Original BiCon Guidelines

The BiCon Guidelines as originally passed (unanimously!) at the plenary of BiCon 16 in Cambridge, September 1998.

Before being taken to the DMP, they were first discussed at an earlier session – Ian's notes and the changes made to the original draft:

Original draft of the BiCon Guidelines, with notes from Ian


BiCon Guidelines

These guidelines define what BiCon should be and what BiCon organisers are expected to do. If organisers feel they can't fulfil any of these requirements, or want to change them, they should say so when they volunteer to run the event at a BiCon plenary.

A. What BiCon is and what it should contain

  1. BiCon is the UK national bisexual conference or convention. (We're bored of arguing about which.)
  2. BiCon should be open to all bisexuals, their friends and allies, and anyone with a positive interest in bisexuality.
  3. BiCon is run by volunteers, and should ideally be run by a different set of people and in a different place, from year to year.
  4. Groups running BiCon may be of any structure, but should be explicit about how they are organised. [1]
  5. BiCon should happen annually, generally between June and October and should be at least a two day event, including a Saturday. [2]
  6. BiCon should contain at least one plenary at which decisions about future BiCons can be made. [3]
  7. BiCon should contain at least one programme stream of workshops/sessions, where smaller groups of people can participate. Workshops should largely be run by volunteers from the bi community, and BiCon should never be taken over by professional speakers or facilitators. [4]
  8. No national or local bisexual group or organisation should be denied the opportunity to run a session (ideally no-one should be denied this, but there may well be a lack of space or time).
  9. There should be at least one party or social. Ideally there should be social events throughout BiCon.
  10. It should be possible for people from the bi community to sell their own bi related materials (zines, t-shirts, badges etc). [5]
  11. Deadlines should be made clear. Ideally extra space should be provided for last minute items.
  12. There should be chill out space. [6]

B. Access and anti discrimination issues

  1. BiCon should allow women only or men only workshops, although it is not obliged to provide them if there are no offers.
  2. BiCon should accept transgender people as being of their chosen gender, this includes any single gender events. [7]
  3. BiCon should have an anti harassment policy. People who persistently harass others for any reason including sexually, racially, or on the grounds of sexuality, should be required to leave.
  4. BiCon should be made accessible as possible to people on low incomes by means including a variable price scheme/sliding scale.
  5. BiCon literature should give a clear description of the level of disabled access available, and provision for people with disabilities should be a major consideration.
  6. BiCon should do its best to be accessible to parents of young children by providing child care facilities.

C. Financial

  1. BiCon should produce detailed accounts within three months after the event. These should be published and be made readily available to interested parties. [8]
  2. If BiCon makes a surplus, this should be passed on to future BiCon organisers. If the surplus reaches a higher total than is needed to run the next BiCon it should be donated to other appropriate organisations. Decisions about donations should be made at a BiCon plenary. [9]

D. Feedback and decision making

  1. There should be ample opportunity for attendees to give their views of BiCon. There should be a feedback form for the benefit of attendees and future BiCon organisers. [10]
  2. Decisions about who should run future BiCons, Bicon surpluses, and any changes to these guidelines should be made at a BiCon plenary.
  3. Plenaries should be minuted and the results reported in BCN and on uk.bi (or their equivalents) and be readily available. Where it impossible to keep such decisions for BiCon they should be put up for discussion in these forums. [11]

Passed at BiCon 16 final plenary: 6th September 1998


[1] For instance previous BiCons have been run by collectives, by a core group with helpers, and by dictatorships with helpers.

[2] For the last nine years BiCon has been a three day event. Generally on a Friday/Saturday/Sunday, but once on Saturday/Sunday/Monday (on a bank holiday) and once on a Thursday/Friday/Saturday (because it was in a Methodist Hall). Anyone wanting to run an event of longer than three days (plus early events the previous evening) should check with a BiCon plenary.

[3] Traditionally decisions have been made at the final plenary, but it has been pointed out that this is often too late for people who need to catch the last train home. There is also a lot to be said for ending on a positive note, with a closing ceremony of some kind, so an earlier decision making plenary would be very welcome.

[4] We do mean taken over. Professionals are very welcome to run workshops, appear on panels etc, though we should think hard before paying them unless we can afford to pay all our facilitators, but we don't want, for instance, HEA [the Health Education Authority] to say 'here is ten thousand pounds, now you have to do it our way'. Not that that's terribly likely…

[5] That doesn't mean BiCon organisers are obliged to sell things for people – that would be far too much work. Anyone wanting to sell anything should be prepared to at least work a shift on the merchandise stall. BiCon will not normally be liable for stolen or mislaid merchandise (though we've usually managed to make the figures add up.

[6] Chill out space in any space where BiCon attendees can sit down outside of organised sessions. This includes a bar, cafe or lobby (if it has enough seats), but should preferably be for BiCon only.

[7] Transgender has been defined in slightly different ways by different BiCons. This clause is mainly meant to cover people who are living as their chosen gender.

[8] Readily available means that copies should be sent out on request and on receipt of an SAE.

[9] BiCons are not obliged to budget to keep the whole of any surplus that they are given, but they should bear in mind that venues these days are asking for deposits in the order of £2000, and should try and leave enough for future organisers to pay a deposit.

[10] In 1999 we will be putting forward the additional guideline that organisers should write a short report for future organisers. BiCon 1999 has undertaken to do this.

[11] We don't mean that all plenaries should be written down in detail, but all decisions should be recorded, along with any significant opposition.

Tom's guide

[ Originally published by Tom Limoncelli as 'The Ultimate Guide to Bisexual Conferences' at biconf.org. This is a lightly edited version of the last known draft, dated 1st September 2003.

One interesting point of difference between UK and USA bi events is that the latter's access issues points include a 'scent-free policy' – even BiPOL's first national US bi conference in 1990 had that[1]And an earthquake policy, given that it was in San Francisco! – but it's never been seen as an issue that needs addressing in the UK, perhaps because to this nose anyway, no-one at BiCon wears noticeable perfumes. ]

Conferences change the world. In particular, they empower the dis-empowered.

The first conference I went to was the GAAMC (Gay Activist Alliance of Morris County) conference in 1988 or so. It was a one-day affair with dozens of workshops. It was amazing. To be in the same place with 100 other disenfranchised people was so empowering that it was a large part of why I am an activist today.

Another conference I went to a lot was the Usenix Technical Conference. This is a computer conference unlike any other. This is a conference where the people creating the next generation of computers meet and share their work. It's not a well-known conference, mostly because it's a "best kept secret" to keep the riff-raff (people that wear business suits) out. While not a economically disenfranchised group, these conferences certainly helped relieve the "outcast" feeling that technical people lived with before the dot com revolution.

In future years I would find myself creating the Tri-State (NY, NJ, CT) Bisexual Conference. I co-chaired the first, and third, and fourth, advised the second and fifth. I helped plan other meetings, large and small. I sat on the Program Committee for Usenix conferences, and coached the 4th International Bi Conference (NYC) in 1994.

With every conference I found common themes: confusion, burn-out, lack of planning.

Oh, and I also helped plan some conferences which I won't mention, because they weren't very successful. However, those are the most valuable to me, because I learned the most.

So after the impressive first North American Bisexual Conference in Vancouver, Candada (2001), I promised to write down everything I wish people had told me before I started getting involved with creating conferences. That's why this book now exists.

Conferences change the world. Conferences educate large numbers of people in a short amount of time. More importantly they build community. People make connections and friends that last much longer than conferences. Countless projects and many organizations have been created by people that would never have found each other if it weren't for conferences. This is true in the bisexual world, the computer world, the gay world, the science-fiction world, the lesbian world, the Pagan world, and so on and so on.

Interestingly enough, that's not why people attend conferences. Keep this a secret: people attend conferences in hopes of meeting people (friends, lovers, whatever) but unbeknownst to them, what they get out of a conference is usually education, self-improvement, and empowerment. That's the way of the world. So advertise "you'll meet lots of people" but plan on expanding their minds. The mind is like a parachute, it only operates when open.

Planning a conference can eat your life. Make sure you have a good stress relief mechanism (spouse or significant others). Have a co-chair and a core-team of volunteers. Make sure you don't try to single-handedly create the conference.

I can't say that I wrote this book. I only wrote down what other people have taught me, and what people have submitted for inclusion. In particular, Alan Hamilton's article on budgeting and Will Marcott's sample financial report. I hope to update this book quarterly (isn't the web great?) based on the input I get. I would love if everyone that ran a conference were to submit a chapter on what they've learned, thus making this a "living document". Please send your suggestion, chapter, or even a small paragraph to (email deleted).

I honour you. I honour you for the work you are about to do. Conferences change the world. There is no better thing that someone can do. Thank you.


The Most Important Chapter (Key dates)

This chapter is about the key dates that should be used to drive all your other plans. If there is a single more important thing you can learn about conference planning it is they timing of the milestones listed in this chapter.

There may be concepts in this chapter that won't be explained until future chapters. That's ok. We'll get to them.

A milestone is a tangible task such as signing a contract or mailing out an advertisement. Milestones usually have a single deadline.

As conference co-chairs your primary job is to keep all the volunteers focused on the tasks at hand. Use these milestones to do that and you'll be very successful.

As conference co-chairs your primary job is to keep all the volunteers focused on meeting these deadlines. As conference co-chairs your primary job is to keep all the volunteers focused on meeting these deadlines.

Here are the key milestones who's deadlines are most critical:

  1. Location Contract Signed
  2. 'Save This Date' Announcement
  3. 'Call For Workshops' Announcement
  4. 'Registration Form' Mailing
  5. Registration Cut-off
  6. The Conference Itself

Hard date starts the wheels in motion

Before you have a signed contract you only have a 'soft date' (like 'In the summer of 2005, somewhere in central New Jersey'). Once the contract is signed, you have a 'hard date' (like '3pm Aug 4, 2005 until 5pm Aug 8 at the Ramada Inn on the New Jersey Turnpike exit 7.'). Your contract will specify down to the minute when you must be gone (don't forget to allocate clean-up time!)

You can't advertise the conference until you have a hard date. If you do, Murphy's law will assure a date change and everything will get confused. Some well-intentioned person will duplicate zillions of the flyer with the old date, and make sure that this incorrect flyer is well-stocked everywhere they travel. Ugh.

