Stonewalling on bisexuality
In February, after around 25 years of failing on bisexual representation and inclusion, Stonewall held their first bisexual community consultation day.
Six months on BiUK today issued a statement asking about progress since that meeting.
BiUK’s response to the outcome of Stonewall’s consultation with bi communities
BiUK remains supportive of Stonewall’s decision to consult with bi communities with a view to becoming more proactively engaged with challenging biphobia in the United Kingdom. We also welcome Stonewall’s acceptance that some of its actions over its first twenty five years, whilst claiming to represent the interests of bi people, often led to greater marginalisation and exclusion of people who identify as bisexual, or may have identified in this way had they not been made to feel unwelcome as bi within lesbian and gay communities and spaces.
BiUK was pleased to receive the short note prepared by Stonewall following its consultation session with around 40 bi activists and others in February 2015. Like others though, we regret that it took until late July for the note to appear, some three months after the promised circulation date of Easter.
In terms of the contents of that note and the actions Stonewall proposes to take internally and externally, we of course welcome any steps which will seek to challenge biphobia in L&G and straight communities and to enhance bi visibility within Stonewall and beyond.
In particular, we support Stonewall’s proposals to empower its staff to be bi allies and role models. We regret however that Stonewall has failed to acknowledge that at present none of its trustees or senior staff identify as bisexual, nor did it propose to take steps to rectify this situation. Stonewall has undertaken at least two trustee recruitment exercises in the last twelve months and on neither occasion did it identify that bi people were under/un-represented on its board. BiUK notes that this is in stark contrast to the efforts Stonewall has made to recruit both a trans trustee and senior staff member, which we nonetheless fully support.
We would also ask Stonewall to recognise the difficulty that is presented by asking comparatively junior staff to take the lead on engagement with bi communities. Whilst we welcome the fact that the staff coming to BiCon 2015 to continue Stonewall’s conversation with bi communities are bi identifying, and the engagement of the same staff in liaising with bi organisations, it is problematic that they are not in a position to commit Stonewall in policy and resource terms.
Turning to what Stonewall proposes to do externally, we welcome the initiatives identified in the note, particularly by empowering bi role models and campaigning against biphobia within lesbian and gay communities. Our deputy chair, Edward Lord, has already offered to assist Stonewall in securing some funding for this work and our chair, Meg John Barker, has made some content suggestions for the anti-biphobia campaign.
In supporting this work, however, we expect to see Stonewall pay more than just lip service to bi people. We would hope that graduates from the bi specific role models programme would be used by Stonewall in its work in schools and workplaces to ensure that Stonewall role models are more fully reflective of the wider LGBT community.
In terms of the proposals to hear, listen, and engage more with bi people, we look forward to hearing much more about how Stonewall proposes to make this a reality as we are yet to see any significant evidence of active engagement with bi communities. BiUK, as the UK’s national organisation for bi research and activism through its expert academic trustees and associates wants to reiterate its comprehensive and open offer to partner with Stonewall to ensure that its publications, campaigns and programmes are fully reflective of the needs and experiences of bi people and in line with the most up to date research data available.
We were disappointed that Stonewall’s most recent research-based report, Unhealthy Attitudes, did not make use of this offer. BiUK would certainly have emphasised the need to tease apart the data from LG and B people given what we know about how bi people generally suffer more in these areas, and how amalgamating data erases this difference and means that resources rarely get to bi people. It would also have been nice to see some reference to ‘The Bisexuality Report’ and to the recent Equality Network ‘Complicated?‘ report which dealt with very similar issues in the bi community specifically.
Finally, whilst we accept entirely that this will take time to get right, we are disappointed that the next report from Stonewall is not planned until late 2016, potentially almost two years since the first consultation event. We would urge Stonewall to consider an interim report in early 2016 and also recommend that Stonewall establishes a small bi advisory group to assist it to remain focused on speedy and effective delivery. We would naturally be willing to participate in such a group.