected as women’s place bi rep for the NUS LGBT campaign committee. She is replacing Bethan Griffiths in this position, who has recently been elected bi rep for the NUS women’s campaign committee.
They’re both active in wider LGBT rights campaigns, and here BCN got them together to discuss the bisexual activism scene and their plans for the coming year…
BG: Why did you decide to get involved in the campaign then?
LB: I became involved at a local level within my university at first as a bi rep. I quickly became aware of how much the ‘B’ in the LGBT is totally tokenistic. Gay men are represented, and lesbians to a degree if they fight for it, but bisexuals are never even discussed, let alone represented – and if we are it’s because we’re just rolled in with everyone else. The worst biphobia I’ve suffered has been in the LGBT community, and it can get really vicious and nasty. I noticed it particularly at NUS LGBT conference – you feel less worthy of being there, and we don’t get to discuss our issues cos we’re “not gay enough”!
BG: Definitely. I know loads of bi people at conference who pretend to be totally gay or lesbian cos they’re too scared to come out – and this in what is meant to be a community that supports persecuted sexualities. There’s this myth about bi people getting half the persecution cos we only get bashed when we’re with a partner of the opposite sex, but in truth we get shit twice as much, cos we get it from both straight and gay communities. This has been shown a lot this year in the media – just look at what happened with Simon Hughes. Got at by the straight press for being ‘gay’, and by the gay press for ‘lying about being gay’, when what he was saying was he is bisexual. He couldn’t win!
LB: It’s hardly surprising when there’s such a lack of education about bi issues. There are so many myths to defeat. We’re not greedy, undecided, or out to break hearts – and if we are, we’d be like that whether we were bi or not! It’s awful, but at NUS LGBT conference, people treat bi students just like gay people complain about being treated by the straight community.
BG: Half of the time, they can’t see anything wrong with it. We need to do more education, not just within our own campaigns, but in the wider community. There’s also that report that came out last year saying that bisexual men don’t exist – that’s an awful lot of my friends that don’t exist! I’ll admit that there are more women than men in the bi community, but that’s because of background societal issues making it easier for men to identify as “gay” or “straight”, and stay closeted about their attraction to the other gender.
Of course, as part of the women’s campaign, I’m working more for the recognition of issues bisexual women face. When a woman identifies as bisexual, the association with people like Rebecca Loos means that people often think they’re slutty. Your number and frequency of sexual partners has nothing to do with the genders that you are attracted to – as a women’s rep I’ll be fighting the perceptions we have of women based on the labels we stick on them.
LB: And that’s why we’re involved in the bi campaign! Of course I’ve not been involved in the formal campaign for very long, so the only famous bisexual I can think of off-hand is who you mentioned earlier – Rebecca Loos. Of course, she’s a bad example, cos her name is synonymous with “slut” and “marriage breaker”, but cos I identify as bisexual myself, and am monogamous to my girlfriend I find that really upsetting cos I’m neither of those things.
BG: Yeah. Cos I’ve been around longer I’ve learnt about more famous bisexual people and the bi scene in general. People such as Tom Robinson, Simon Hughes, Skin from Skunk Anansie, Alexander the Great, Oscar Wilde…
LB: See, I’ve heard of them, but you never heard them being called bi. I guess cos they’re not straight they immediately get seen as “gay”, rather than all of their attractions being recognised. There’s the organised campaign too. I know it’s there, cos I’ve heard about BiCon and BiFests, but I’ve not had the chance to get involved (she soon made her way to Manchester BiFest – Ed).
BG: There’s actually a really active bi scene in the UK. And there’s all the academic work about bisexual stuff that’s going on at the moment, as well as growing criticism of traditional gender perceptions that is growing from the bi community.
LB: There’s an awful lot that is going on – but I still want to do more for the LGBT student community. I want to make it easier for young people to identify as bi, especially for guys, who often get forced into one end of the binary or the other. I also want to end bisexual invisibility by raising awareness of bi people – both famous, and normal that we meet everyday. This will help to end biphobia in straight & LGBT communities, but I also want to fight that separately – I figure that though there are still LGBT groups at uni’s where being bi gets you pushed to one side… the only answer is to push back.
BG: One thing I’ve learnt in the past year is the difference between the needs of bi people in the LGBT community and for women. I’ll be working with women from both gay and straight backgrounds so I need to be aware of differences for them. Usually bisexual women from straight backgrounds are perceived of as slutty and “easy”, whereas bi women from a lesbian background are seen as unfaithful to their womyn loving lesbian partners, or just shagging a woman while it’s fashionable. There are damaging perceptions on both sides, but they need to be dealt with differently.
LB: Yeah. We definitely need to increase bisexual involvement and visibility in LGBT groups for women, but also for men. I’ve got lots of ideas for how to do this. I’m going to get involved in the bi students’ yahoo group for a start so I can introduce young people to the bi scene and advertise what I am doing so people can get involved. Of course, there’s this pamphlet that we’ve made, that we hope will make things more accessible for lots of people & do some education, as well as some interviews with Bi Community News to tell non-students about what is happening and get support from the wider bi community. I really want to be able to double attendance by bisexual students at NUS LGBT conference, and I plan to do this by holding an NUS bi day, helping at various bi events, having a postcard campaign, sending out the student pack that will include this BCN special, rewriting the bi section of ABC of LGBT folder for the NUS, and running lots of travelling workshops for different student unions.
BG: You’re definitely going to be busy! It’s a bit different for the women’s campaign because the biphobia is less explicit, if no less damaging. I plan to get involved with the women’s campaign about the perceptions of women depending on the labels we give them, concentrating on bisexuality, as well as getting involved wherever women are attacked because of their sexuality. I’m sure we’ll be helping each other out a whole lot!
Come to NUS Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Conference: Sat / Sun 25-26 November, London. The more bis we can get at this, influencing the NUS’s national LGBT agenda, the better! You don’t need to be an expert – it’s a good place to meet other motivated bi students and learn.