You can't book workshop presenters, keynote speakers or entertainers until you have a hard date. These are busy people and they can't commit to working "the summer of 2005". They will only talk to you if you can specify a hard date. Until you have a hard date, you won't be taken seriously.

The majority of your volunteers won't enlist until there is a hard date. Would you volunteer for a conference that you can't attend? Having a hard date means the volunteer can verify with their family, employer, spouses, parents or whoever that they will be able to attend. Only after that point will they volunteer to help.

You need to announce the hard date as absolutely early as possible. This lets people mark their calendar before other events have filled it in. People need to take vacation time, which usually has to be approved by their employer months in advance. If this is an international conference, the date must be announced 2 years in advance as people need time to save for the added expense.

To make all that happen, get the contract signed as soon as possible.

The "Save This Date" announcement

As soon as you have a hard date you must announce the conference. However at this time you don't have any idea of how much registration is going to cost, who the keynote will be, the detailed schedule, the workshops, and so on. Those things take forever to work out. If you wait for them you'll find yourself making the big announcement after it is too late for people to schedule vacation time, etc.!

Therefore the moment you have a signed contract, send out a 'Save This Date!' announcement. It only needs to include the bare essentials: what attendees need so they can set aside that date in their calendar (but not register), and spread the word to potential workshop presenters so they can send in workshop proposals.

This announcement should be one page and include:

  • The start and end date, and year
  • The location
  • The title and (if you have it already) the theme
  • Request for volunteers
  • A list of typical workshops (with a note that this is not set in stone)
  • On the back: A "Call For Presenters" messages.

As we said before, workshop presenters are busy people, so they need advance warning of the date. They need a month or two to submit their proposals, and you need a month or two to select which presenters you will use and which you will decline. That's four months total! If you need to give people at least six month advance notice to make vacation plans, we're talking nearly a year advance notice!

To help you get this announcement out as soon as possible, it's a good idea to have a sub-team draft the announcement while the core team is finding the location, negotiating the contract, and getting the contract signed. The draft announcements should leaving key items blank until the contract is signed. If you can mail the "Save This Date" packet within 7 days of signing the contract you're great!

If you are caught for time, you can send out the "Call for presenters" message separate from the "Save this date!" mailing. If you are really, really, really caught for time, you can at least send out a 8-10 line email with the title, date, and location. Make sure all announcements include a web site address. If anything, people can bookmark that URL and refer back to it as you fill in the details.

To make all of this happen, make sure you are ready (or almost ready) with your announcement when the contract is signed.

Registration Deadlines

The final topic of this chapter is about the deadlines for registration.

Did you ever wonder why conferences offer a discount for early registration? Pre-registration costs less than "at the door" registration? Conference organizers don't offer these discounts because they are nice people. Each discount offered is for a specific reason.

Most discounts are to encourage early registration. The more people that register early, the easier the organizers can plan for food, space and other issues.

Very early registration is done to get initial funding. This funding may pay for future mailings and publicity. Suppose site may require a 10% deposit when the contract is signed, 20% more a bit before the conference, and the remainder the day of the conference. The first deposit may be paid for with the profits from last year or a loan from an "conference angel" (who may be an organization or a person). The next deposit is paid for with the early registrations. The remaining deposit is paid for with the pre-registrations.

People don't take advantage of a pre-registration discount if the discount is too small, or if it must be paid too far in advance. If pre-registration saves them $10, there's little reason not to register at the door. If the only discount is offered by registering two months early, people will forego the discount.

Here's a discount scheme that I like:

At the door:Unregistered attendee arriving at the conferenceFull price
Pre-registered:post-marked 7 days or more before con15% discount (but at least a $15 dollar savings)
Early Registration:post-marked 2 months or more before con30% discount
Super-duper Early Registration:post-marked 9 months or more before con50% or more discount

Most conferences have discounts for student and/or low-income attendees. Often this is the same price as the pre-registered rate if the person registers at-the-door, or the early-registration rate if the person pre-registers.

Summary

In summary:

  • Sign the contract well in advance
  • Send out the "Save This Date!" announcement as soon as the contract is signed
  • Send out a "Call for workshops/papers/participation" soon after the contract is signed, possibly combined with the "Save This Date!" announcement
  • Send out the registration forms as soon as they are ready, well in advance of the conference
  • Set discounts to effectively encourage early registration.

The Timeline

In grade school we all learned that a story typically has a beginning (which sets the stage), middle (which introduces the obstacle or conflict), and climax (which resolves everything). A conference is similar. Things move slowly at first, then activity builds, finally the conference itself happens and (ta da!) it's time to go home, thanks for attending.

Is this your first conference that you are planning? If it is, you are at a disadvantage because you haven't seen the over-all timeline that is involved in creating a conference. This chapter hopes to solve that problem. If this isn't your first conference, this chapter serves as a guide or checklist.

The previous chapter dealt with the most important dates to drive home the idea that those deadlines are the most important. However we recommend that you plan out a timeline based on all the milestones and deadlines listed in this chapter (you can revise it as time goes on, but you have to start somewhere).

It is important to write this timeline down and share the information with all volunteers. Put it on a "for committee members" section of your web site. It is a communication tool. It communicates the deadlines that you, the co-chairs, need to meet to make this conference a success.

Here are the various tasks that typically happen:

Initial Concept

"Hey, let's have a conference"

The only advertising you can do is, "Please join and help us create this conference."

Initial team

The end-result of this team is to get a site location and sign the contract. However, they can't do that until they've picked a purpose, title and theme. The purpose of the conference may dictate which sites are visited when making the selection.

Sets the timeline.

Contract Signed

"Save This Date!" sent out

Detailed Schedule Created

This is where you plan the details of each day. For example, "Opening keynote and 1 workshop in the morning, 2 in the afternoon, keynote at night."

You have to pick exact times for these things. Workshops tend to be an hour or 90 minutes.

"Call for workshops/papers/participation" sent out

Budget created

Expenses and income in concert. This includes picking the prices.

"Registration Packet" sent out

Form to fill out.
Flyer that "sells the conference"

"Workshop Proposals Deadline"

"Workshop Acceptance Letters Sent"

"Registration Deadlines"

Super-duper Early Registration
Early Registration
Pre-registration

Conference!


The Kick-off Ritual

(Only conference co-chairs are allowed to read this.)

You don't have to do what's recommended in this chapter. It's fluff. It's bogus. It's stupid.

However I promise you that the times I didn't do this, the conference planning was full of in-fighting, we lost core volunteers, and the conference suffered.

I can also promise that when you do this process, people in the room will feel a little silly, and you will too, and therefore it is important that you maintain seriousness about it. Trust the process. Trust the process. It works!

Here's what you do.

Host a kick-off meeting, and at the end vote whether or not to have a conference.

The meeting should be well-advertised. Tell everyone. "Meeting to discuss the 2002 Tri-State Bi Conference to be held summer 2002 in New Jersey".

Use this as your (first) big volunteer gathering meeting. Explain the basic idea of the conference, but use the time to facilitate the volunteers creating the political points of the conference: the purpose, title, and theme. You may only get to the first one or two of those. That's ok.

(By the way, you may need an initial group of 2-5 people to put together this first meeting. I have found that usually it ends up being 2-3 people that put together the meeting, but they get 5-10 people to spread the word.)

About 30 minutes before the end of the meeting, call for a vote as-to "whether or not we are committed to creating this conference."

The number one objection will be, "Why the heck should we do that? We came here because we saw an advert asking if we want to create a conference. Why else would be here? Plus, we've already set the title and theme. Of course we want the conference to be created!"

Take the person seriously, but you only need to respond, "Then this vote should be a no brainer. Let's do the vote." This is what I talked about early when I said, "You will feel silly." You will feel silly, but it is important to continue with the process.

Give people a chance to talk about the pros and cons about hosting the conference then do the vote. Do a secret ballot if possible.

Of course, the vote will be 99% or 100% in favour of the conference. Congrats.

So, you may be asking why it was worth doing this if you know the vote was going to be positive. It's a good question.

The answer is that it's magic. The times that we've done this ritual the conference planning has been smooth. The other times, not so smooth.

Ok, maybe it's not magic. Maybe there is some psychology to it. When people entered the room it was your conference. They came to see what's up. After the vote they feel ownership. They created the conference by their vote, their action. Now it's their conference (partially owned by everyone that voted for it). Psychologically they feel ownership and therefore responsibility towards see it be a success.

They voted for it. They made the commitment. The way the question is phrased isn't "Should this conference exist" (of course it should… someone else should create it!) but "whether or not we are committed to creating this conference." By voting "yes", they are dedicating themselves to seeing the conference be a success. They are less likely to drop out.

There will be "no" votes. Be happy that there are. These are the people that would have dropped out anyway, or been resentful as they felt coerced into volunteering. They will leave the group at this point, and you are better off without them.

Of the people that are at this kick-off, about 50% of them will become your core team. People that join after this meeting may become your core-team too, but these people have now been though this process and are committed.

This is a good time to appoint co-chairs, committee co-chairs, or other positions. Maybe someone will volunteer to be the treasurer.

There are a couple committees that every conference needs to have. This might be a good time to get people to volunteer to take on committee co-chair roles. However, don't go overboard. If you surprise everyone with a printed list of committees, their statement of purpose, goals, and deadlines then you've undone the magic… it's back to being "your conference", not "everyone's conference". The core team should agree to the committees' goals and responsibilities together at the very next meeting.


Location

This is a short chapter. Until I flesh it out more, it's just some random notes I have on the types of locations you can use for a conference, and the pros and cons of such a site.

Hotel:

Costs a lot, or nothing at all.

Your contract might include free meeting space if you book enough rooms. On the other hand, if you don't meet the "room requirement", you will pay a penalty that could be thousands of dollars.

Even if the space is free, you will have to pay for the A/V equipment, coffee service, food, etc. If you thought Starbucks was expensive, wait until you see what a hotel charges for a coffee urn, milk, sugar, a dozen cups and napkins.

On the other hand, a good hotel is a delight to work with. They are there to serve you and will wait on you hand and foot to meet your A/V, food, and other needs. (It's appropriate for them to wait on you hand and foot because they are charging you an arm and a leg.)

Colleges and Universities:

Universities have excellent, inexpensive conference facilities. However, they may have a lot of strings attached. They may be expensive if you don't have sponsorship of a campus group.

