Rewind: January 1996

One of the joys of BCN having been publishing for quite so long is that we can dig into the archives and see what bis were talking about back in the day.

Twenty years ago BCN was a fresh-faced newsletter hot off a photocopier. In Jan/Feb 1996 there was no talk of LGBT History Month as it just hadn’t been invented yet.  There was however news from Unison, of bi away weekends, films and conference policies… and European news about BDSM.  There was even guide to this exciting newfangled thing called the internet that let you find other bisexuals “online”.  We’d run an updated piece about that but trust me, this internet lark will never catch on.
So, 1996.  Edinburgh Bi Group offered BCN readers their thoughts about ground rules for the annual bi conference/convention BiCon.  That was the start of something vital: the “BiCon Guidelines” are now the tablets of stone handed down to every BiCon running team outlining what the event should include.  It included the observation that “BiCon not to use promotional materials from organisations that marginalise or do not recognise bisexuals”, which may seem obvious now but perhaps needed stating when bi-inclusive materials were much harder to come by.

A frustrated correspondent reports back from the Unison national Lesbian & Gay Conference.  LG Unison had years earlier decided that bisexuals shouldn’t be part of the organisation; this time the conference debated a motion that bisexuals should organise separately.  The motion was carried overwhelmingly, our reporter feeling that the onus of the conference was on defending a narrow gay identity rather than fighting bigger battles: “one third of all Unison members who voted in the recent elections for General Secretary voted for a candidate whose specific platform was to close down the Unison Lesbian and Gay Group. But the energy put into reaching out to those homophobic members and fighting their prejudice was nothing compared to the energy put into fighting Bisexuals.”
Unison’s LGBT group is today a very different affair.

In those days there were regular bisexual women’s away weekends at a large house in the North Yorkshire countryside.  The fifth such was coming up in March, promising “discussions, workshops, networking, fun and relaxing”.  The weekends died away over time, not least because of a shift towards respecting transgender people’s gender within the organised bi community, whilst the venue’s management clung to more antiquated notions of what “women only” meant.    In those more black-and-white times, though, they seemed a great boon for the women who took part.

Down in London, the local bi group hosted a panel discussion on the lack of bi representation in the ‘gay and lesbian’ media, with representatives from Radio 5’s gay programme of the time, Diva magazine, and “GayTime TV”.  The more things change…

In Europe, the European Commission agreed to let a challenge to anti-BDSM laws in the UK go to the European Court.  It wasn’t seen as a fast route to liberation though, as Derek Cohen of SM Gays noted ‘SM sexual practices are not exactly a huge vote winner.’  Two decades on, Europe ruled at the end of 2015 against the “opt-out” web filters applied to some internet connections that assume people will not want access to “adult” content.  Again, things are similar but so different.

And the internet?  Our guide explained about e-mail (hyphenated as a neologism back then), “news” and ftp.  Newsgroups are still around but aren’t the great hub they were at the time, when there were two “must try” groups – soc.bi, a social forum for bisexual people, and alt.fan.kay-dekker, which was more of a secret corner of the web for people who went to UK bi events like BiCon.  Email lists provided an alternative way of bis keeping in touch, though being harder to find without search engines they were rather quieter than the newsgroups.  And it was all so very close to being affordable: our feature rounded off by noting that “a 28.8k modem would typically be around £170 to £200 now, and they keep getting faster and cheaper”.