Some Universities have professional conference facilities. These are managed as hotels (sometimes the management is actually outsourced to a hotel company) and can have the best of both worlds (hotel and university).

Rutgers: used the student centre, which had tons of strings attached (no vendors, tight control over content, required contracts for every workshop presenter, musical performer, special cash-handling requirements, etc.)

Also when checking into sites at universities or small colleges, the conference can sometimes get a campus LGBT group to sponsor the event.

Church:

  • May only be appropriate for small conferences
  • Very little A/V facilities
  • May have restrictions about content in certain rooms (no food in the main worship room, no nudity, etc.)
  • May be free if they sponsor it, or if the majority of the planners are members of the church. It's a good idea to offer a donation either before or afterwords.

Community Centres:

Which can be cheap or free, esp. if they are designed to serve in disenfranchised communities.


Contracts

You need to have a written contract with the site. This contract includes the specific dates that you will use the facilities, which rooms (or "all rooms") and facilities (or "all facilities") and the exact list of fees you will be charged for all these things.

The contract locks you in to those dates, and prevents the site from changing their mind about who they will permit to use the space. (What if someone came a long and offered them more money? The contract prevents them from ditching you.)

Keep the date under wraps until you have the contract signed. Public announcement of the date and location has a magical effect. It goes into people's diaries, email lists start forwarding the information, magazines (with 2-month lead times) hear about it and publish it, newsletters print it, and so on and so on. You really can't know all the places that repeat your announcement. If you have to change the date, you will never update all the other places that, and they were only trying to be helpful, have 'helped you get the word out'.

Why this is important is discussed in "Key Dates".


Budget Planning: Retreat and Conference Budgeting

by Alan Hamilton

Budgets and Fees

Price the event to ensure that even if not as many people as you hoped register and come to the event, the cost of the event will be covered.

There are two ways to figure costs and fees, which should yield similar results. It is a good idea to figure them both ways, and check the answers against one another. If the numbers are too far apart, something is wrong in the way one or both are being figured.

The Overall Costs Method is to figure the total price of all weekend's costs, and divide by the number of attendees expected.

The Per-Person Cost Method is to figure the sum of the price per person of each of the weekend's costs.

In each case, estimate costs a bit high and the number of people a bit low. This yields a fee which will almost certainly cover expenses and probably make a modest profit, which can be used to finance other activities of the organization, including providing seed money for other events.

An example of figuring with each method is shown on the following pages.

Example

To demonstrate figuring costs and the fees required to cover them, we will use a small retreat as an example. For a larger retreat or conference, the principles are the same; there are just more items to include in the budget.

Let us assume that we are members of a writers group, and are planning a small writers retreat. This is the first time we are organizing a retreat, but we would like to have one regularly in the future, perhaps quarterly or yearly. We want to make a little extra money to set aside for next year's retreat planning committee, so that they don't have to front money (such as site rental deposits) out of their own pockets.

One of us has made some phone calls and has found a site which will accommodate up to 25 people. The site requires that we pay for a minimum of 20 people, whether 20 people come or not.

Let us list things that we think we will need to buy for the retreat. These might be:

  • Site Rental
  • Food
  • Profit

We could have decided to provide writing supplies as well, but in this case we decide to have a simple budget and low costs. Attendees will have to bring their own paper, pens, pencils, etc. Workshop leaders will have to bring newsprint, markers, etc. for their own workshops.

In each case, we come up with a fee of $50-60 and a total budget for the weekend of about $760 for the average number of
attendees (20). Since these figures agree pretty closely, we probably haven't made any large arithmetic errors.

OVERALL COSTS METHOD

The Overall Costs Method is to figure the total price of all weekend's costs, divided by the number of attendees expected. Figure low, average, and high estimates for figures which vary based on the number of attendees. Then divide the average cost by the low number of attendees to figure the fee to charge.

Budget ItemLow(15)Avg(20)High(25)
Site Rental
$8 per person
160160200
Food
$30 per person
450600750
Profit
$5 per person
75100125
Total685860875

Divide the costs for 20 people by the minimum number of people, and we get a fee for the weekend of:
$860 / 15 people = $57.34 per person

Thus, if 20 people pre-register with a 50% deposit:
20 * $29 = $580

and only 15 show up to pay the other 50%:
15 * $29 = $435

we take in a total of:
$580 + $435 = $1015

If we paid for 20 spaces:
20 * $8 = $160

and bought food for 20:
20 * $30 = $600

then our total expenses are:
$160 + $600 = $760

This means that even if we buy food for people who don't show up and don't pay all that they said they would, we still don't lose money. We make a modest profit.

PER-PERSON COST METHOD

The Per-Person Cost Method is to figure the fee as the sum of the price per person of each of the weekend's costs. Multiply that by the number of attendees expected, to find the weekend's total budget.

If we figure
( $6 * 20 spaces ) / 15 people = $10.67

for the space rental portion of the fee, then 15 people paying $11.00
$11.00 * 15 people = $165.00

will cover the rental of the site for the weekend.

Per-person food costs might be figured as:

Friday supper7
Saturday breakfast3
Saturday lunch5
Saturday supper7
Sunday breakfast3
Sunday lunch5
__
Food cost/person$30

The fee per person would be:

Rental11
Food30
Profit 9
__
Total$50

If 20 people pre-register for the retreat with a 50% deposit:
20 * $25 = $400

and only 15 show up to pay the other 50%:
15 * $25 = $375

we take in a total of:
$400 + $375 = $775

If we paid $160 for 20 spaces and bought food for 20:
20 * $30 = $600

total expenses are:
$160 + $600 = $760

Again, even if we buy food for people who don't show up and don't pay all that they said they would, we still don't lose money. We make a modest profit.

Disasters Can Still Happen

Of course, disasters of various sorts do happen (weather too bad for travel, etc.), but setting the budget and fees for an event in this way minimizes the chances of losing money. Planning "defensively," builds a safety net to cover such problems in the future. If the event does not lose money, it contributes to this safety net and help bail out other organizers, should disaster strike their event.

Why Try to Make a Profit?

Is all money "filthy lucre"? Is making a profit an inherently bad thing? No. A modest profit, used well, benefits your organization's work in the long term.

Making a profit is how the East Coast Bisexual Network (ECBN) came into existence. A conference made a profit, and the organizers of the conference formed an organization to conserve the funds and use them to seed more conferences and other events. If you return the profit to your organization, this will finance further growth of its work in all its myriad forms. Plan to make a profit, and plan to use that profit to make a difference throughout the future.

[ Lou Hoffman adds: Profit is not a dirty word. BECAUSE makes a profit every year and the proceeds are used as seed money for the next year's conference.]

[ Tom Limoncelli adds: Profit is a must. We owe it to the bisexual community to build a self-sustaining movement. I believe we do a disservice to the community any time we create an event that loses money, since the loss will be paid for by the activists that worked hard to create the event. This will burn them out (and we only want to burn out the enemies to our movement 🙂 ). Therefore, we have a sacred trust with the community to make events that are profitable enough to sustain the event into the next year, and hopefully are recession-proof against a single bad year. ]

Alan Hamilton is the 1992 President of the East Coast Bisexual Network, co-founder of the Unitarian Universalist Bisexual Network, former editor of the newsletter of the Boston Bisexual Men's Network, an engineer and manager of computer software, a writer, and a bisexual activist.

This pamphlet is published by the Bisexual Resource Center. You are welcome to reproduce and distribute it with your group's contact information at the bottom of this column. Please send a $10 donation for each flyer that is useful enough to you to reproduce, to support the publication of new literature. For more information and literature, write or call:

Bisexual Resource Center
biresource.net


Setting The Price

Most of this topic is already covered in "Key Dates".

Here is one paragraph that should be integrated into this chapter, when it is written:

How can you afford to offer half-off to the super-duper-early registrations? Well, if you are dealing with non-students, you can use those intervening months to send these people fund-raising letters asking for donations to the scholarship fund, which will pay for discounted rates for students and low-income people. Adults that are used to making donations to charities may end up sending you a net total that is more than the full "at door" registration price. Of course, this won't work if your conference will mostly be people that do not have an income level that supports donations, or if your conference has a commercial aspect or isn't a charity.


Misc Tools

This chapter lists various tools that I've found useful when co-chairing a conference.

The "what goes in the envelope check-list" Tool

Whenever we do a mailing, there may be confusion over what goes in the envelope. To prevent this, we create a "What goes in the envelope" check-list. This check-list is included in the minutes of a planning meeting, posted on the "for volunteers only" web site, or emailed out. Think of it as a communication tool. It sets expectations for the volunteers.

For a large stuffing party (more than twelve people), only the coordinating committee needs to see the check-list. Though making it available to everyone is a good way to groom others for leadership.

It's a disaster to have ten people show up to stuff envelopes only to find out that the key pieces aren't ready yet. It can also be bad to forget to include something in the envelope after they are sealed. A simple check-list prevents this.

The check-list should include:

  • Who is the mailing going to:
  • How many envelopes are going out:
    (this tells everyone how many of each item must be procured)
  • When/where is the envelope stuffing done?
  • What goes in the envelope?
    (a list of what each sheet of paper should contain, front and back)
  • Who is responsible for duplicating each sheet?
    It doesn't matter who duplicates the sheet, the person that is responsible can delegate the task, but if the delegate fails, it's the responsible person's fault.
  • Who is responsible for bringing stamps:
  • Who is responsible for bringing envelopes:
  • Who is responsible for bringing mailing labels:
  • Who is responsible for bringing return-address labels:

Sample:

"MAY 2002 MAILING"

There will be an envelope stuffing party at the Bisexual Community Center on Mon, May 2, 2002, 7-9pm.

This mailing is going to: The members of the BiZone mailing list.

Quantity: There will be 200 pieces, please bring 200 of everything.

The envelopes will include 5 pages:

* Page 1 front: Cover letter by John.

* Page 1 back: Advert for the fund-raiser/dance
      200 copies delivered by Mark.

* Page 2 front & back: Registration form
      200 copies delivered by Mark.

* Page 3 front & back: Conference Advert flyer
      200 copies delivered by Mark.

* Page 4 front: BiWomen Support Group Flyer
* Page 4 back: BiMen Support Group Flyer
      200 copies delivered by Joe.

* Page 5 front & back: Endorsement from Rainbow Center.
      200 copies delivered by Mark.

stamps: John

envelopes: John

mailing labels: Mary

return-address labels: Mary

Sure, you know everything that is on this list. However, people can't read your mind. Think of this as a communication tool. You use it to communicate with the entire committee what is expected of them, and lets them confirm that they agree that this is what is being mailed, where, when, to whom.

Once the meeting starts, it's important to make one complete set. Gather one envelope, one of each item that's supposed to be in it, stamp, labels, etc. Show this to everyone to make sure they understand the goal. From there, you can let them self-organize (if they are experienced), or organize them (if you can avoid micro-managing them).

The key is to make sure that you don't end up with a disaster like: 500 envelopes filled with the printed material, and 500 other envelopes stamped and labelled. To prevent this, make sure an assembly-line is created that starts with the papers being folded, then stuffs the envelopes, then labels the envelopes, then seals the envelopes, then stamps them. Keep an eye on what's happening. The idea is that the more "expensive" or "irreplaceable" things are done last. If the envelope is ruined early on, you don't want to have wasted a stamp. Actually, stamps are replaceable… it's the labels that you don't want ruined. That's why the order (fold, stuff, label, stamp) becomes important.


Todo: things to add to this document

I'd like to see more on fund-raising (not my area of expertise) and also on at-conference services and access issues. Access issues are one area we worked hard at: Braille programs, sign language interpreters, accessibility for those with mobility challenges, a scent-free policy, unisex bathrooms, childcare, scholarships, community housing, metro transit information… I've been involved with childcare at the last three or four BECAUSE, and have a lot of experience with childcare as a user and a volunteer at a number of other conferences (Rainbow Families, various SF/F conferences).


Credits

I can't take credit for most of this document. It comes from the experience of doing conferences with many find bi activists, especially everyone involved in the Tri State Bisexual Conferences.

In particular:

  • Tom Limoncelli, New Jersey
  • Alan Hamilton, Boston, MA
  • Lou Hoffman, Minneapolis, MN

Notes

Notes
1And an earthquake policy, given that it was in San Francisco!

Marcus's 'how to run a BiCon' manifesto

Back in 2005, Marcus Morgan published 'A Manifesto For BiCon Organisers' as a PDF file. As the place it was uploaded to (resources.bi.org) no longer exists, it is now available here.

Since it was written, Marcus has run three BiCons rather than two and several other things have changed. As the file specifically forbids editing it or posting it as web pages, no corrections have been made. The 'excellent article' referenced as being at biconf.org no longer exists there[1]The domain name has been squatted at least twice since 2005 but a copy of the latest version I can find is here.

Here are the comments on the manifesto that were there (again, made back in 2005 or so!) including Marcus's responses to some of it:

If you haven't already read it, please do so now… because I'm just going to make comments on some of it.

I've also not gone "I think he's right you know!" to the vast majority of it.

Ian

Seek Other Advice Too

Yep. The idea for the BiCon Guidelines came from SF cons, for example.

Someone used to trade union conferences came along to 2001 in Coventry and was stunned that – at a venue that didn't have an onsite bar or food – the organisers hadn't gone to some of the local pubs and food places and said "You can be an Official BiCon bar / food place… if you give us a percentage of your take from people who mention us."

      This is a good idea, hadn't occurred to me! -Marcus

I thoroughly recommend going to some of the BiCons elsewhere. The first EuroBiCon, and the internationals in Berlin and Boston were particularly good, but you've missed those 🙂

I also loved Queeruption in London 2004. The atmosphere was very like a BiCon, but when you're in a squatted venue, only some of which has electricity, never mind heating, it was also very differently fab.

Most of the mistakes that have been made over the years would very probably not have been made if the organisers had asked previous organisers "how's this idea sound?" If they go "erm… are you sure?" do at least think you might be taking a risk if you go ahead with it. There's nothing wrong with taking a risk, but some are like playing Russian Roulette with a fully loaded revolver.

What Is BiCon Really About?

I particularly liked the comment on a 2005 feedback form. Asked to finish the sentence "BiCon 2005 was…" someone wrote "about the people, stupid."

What Do You Want It To Do?

Hmmmm. Apart from the very first couple, I'm not entirely convinced that any of the other UK ones have really addressed this one. In part, that's because even if the organisers want to do something else, a large chunk will chose the "have a really big fun festival" option.

Personally, even when I've been told not to, I've aimed to a) do better than last year and b) make next year's organisers think, at least at the time, "how are we going to do better than this?"

I don't think I'm alone in this – if you don't do X very well, next year's team will get lots of volunteers to do X next year. The second one year's finished, there were at least four people wanting to do the session programme next year, for example.

Organisational Structure

I'm going to say "it depends". Most of 2002 was effectively done with a triumvirate (even if I had to look up how to spell it!) As it achieved the aims above, I think we did ok. At least one other year had one (for much the same reason as we did: a very tight timetable) and didn't. We had the huge advantage of lots of experience though.

Some of the people involved would deny it furiously, but 2005 was like the cabinet: nominally a bunch of equals, but there was a very definite Blair / Brown pair (only with a much nicer relationship) within that.

Venue

See The Venue for my thoughts.

"The opening ceremony is the least important of the three"

Hmmmm. It depends. If you're running an international (either International or Euro) BiCon, then I'd rate it as the most important. In this case, having something about where people have come from is a very good idea as it builds the feeling that this is indeed an international event and not just a local one with a different name.

      Fair point. UK BiCons have very ragged start times, with people arriving all the way through. International ones, with the increased travel and people not trying to sneak in after a day at work would, I suspect, be able to garner more attendees at an opening ceremony.-Marcus

Accommodation costs

This is my main disagreement with Marcus. I think you should have a sliding scale for this too.

      I'm not saying don't because it's wrong, I'm saying it's far too much work financial planning wise. (c; -Marcus

You're going to be nervous about money, fine. But in the UK at least, there is a substantial buffer, a surplus generated from overcharging people in the past, either because of such nervousness or because loads more people than were expected turned up.

If you have a sliding scale, do not charge your lowest band more than your actual costs for accommodation. That's both obscene AND stupid – you want people to stay at your venue. Charge them less.

      Totally agree. -Marcus

Even if you did get your figures slightly wrong, no-one – ok, at BiCon, there's Always One – will attack you for losing say a thousand quid (more realistically several hundred) because you charged unwaged people 'too little'. If they do, you will find you have lots of support, trust me.

Complimentary registrations

The 2002 team had these, and free accommodation. I don't think any of 2005's did.

No-one (see disclaimer above) who's got the faintest idea of how much work is involved in organising one[2]At one point during 2002, I thought of making a note of how much time I did spend, but it quickly got frightening seeing it adding up. will object to giving yourself a "free" BiCon – for one thing, when running it, you don't get "a BiCon" – but if you have lost money, then being able to say that you paid too will make you feel more virtuous.

"Do not have opt in tickets"

When I was filling in the registration form for the 2004 International BiCon, I had a big ponder about the, I think, two events that were paid-for separately: a dinner and an evening entertainment. Nothing in the material available at the time made me go "Ooooh, I really want to do that!" but I was worried that I'd miss something good if I didn't.

It seems I was not alone, but I never imagined for a second that a large section of the organising team weren't interested in either. WTF?!

Fortunately, I didn't send the extra money, and left it until I firmed up getting the flights and other details sorted. Which they never were. (A lucky escape?)

But it's important to say that having opt in tickets has worked – it did at the Boston Intl BiCon, for example. The venue, Harvard, was Not Cheap. I'm not sure just when the organisers realised they were going to have a thousand people turn up, but they must have had a serious dilemma: book a hall for one evening's cabaret capable of holding a thousand people, stick the cost on everyone's registration and hope or book a hall that couldn't and ration the tickets somehow = sell them.

(Mind you, I'm still somewhat pissed that the semi-official sex party the night before wasn't like the one at BiPol 1990 in San Francisco. That set of organisers invited all the international visitors, but this one didn't.)

It also worked at the first Euro BiCon, for their main social. It also worked for the Claire Dowie theatrical performance at Nottingham 1993.

So I'd say if you are going to do this, ask yourself why. Check the idea out. And think again.

It can be done, but you're either putting on something expensive that you're acknowledging that a large chunk of people are not going to want to go to (if it's not expensive or 80+% of the attendees will want to attend – include it in the registration cost!) OR putting on something that non-attendees can also come to (a whole different can of worms!)

      I didn't go to the Claire Dowie performance myself, as it sounded like Not My Kind Of Thing, so ICB8 is my only real example. They had an opt in ball, concert and breakfast. Each a separate ticket, each needing collecting from the registration desk and then handing in on the night.-Marcus

Keynotes

UK BiCons tend not to have these. ("We agreed – no leader!!") When they do, for some reason I've never quite understood, they've tended to be from people outside the UK bi community.

So bisexually-behaved but lesbian-identified Lisa Power has given two. Well, one really, because she gave the same speech ("you're all wonderful!!!") at two different BiCons. We've seen queer activist Peter Tatchell twice too. And – most relevant, because of how often we see her over here – Robyn Ochs has done at least one.

There have been a couple of others, but I can't remember them at the moment.

What else do you need to know if you're considering having one?? If you want to invite someone along from outside, put them on a panel.

They seem to be more popular for international BiCons, but if you're having an International BiCon with three – count 'em! – keynotes, do not have all three from your own country. The West coast, the Midwest and the East coast of the USA do not count as separate countries, at least to non-Americans.

Entertainment Dos And Don'ts

* Who says you can't talk to the venue about bar prices? Not that I think anyone actually has, but having people who can generate a serious bar take is a major negotiating point.

* Yep, vary the music. What 2005 should have done on the Friday was have a 'white and black' disco. Light fluffy pop at the start of the evening, dark and goth at the end. Unfortunately, we ended up with a mess of a format and when several other things went wrong… we were lucky to be bailed out by Marcus & Jess.

I am biased, but I thought The Time Travellers Ball concept (moving through the decades) worked. There weren't so many people during the 50s section at the start, for example, but those who were appreciated it and the DJ was not left playing to an empty space which is the usual fate of someone starting a disco at 8pm. (The two most popular decades were the 60s and 80s, by the way.)

      I thought it worked great as a format. I'm a little unsure why some of the excess CDs couldn't have made up the gaps on Friday. (c: -Marcus

* All I'm going to say about official play spaces / dark rooms is that the Dutch manage to have them without too many problems. (They used to be surprised that UK BiCons don't.)

* The bit about paying all the entertainers – and why not? – if you pay any of them also applies to session leaders. One year, some got paid, thanks to some external funding, but this was kept Very Quiet. I didn't run a session that year, but if I had, I'd have kicked up a huge fuss.

      That was safer sex funding wasn't it? I don't think I'd be happy with that these days – rather take the money as BiCon as a whole and spend it on safer sex supplies / displays / custom leaflets. -Marcus

Publicity

Oh yes. There are few things more annoying that discovering that this year's BiCon happened less than ten miles away from where you're living and you didn't hear about it until the week after it had happened.

2003's quiz meme was a particularly fabulous idea.

Policies (actually, 'Owning up')

The worst thing I have ever seen an organiser do at a BiCon is someone blame someone else – an entirely innocent someone else who was not on the organising team – for there not being a proper crèche.

I was left feeling I'd done the second worst thing by appearing for a few seconds to blame other people – who were entirely innocent, not on the organising team and who'd been wonderfully helpful – for any perceived imperfections with one evening's music. (And I'm sorry for those few seconds Marcus and Jess!)

Another year's team would have saved themselves an awful lot of grief if they'd talked about the problems they'd had with the venue.

Crèches

Let me warn you that these do not come cheap. But if you do not offer one, you will suffer before, during and quite possibly after BiCon. If no-one takes the offer up by the relevant deadline (probably a month or so before the event), then it's fine not to have it.

(And if someone who hasn't booked turns up at the door demanding one and you don't have one for that reason, you can say "tough" or "sorry", depending on your mood.)

However, if you've taken someone's booking on the basis that there will be one, you absolutely must not then cancel it on the grounds that there's only one child booked and that'd mean spending £720 on one child… without that person being very very happy with whatever outcome you agree with them (and agree before they arrive on the day). Watch this space.

Reference numbers

These are great, but do not attempt to do all your registration desk stuff with a list that's only sorted by registration number and does not have a 'name to registration number' key.

Passing Things On

If you wrote it down, consider: would next year find it useful? Give it to them in a format they can edit without too much hassle, i.e. not as PDF.

"In 2002 he was presented with a lifetime achievement award for his work in the UK bisexual community."

And a complete privilege it was to give it to him too.

You might not have realised it, but <jedi> these are not the droids you are looking for… and you want to have an awards ceremony too. </jedi>

(And not one involving Fritz Klein giving something to whoever organised this year's event.)

They make people feel good. They make people want to do more things. They make people realise that you don't have to be perfect (because ghod knows Marcus isn't and if you think I am after reading this stuff, well…) to do things too or be appreciated.

We've had far too few of them over the years – three! – considering how many people have done so much. For 2002, I started with a list of twenty people and got talked down to eight. The other two years (1991 and 1994) did it for one person each time. That's just ten people, from a history of twenty four years.

As far as I'm concerned the only reason 2005 didn't have one is that the main three people I'd give ones to weren't there.

Finally, just checking…

"if members of your team don't want to attend the formal banquet then how many of your attendees will?"

"At one BiCon I couldn't find room 103B"

"schedule something before 9am"

These are all the 2004 International BiCon, aren't they? I'm wondering if the "Israeli occupation of Palestine" keynote was at that too…

      It was actually a breakfast which I'm obfuscating slightly, but yes. Palestine too. All ICB8. *shudder* -Marcus

I don't think it's a coincidence that, as far as I know, none of the organisers of that one had been to a UK BiCon.

Ian

Notes

Notes
1The domain name has been squatted at least twice since 2005
2At one point during 2002, I thought of making a note of how much time I did spend, but it quickly got frightening seeing it adding up.

Ian's guide to running a BiCon (or any other bi event)

Running a BiCon can be hugely rewarding or an utter nightmare. Your chances of wanting to do it again will be improved if you follow a few simple rules. I'd say that they are more what you'd call "guidelines" than actual rules, except that there are already some official Guidelines

What is a BiCon?

Those Guidelines have something to say about that, but a short version is that it's a community-led, accessible event 'about' bisexuality for bisexual people and their allies. Even if they were all about bisexuality, an event that was a series of expert panels would not be a BiCon, for example. In the UK, it's now usually a three (or more) day event.

We tend to call one day events 'BiFest' or 'BiTastic' to make a distinction between the two, but much of the same advice applies.

Why run one?

It has been said (by me) that it's impossible to fully appreciate the bisexual community until you do and some people find it very satisfying: BiCon has changed their lives and they want to run it so it can do the same for others, for example.

You do need a reason, but one important bit of advice is don't do it for yourself. Amongst other things, in the year you run it, you don't really get 'a BiCon'. Instead, next time you can enjoy yourself knowing that you're not the one worrying about everything.

Who to have running it?

One year, one person had advice from a small team, but did virtually all of it themselves. Everyone else who's ever done one wonders how (and they never did it that way again!) So you need a team, but how that team is organised is up to you.

Some years have a single leader, some split that role between two or more people, and some are collectives. Which ever you choose, you need to know who takes the final decision on any issue, preferably before there are any big decisions.

Oh, if you run it with sexual and/or romantic partners on the team, be aware that it can damage that relationship. Not always, but it often has. Partners are usually more valuable as someone you can go 'argh' and 'waaah' at when stressed about running one than on the team getting stressed about the same things.

How to do it?

Think of BiCon as a pizza for a second. The recipe is very simple:

Venue + Attendees + Culture = BiCon

You need a venue, and you need attendees. Once you have them at your venue, behaving nicely, you have a BiCon.

In the UK, it can be easy to take the culture for granted. A large chunk of your attendees will have been to a BiCon before and know how they should behave, and know that they can (should!) tell you if someone is not doing so. Partly because it started small and many of the attendees came from a long-running bisexual group, much of that culture has been there from the start… but not all. Things have changed over the years as awareness has increased.

If you're starting a series of events from scratch, it's a bit harder.

But either way, you want to have a set of rules – in the UK, we call that the 'Code of Conduct' – and be seen to enforce them. The number of issues brought to your attention will probably be rather less than most events of a similar size, but if nothing is, people probably don't think they can do so.

Everything else is toppings on that pizza.

Only you will know how many toppings there could have been at your BiCon

It is very easy to run out of spoons. Not everything you would have ideally liked to have happened will be possible. Don't spend BiCon going 'Wah, there could have been even more toppings on my BiCon pizza!!' If you have got the basic recipe right, everyone else is going 'Oooh, BiCon pizza! With toppings!!' and not really caring that there could have been more of them.

'That's a pilaf, not a pizza!'

In the UK, the official BiCon Guidelines make it a pizza – they provide the recipe for the base. What you throw on top will make a difference to the end result, but if you decide you want to have the same toppings mixed in with rice instead, it's not a pizza.

Someone who's done it before could probably quite happily organise a BiCon without ever looking at them. But you could give them to someone who's never been to a BiCon before and they'd come up with… well it'd doubtless be different, but it should recognisably be a BiCon rather than, say, an academic conference or even an SF con.

It's also a list of expectations. Because of this, you should let people know in advance if you are messing about with it.

What about the content?

Someone – who knows far more about running a BiCon than anyone else – writing a guide about doing one day events added "(content)" to the recipe.

The parentheses are partly because most things that happen during the day at both BiCon and many one day events are provided by attendees. For BiCon, the Guidelines are explicit about that: "7. BiCon should contain at least one programme stream of workshops/sessions .. largely .. run by volunteers from the bi community".

Most of what you need to do for BiCon in this regard is organise the offers into a timetable. You might need to actively hunt for people to run specific ones, but if you're doing much more than that, something's gone wrong.

For one day events, you will have a) many fewer session slots and b) more idea of what needs to be in there (one space has newcomer-friendly sessions all day, for example) and so may well do more active curation of what's in them.

AVAC – "all venues are compromises"

Your job, as someone running a BiCon, is to pick one set of compromises. The ideal venue doesn't exist, so trying to reach for perfection in a venue is futile and you will have to make some somewhere: location, facilities, cost etc etc.

You need to be aware of the compromises that recent teams have made. It can be fine to have the accommodation on top of a hill away from the venue for one year (especially if you do something about it, like arrange for some transport up and down it) but if there were physical access issues last year then it is probably more important not to have them next year. Fortunately, different organisers tend to prioritise different things anyway.

You do want to have..

.. space for sessions. With three to four hundred attendees, you need at least five or six rooms that will hold forty or more people. They don't all need to be the same size – having one that will do seventy and one that will only hold twenty is fine – but it should be easy to get between them. If they're in different buildings or there's just one narrow corridor, you will need to have longer gaps between sessions for example. If they're badly ventilated, you'll want to provide drinking water, even if that's some bottled water and some plastic cups. A BiFest (or other one-day event) can often only have two session rooms: one with things primarily for people new to the community, and one primarily for people who aren't.

.. a social space, somewhere people can 'hangout' during the event. Ideally, they wouldn't need to move from it in the evening.

.. an ents space for the evening. Ideally, this is next to, but not literally in the same room as a bar. As well as making it quieter for the bar, not everyone wants to be around alcohol. Either way, there should be some usable quiet space near by for talking, board games etc.

.. accommodation. If you're running a BiCon, you will learn how to spell 'accommodation' because it's a big chunk of the work, and not having to do it is a very very good reason for starting with running a BiFest-style day if you are starting a new series of events. It needs to be reasonably easy to get between the accommodation and the other things. You need at least a dozen accessible bedrooms, some of which need to be good for people in full-sized wheelchairs. Some venues arrange the rooms into 'flats' with anything from six to twenty rooms sharing a kitchen. These are popular for parties, so see how they would work for those, including ones where the occupants will want not to have people able to see in from outside. It's common to offer noisy / 'party' flats and quiet ones.

.. some outside space. BiCon is usually lucky with the weather and people like to sit outside, often way into the small hours of the night. Where are they going to go? Is it somewhere that's going to disturb people trying to sleep?

.. ideally having all of it to ourselves, somewhere that's easy for everyone to get to.

Again, you will have to compromise on some of these!

One reason university campuses have been popular is that they provide many of these AND allow you to not pay VAT on the bill, as BiCon is zero-rated for VAT at such venues. When the university runs its own accommodation, rather than contracting that out to some commercial firm, that extends to the biggest part of the final cost too.

Entirely personal ratings of some recent venues

2010 – Docklands, London: session space good but shared, social space acceptable (shared, not available in the evening), ents space poor (small bar / dance floor, no quiet space), accommodation good, outside space poor. Expensive venue.

2011 – Leicester: session space ok (split over two buildings, but all ok), social space very good, ents space ok (right next to bar), accommodation mixed (over three buildings, two of which had serious problems thanks to venue), outside space excellent. Venue offered a part-refund based on their failings.

2012 – Bradford: session space not good (split with access issues getting between them, some of it in poor rooms – bad acoustics, unmoveable lecture seating, poor ventilation), social space good (although not available in the evening), ents space ok, accommodation ok to poor (a distance away, some rooms offered choice between no ventilation or intermittent noise loud enough to keep people awake), outside space very good.

2013 – Edinburgh: session space very good, social space good, ents space very good, accommodation ok to poor (hotel style rather than flats, shared with nightmare groups), outside space ok. Expensive venue, treated us very badly in several ways, and I would very strongly advise no-one use Edinburgh First ever again.

2014 – Leeds Trinity: session space good to ok (getting between some rooms was an issue as was ventilation), ents space good (though shared with bar), accommodation good (but late night flights to nearby airport), outside space good. Each aspect could have been better, but it's well-balanced.

2015 – Nottingham: session space very good, social space good (not available in evenings, but accommodation / ents venue had good space), accommodation poor (rooms ok, but catered so unusable kitchens, and far from sessions space), ents space very good, outside space good.

2016 – Preston: session space poor (high up away from social space, narrow corridor or floor change between rooms, badly ventilated), social space very good, accommodation ok (needed to cross roads to get to the rest, plus some distance), ents space poor (acoustics, shared with bar), outside space poor.

2017 – Leeds Beckett: session space ok (two floors), social space good (move to other rooms in same building in the evenings), accommodation ok to good (some distance, large numbers of rooms sharing a kitchen is not ideal, noisier than Trinity because of closer to the late night flights), ents space ok (small, shared with bar, but good quiet space), outside space good. Another one that has nothing 'very good' but is well-balanced.

2018 – Salford: session space good, social space good, accommodation ok to poor (there were enough problems to result in a significantly reduced invoice), ents space ok (acoustics, noisy space shared with the bar), outside space very good.

(This is an example of a venue that has contracted out its accommodation and so is significantly more expensive for us than it should be. It's a pity, because if that and the issues with the accommodation were fixed, it'd be a good choice rather than a 'I really wouldn't' one.)

2019 – Lancaster: session space ok to poor (far from the accommodation and in two separate buildings), social space near the sessions ok, accommodation good, ents space ok, outside space ok.

Do not run a BiCon for yourself

As has been said, you need people to come to your BiCon. Not all of them will be like you. In many ways, most of them won't be. They don't all live online where you do. They like different things. Some BiCon attendees attend every session they can, others go to none of them. Some like the music or other entertainment you like, others do not.

If you are happy with everything at your BiCon, you've very probably missed something important out. If all your team like the same things, you're very probably going to miss something important out. If you are not promoting BiCon somewhere you've never been to, you are failing to reach everyone who would be interested in coming.

You Cannot Please Everyone

It's important to bear this in mind: whatever you do, someone will moan.

So don't be surprised when someone moans about the room naming scheme, or the fact that one person thinks you should be blamed because Abba was played at a disco and someone else is complaining that there wasn't enough Abba…

Instead, try to make everyone pleased with something.

You will at some point go 'Argh!'

Everyone does. Even the people who have done lots of them. It may be that the venue you'd like wants to charge extra to use the kitchens in the accommodation. Or fewer people are registering than you'd like. Or you are caught in a blizzard of some of the community's special snowflakes making more or less unreasonable demands.

Get some support. The people who have done it before are best. You don't have to tell them the whole details of why something is a problem – sometimes just saying 'spoons' will be enough.

It's Prejudice That's Queer campaign – THT 1999

This was a rare example of a THT 'gay and bisexual men' campaign that was designed to been seen by the general population.

One of the reasons that's rare is that advertising on, say, London Underground is considerably more expensive than in a scene magazine or given to workers to hand out at scene venues. (If you did actually want to reach as many gay and bisexual men in London as possible, places like the Underground and the Metro and Evening Standard newspapers is where you'd do it…)

The graphics here aren't particularly good quality, being in a low resolution even in the original PDF from tht.org.uk, despite being intended to be seen on A3 or larger posters.

This is particularly noticeable on the CHAPS logo, which is almost unreadable,* but it means that it was definitely part of a program to reduce HIV infection in gay and bisexual men that got about £1m of funding from the Department of Health every year.

It was recognised by Martin Kirk of the UK Gay Men's Health Network in giving evidence to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on AIDS as "an HIV campaign but it is a campaign targeted at prejudice against, in this case, gay men".

As we'll see, this was more correct than it should have been.

"Homophobes shouldn't be left alone with kids"

B/W image shows the back of someone's head as they look at some pupils
THT anti-homophobia campaign 1 – "Homophobes shouldn't be left alone with kids."

Some think gay people are a bad influence on children. Others believe it's those with homophobic prejudices who provide the harmful example.

Homophobia is prejudice or discrimination against lesbians or gay men.

Many children, gay and straight, suffer homophobic abuse at school. It's wrong to say it's "just a harmless and inevitable part of school life".

This kind of bullying leads to truancy, under achievement, depression and, in extreme case, suicide. Good teachers always challenge the homophobes.

Homophobia like other forms of prejudice has no place in our schools today. As a teacher, you're in an excellent position to challenge day to day name-calling and bullying.

You could also provide support to children experiencing homophobia. And many schools are addressing homophobia within their anti-bullying policies, how about yours?

Government guidance clearly states: "Section 28 does not affect the activities of school governors, nor of teachers. It will not prevent the objective discussion of homosexuality in the classroom, nor the counselling of pupils concerned about their sexuality."

For ideas on tackling homophobia in schools, and how you might work with parents and governors, take a look at www.tht.org.uk

This one was published in the Times Educational Supplement and the then weekly education section in the Guardian. The list of resources for teachers on the THT website did include Loraine Hutchins and Lani Ka'ahumanu's Bi Any Other Name – Bisexual People Speak Out, but it was the only bi resource and they misspelled Lani's surname as 'Kaahumany'.

"I can't stand homophobes, especially when they flaunt it"

B/W image shows a mixed group of people at a pub bar
THT anti-homophobia campaign 2 – "I can't stand homophobes, especially when they flaunt it"

Some people have a problem with the thought of two men holding hands in public. To others, the problem is homophobic prejudice.

Homophobia is prejudice or discrimination against lesbians or gay men.

Most of us like to think we're tolerant. But even so, you can probably remember anti-gay things you've said or thought in the past.

Imagine you find out that someone you care about is gay. A relative or someone you work with, perhaps. Would it alter the way you think and behave? If your answer is yes, maybe now is the time to change.

Times are certainly changing. Homophobia, like other forms of prejudice, has no place in society today. No one is born homophobic. We pick it up over the years, from the playground, the media and from those around us. It's something we could all leave behind.

What can you do to help? Speak out the next time someone insults or takes the mickey out of a gay colleague or friend. And support the idea that everyone should be treated equally and with respect.

This one was published in places like 'lads mag' Loaded and Cosmopolitan.

'My son is homophobic, but I hope it's just a phase'

B/W image shows a mixed race mixed gender couple looking at a young man
THT anti-homophobia campaign 3 – "My son is homophobic, but I hope it's just a phase"

Homophobia is prejudice or discrimination against lesbians or gay men.

Most of us react with horror at the extreme cases like the bombing of a gay pub in London, but homophobia is around us every day: jokes, discrimination, insults, even refusing to accept that gay people exist.

But they do exist, and it's rarely a phase.

Most families have a gay story to tell. What about yours? If not, then imagine one of your own children turns out to be gay. Think, for a moment, how you would react? Would you still laugh at those anti-gay jokes if they were directed at your son or daughter?

Reject a gay son or daughter and you can end up losing them forever. Fortunately many families are strong enough to face up to issues like this and remain firmly intact. It can often make them stronger.

Remember gay or straight, young people need your love and support. They also need your guidance. Through your everyday behaviour, show them that homophobia – like other forms of prejudice – is fundamentally wrong.

This one, targeted at parents, appeared in the News of the World, Family Circle, the Radio Times and on the London Underground.


Although THT were pleased enough with the campaign to repeat it in 2001, there's surprisingly little online about it. It would be fascinating to see what effect, if any, it had.

Overall:

Uses of 'gay' in the three posters: fifteen.

Uses of 'lesbian' in the three posters: three.

Uses of 'straight' in the three posters: two.

Uses of 'bisexual' / 'bi' in the three posters, part of a major project for "gay and bisexual men" remember: nil.

It's the third one that's the most outrageous example of bisexual erasure – which sexual orientation is most commonly dismissed as "a phase"?

Sadly, this was typical of most CHAPS materials.


* Whether someone simply made the mistake of exporting them in a low screen resolution rather than the print one, I don't know. Fortunately, the body text looks to be done properly and it was possible to copy and paste it.

London Bisexual Helpline call record sheet

This is the version that was used in 1995, when the Health Education Authority ran the second version of its (awful) 'hands' ad with a referral to the London and Edinburgh Bisexual Helplines in its body text.

In exchange for some money to open the London line six evenings a week rather than its usual two for some months, they wanted some data back, hence a somewhat expanded version of the call record sheet.

I'm not sure how much detail the HEA was given, but these sheets were used to note any trends in calls and, if needed, discuss how to deal with them at the regular Sunday meetings.


Bisexual Helpline Record Sheet

Taken by:Day and date:
Assumed gender of caller:Approximate age group:

Call type: information / advice / help / chat / abusive / hoax / wank / silent / rang off immediately

Referred to: LBG / LBWG / local bisexual group / local bi-friendly group / Bifrost / Penpals / Conference / books / NAH / THT / Body Positive / local HIV or sexual health clinic / other (please specify) :

Was HIV or safer sex discussed?

oral sex / anal sex / vaginal sex / sex with women / sex with men / HIV test / condom use / other (please specify) :

Other issues discussed:

having sex with men and women, general / secrecy of homosexual element / pleased to see ad and line / did not know where to get info / personal disclosure of bisexuality / just had or about to have first gay sex / confusion about own sexual identity / unprotected sex with female partner / other (please specify):

You can ask the following question directly if you wish, or gather it from what the caller says, or omit it if it seems inappropriate

What do you think is the sexual history of this caller?

Ever had unprotected anal sex with men? With women?
Ever had unprotected vaginal sex with men? With women?
Unprotected oral sex with men? With women?
Other sex with men? With women?
Currently in a relationship with a man? With a woman?
Do they use safer sex?

Please ask the following two questions for our statistics:

Where did the caller hear of the phoneline?

HEA ad: Radio Times / TV Times / Sunday Express / Observer / Mail on Sunday "You"
Other: Time Out / monthly magazines / free gay papers / paid for gay press

Calling from (local authority area, if possible):

Call duration:


Call types

As mentioned, the bisexual helplines got very few abusive calls, far fewer than the bigger London Lesbian & Gay Switchboard got, for example. Given the level of biphobia out there, we put this down to the number being publicised in far fewer places and the way that the helplines had only been open for four (London) or two (Edinburgh) hours a week before this point. Anyone wanting to abuse us / bisexuals in general would usually have to wait, unlike callers to the 24/7 Switchboard…

There were also few wank calls (I think I had one in over a decade, and while people answering the line with a voice perceived to be female got more, it still wasn't many) for presumably much the same reasons.

The majority of callers were after information/advice or a chat.

Referred to

LBG = the London Bisexual Group, which ran from 1981 to the mid 2000s
LBWG = the London Bisexual Women's Group, which needs someone else to write about
Bifrost = the monthly newsletter that ran from 1991 to 1995 – this is one of the ways the sheet can be dated. Bi Community News started after BiCon 13 in September 1995, following Bifrost closing
Penpals = the Edinburgh Bisexual Group ran a penpals service for many years. If you sent a stamped addressed envelope to them, you got back a sheet asking some questions. Return that, and you'd get sheets with everyone else's answers. It was then possible to write to them using a 'box number' system
Conference = obviously BiCon – at first, I wasn't sure why that wasn't spelt out, but by this point, only two of them had used the word 'BiCon' in their publicity: most of the early ones used the 'National Bisexual Conference' name
books = Bisexual Lives, plus a handful of others
NAH = the National Aids Helpline, still with us as the 'Sexual Health Information Line'
THT = Terrence Higgins Trust, still with us as a general sexual health charity rather than concentrating heavily on HIV
Body Positive = a series of local groups for HIV+ people. A couple have survived the funding cuts over the past decade that ended lots of local sexual health groups

If I were doing one today, it'd have something on gender identity and not be quite so binary when it comes to partners.

The emphasis on sexual(ity) questions are partly because there was, at the time, money available for sexual health promotion. Apart from this HEA money, I don't think we ever got any.

Similarly, asking about the caller's local authority was done to see if there were any we could approach for funds because a significant chunk of the calls were coming from people in their area. We definitely didn't get any of that…

The bisexual bench in HIV/Aids health promotion work

One of the never ending issues for graphic designers is 'how to show bisexuality without showing three (or more) people'. Most of them never work it out, so go for three people…

.. and sometimes, they add a bench!

I am not entirely sure which of the first two came first, but the Norwegian one is actually aimed at bisexual men, so…

A woman puts her arm around a man as they sit on one end of a bench as he puts arm out to hold hands with a man on the other side; a safe sex and AIDS prevention advertisement aimed at bisexual men by the Oslo Helseråd
The bisexual bench – 1990s Norwegian version – A2 sized poster

English translation of the text, with the help of Google Drive doing OCR and translation of images:

Men who have sex with men should have a health check regularly.

Men who have sex with men are today among those most at risk of becoming infected with the AIDS virus, HIV. Bisexual men who become infected through sexual contact with other men can then infect their female as well as male partners.

You should know if you are infected with HIV. Both because you are responsible for not infecting others, and for your own part. HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases do not always cause symptoms. Therefore, we recommend men who have sex with men to take regular health checks.

At the Counselling Service at the Oslo Health Council, we are happy to talk to you about safer sex. You can take the HIV test (anonymously if you wish), be screened for other sexually transmitted diseases and offered Hepatitis B (jaundice) vaccine. You decide which of the offers you want to take advantage of. And all consultations are free.

The counselling service for gays is a special part of the Oslo Health Council. We who work here have broad experience and are particularly concerned with gay and bisexual health problems. Here you will meet understanding at the same time as you get professional help.

Welcome Tuesday and Wednesday at 16.00 – 18.00. There are no appointments. For further information call: [phone number].

Oslo Health Council
St. Olavspl. 5, 4th floor

Note that the hand-holding of the men is literally behind her back, so there's no implication of this being a relationship that she knows about.

Unlike the Norwegian poster, the New South Wales, Australia one – probably first published in 1994 – is absolutely aimed at the female partners of bisexual men, despite having an almost identical central image:

A man sits with a woman on a bench looking out to sea while holding the hand of a man sitting on the end; an advertisement for The Women Partners of Bisexual Men Project
The bisexual bench – 1994 Australian version – A2 sized poster

Do you think your partner could be having sex with men?

YOU ARE NOT ALONE

The Women Partners of Bisexual Men Project [phone number]

AIDS Council of NSW [phone number]
AIDS Hotline [phone numbers, including TTY for deaf callers]
Family Planning Association [phone number]

Thanks to all the women who have been involved in the project. Thanks to models Tim, Tegan, Michael. Photographer Patrick Earle. Design: David Hodge & Partners London

Here, there's no information beyond 'you're not the only one (being betrayed?)' and a referral to a group. Interestingly, some of the design decisions – the gap between the woman and the 'other man', the way he has a sleeve rolled up (so you can just see the hair on his arm?) and the woman has short sleeves (so you can just see that there isn't any hair?) – are identical.

Given the design was from a London agency, I wonder if there were uses of the 'three on a bench' imagery in the UK and if they were responsible (but uncredited) for the Norwegian one too.

Also from 1994, there's the 'one person in two separate twosomes' (and a dog!) version of the bench from France:

Two halves - in the top one, a male/female couple walk their dog past an empty bench in the day; in the bottom, the same man is talking to another man siting on top of the bench at night
The bisexual bench – 1994 French version – slightly smaller than A2 poster

I have two lovers, I protect myself

Because this one has just the headline, it is only about protecting the bisexual man rather than his partners. How he protects himself isn't stated: condoms? making sure his partners never meet? having a dog to put off muggers?

Again, the implication is that his female lover does not know about the male one..

.. even if the dog does.


Credit: A woman puts her arm around a man as they sit on one end of a bench as he puts arm out to hold hands with a man on the other side; a safe sex and AIDS prevention advertisement aimed at bisexual men by the Oslo Helseråd. Colour lithograph, ca. 1990. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)

Credit: A man sits with a woman on a bench looking out to sea while holding the hand of a man sitting on the end; an advertisement for The Women Partners of Bisexual Men Project with the telephone lines of the AIDS Council of NSW, AIDS Hotline and Family Planning Association. Colour lithograph, [1994]. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)

More Health Education Authority memories

In 2018, some academics got eleven people who'd worked in the HIV prevention sector in the UK for a two hour discussion* on some of the history.

In this extract, they remember the 'hands' ad. Interestingly, the only one to get much more space is the 'iceberg and tombstone' "Don't die of ignorance' one.

'Ford' is Ford Hickson, part of Sigma Research, responsible for multiple surveys and research projects on gay and bisexual men.

'Lynne' is Lynne Walsh, talking about her time as half of (also known as 'in charge of') the press office for the Health Education Authority (HEA).

'Dominic' is Dominic McVey, talking about having been an HEA researcher. His line elsewhere about "Much of my work involved developing and evaluating the HEA gay and heterosexual public health interventions" accurately shows how much the HEA cared about bisexuals…


Ford: It is the case that any disease outbreak is an opportunity to marginalise the people who are suffering, ignore the structural factors, and the government and lots of people in the country took the HIV epidemic as an opportunity to suppress being gay, not having safe sex, just don't do it, and the things Thatcher said in public really reinforced that. That she thought the way to solve HIV was to not be gay, not to use drugs, and Section 28 is what rode on that. Section 28 for me, it really clearly ties to the HIV epidemic and an opportunity to try and stamp out homosexuals.

Lynne: But we did manage to have a press ad that had two men holding hands.

Dominic: The Bisexual Ad.

Lynne: At the time we called it a bisexual ad.

Dominic: Which went into Time Out and places like that, it wasn't just in the gay press.

Lynne: It went into the Telegraph, it's a visual of two men holding hands and it says, "If a married man has an affair it may not be with a woman." So clearly, Thatcher wouldn't have been delighted with that.

Ford: That's interesting, isn't it? Because who is that targeted at? Isn't that targeted at the wives of men, it's, "Be suspicious of your husband."

Lynne: At the time, the rationale was that it was targeting men who may have sex with men, maybe married to women. We particularly wanted to do some stuff with the Telegraph and the Sunday Telegraph as well, not just advertising but to get editorial. That was in the context of the Sunday Times having a massive campaign against us led by Andrew Neil who insisted that there was no heterosexual risk at all. So, whereas we would have been able to run things in the Sunday Times as we did sometimes with the Observer, we had this barrage, every Sunday we had something that was attacking, so that was the context trying to do something.


"At the time" it was a bisexual ad?? It wasn't good, but it couldn't be anything else.

I'm also not convinced about Ford's framing of it as being targetted at wives. There were ads targetted at the female partners of bisexual men, but neither of the versions of the 'hands' ad is.. unless it's to get them to point it out to their partner.

Although he wasn't a co-author of Sigma Research's "Behaviourally Bisexual Men: Identifying needs for HIV prevention", he should also have been aware of it and known that there is a high level of disclosure…


* Published as Nicholls and Rosengarten (eds.) (2019). Witness Seminar: HIV Prevention and Health Promotion in the UK. Disentangling European HIV/AIDS Policies: Activism, Citizenship and Health (EUROPACH).

The speech about the epic fail of Edinburgh First at BiCon 2013

There have been two BiCons at the University of Edinburgh's Pollock Halls. The first, in 1999 used them for both accommodation and session space. The second, BiCon 2013, had the session space at the John Macintyre Conference Centre.

Both involved dealing with Edinburgh university's 'Edinburgh First' organisation.

In 2013, we fulfilled our end of the contract. They did not.

When that had become clear, this is what was said at the start of one of the plenaries. Unusually for me, it was written down and emailed to myself to read out, otherwise I would have used phrases like "fucking unacceptable" and "don't fucking harm my attendees" a lot.


When I run a BiCon, I try to make it better than last year, and make next year's team wonder 'How can we do better than this?'

What has been happening this year has made that second bit easier than I – and many of you – would like.

BiCon organisation is a series of compromises, but the results of those should not be a surprise to attendees.

Specifically, some of the accommodation is designed like a hotel, not a series of flats, because it is a hotel. It just happens to have students staying in it outside holidays. BiCon hasn't had shared accommodation like that since 1999, the last time we were here. We mentioned it when talking about the venue on the website, but we didn't realise some of the implications.

Combined with being full with two groups – those associated with golf's Open Championship and with language schools for teenagers – as well as us, this means that there is not as much bi space as I and many of you would like.

In terms of people staying on the site, we are a 'one in ten' minority.

The situation was worse on Thursday evening when, faced with paying for access to here, including having our own bar, we did without. We would not have had any access to run the BiCon registration desk here during the afternoon if we hadn't needed to set up the dance floor.

But we didn't have a facility to issue BiCon stuff in the evening, so people arriving then didn't get badges to show they were here for BiCon.

The result has been that many attendees have been feeling unsafe here.

I am happy to talk more about some of the reasons why this happened, later, but..

I am going to say now that I am very unhappy that they were right to feel unsafe.

In the months and weeks before BiCon, we have talked in detail to the venue about the discrimination and prejudice that too many of us are too familiar facing, for multiple reasons. We have also talked to them about our behaviour.

It is not just you who have read the code of conduct. The venue staff who handled the issuing of the room keys so well have read it, for example. That's because as part of our booking, we have had to give the venue it too. They insisted on a change to it.

If you behaved like some of the golf groups, treating us like a freak show, taking photos, and so on, we would do something about it.

People who break our code of conduct will be at least talked to. If someone has been warned before, this year or not, and they break it again, they can expect to be kicked out.

We cannot kick out the golf groups. We will be asking why they are not being held to the same standard.

The venue also know about our child policy – that we expect a responsible adult to be in charge of under 18s.

If a child here behaved as the language students have done, including pissing around in the lifts, deliberately crashing into people, including those with visible disabilities, and, again, treating us like a freak show, we would be having words with the responsible adult.

We cannot do that directly. They appear to be without any proper supervision for much of the time. We will be asking why it appears that the language schools are not being held to even the legally required standards.

While in general, the venue security have been helpful to us, we are aware that there has been at least one example of miscommunication between one set of venue staff and security. We will be asking about that too.

You can help us by telling us about your experiences. If you have had any of this crap, or any other kind, please, please, please tell us. Ideally, write it down and stick it in the Code of Conduct box on the registration desk.

I cannot emphasise enough how much we want to know about things that could spoil your BiCon. You may think some may be your fault, You may think some may be our fault, You may think some may be the fault of others. Doesn't matter, please tell us.

Thank you.


Boys and girls come out to play (The Independent, 1997)

The research on behaviourally bisexual men commissioned by Health Education Authority in 1994, completed in 1995, and eventually published in 1996, was largely ignored.

In part, that's because the HEA leaked the findings – there are a lot of bisexual men! – months earlier, so by the time it was properly published, it was no longer 'news'.

But at least one paper noticed enough to refer to it a year later…

.. even if they didn't read it properly. The estimate of 12% of men being behaviourally bisexual – that is, being sexual with more than one gender – is informed largely by a 1982 survey of Playboy readers in the US* and..

While exact rates are impossible accurately to quantify it seems reasonable to assert that the lifetime figure lies somewhere in the region of 5-15%. Our best guess would be closer to the 12% of Lever et al. (1989; 1992) than the 3-7% of Johnson et al. (1994). However, with little direct evidence, estimates of the proportion of adult men that have had sex with both males and females in the last five years are too hazardous to even attempt.

The "in the last five years" came from the predictions of the person who commissioned it that they'd find hardly any bisexual men and so they needed to make the criteria for being included fairly broad. In fact, it turned out that the average number of partners was three men and three women per year.

The article was prompted by an episode on bisexuality that was part of Channel 4's Seven Sins series, entitled 'Greed', sigh.


'Greedy' is the latest slang for bisexual. Hester Lacey reports from a scene which pities 'monosexuals' and revels in cake and eatism

28th September 1997

BISEXUALS have always been a notoriously discreet group; but not the exuberantly voluptuous Felicity Diamond, all long dark hair, flashing eyes and throaty voice. Felicity considers herself a bisexual "greedy". She fronts the episode on greed in Channel Four's Seven Sins series, talking not about gluttony, but about bisexuality, in a programme that mixes the imagery of food with that of sex.

Greedies, says Felicity, are hungry for sensuality. "It's not about greed for a number of partners. I want the best, not the most – I'm very, very selective. It's a lust for life rather than a generalised lusting – an intelligent form of greed. I have lots of friendships and good relationships and sometimes they may become sexual. When I like people I don't care what genitals they have."

Felicity, 33, is a professional cook and masseuse. The Islington flat she shares with kittens Special Baby Doll, Squeaky Tiger and Precious Minx Bear, smells wonderfully of chicken breasts stuffed with pesto in the oven. "I really like people and I really like food. Pleasure and lusciousness and luxury are what I do."

Heterosexual sex, she says, has become "tired". "Since the advent of HIV, people have had to become much more explorative, and now sex is not just about penetration. Bisexualism is increasing among women simply because of dissatisfaction with men. The new man thing never really happened and when you want to find someone you can live with, talk to and get on with, often men don't always make the grade." Greedies, on the other hand, she says, make better partners. "Monosexuals haven't explored what their sexuality is all about. The bisexuals I know are much more discerning."

Being bisexual is also rather trendy. Roxi Lockwood, 26, an exotic dancer and techno-violinist who also appears in the programme, says, "Bisexuals do seem to be more to the fore at the moment. I'm not greedy in that I wouldn't have partners of both sexes at once: I'm a monogamous bisexual. It is a wider field of experience, though it can be a pain in the neck – your partner thinks you're looking at girls as well as boys."

Bisexuals have not, up to now, been very vocal. They tend to be mistrusted by both heterosexuals and homosexuals (who regard them as "traitors"). But it seems that there are a considerable number of this quiet minority. A 1995 report commissioned by the Health Education Authority, which concentrated solely on men, found that around 12 per cent of men are probably bisexual.

There is no similar data available for women bisexuals and in any case, as a group, bisexuals are difficult to pin down. One of the difficulties that the HEA study found was in deciding what exactly constitutes bisexual (Freud had at least five definitions). The HEA researchers settled on "men who had had sex with both males and females in the preceding five years". It is, however, a grey area. When asked, less than half of the men interviewed identified themselves as "bisexual"; some called themselves straight, others gay, while others used terms like "confused", "broadminded", "horny" and "normal".

In her book Vice Versa,** published last year, Marjorie Garber, professor of English at Harvard University, made an in-depth study of bisexuality, and identifies a growing trend among American college students to define themselves as bisexual (aka "switch-hitters" or "AC-DC"). Another new book is to be published shortly by Cassell. The Bisexual Imaginary: Representation, Identity and Desire is a collection of essays edited by members of Bi Academic Intervention, a network of teachers, publishers and researchers working on the subject. Merl Storr, lecturer in sociology at the University of East London and one of the book's editors, agrees that bisexuals have become more high-profile. She believes that this is partly because of the HIV epidemic. "Bisexual men were demonised as carriers of the disease to the general population," she says. "Lots of people felt targeted and felt they had to fight back and become active. Also, lesbian and gay communities have come of age, and there is now more space for people to explore the contradictions of bisexuality." She is ambivalent about the use of the term "greedy" to describe bisexuals.

Acknowledged bisexuals include Sandra Bernhardt, REM's frontman Michael "I'm an equal opportunities lech" Stipe, Rachel Williams, the "supermodel" former presenter of The Girlie Show and the actor Alexis Arquette, while James Dean and Marlene Dietrich are two great bisexual Hollywood icons.

But while greed is all very well for the glamorous and famous, others can find they are less well catered for. "You can talk about bisexual greediness if you like, but in that case I'm practically anorexic," says David, 29, a teacher from Birmingham. "Greed is fine if you live in London and have places to go and similar people to meet. There is still a lot of prejudice about and people seem to find it even harder to come to terms with bisexuality than with homosexuality."

Kate, 33, who works in publishing, also dislikes the term "greedy". "It comes from a heterosexist position that bisexuals are promiscuous," she says. "We get that reaction from gays as well – that we want the best of both worlds and are letting the side down. Bisexuality still tends to be hidden. When I have a relationship with a woman, I seem to have to come out all over again." She adds a belief that many bisexuals share: "Everyone has the potential to explore their sexuality in terms of the same sex – it's a shame more people don't feel they can."

Freud's theory, too, was that everyone is positioned on a sliding scale between heterosexuality and homosexuality. Greedy or not, perhaps there are a lot more like Brett Anderson of Suede, who said, "I'm a bisexual man who has never had a homosexual experience."

`Greed', Channel 4, Monday, 10.55pm.


The List's preview of the programme:

Preview of 'Greedy' on bisexuality from The List 1997

The Independent's review of the programme said:

[Part of another programme] raised the hair on the back of your neck.

As did Felicity Diamond, the central character in Greed (C4), though "hackles" might be a better term. The third of a series of films on the theme of the seven deadly sins, this was actually about bisexuality (on the rather tenuous basis that "greedy" is a slang term for a bisexual. Several of the bisexuals interviewed didn't seem to know this, which made you suspect the whole thing might be a fit up). Felicity was the star attraction, a voluptuous Australian with a very self-congratulatory line in sexual liberty ("most people aren't intelligent enough to be bisexual"). Many of those who appeared, but Felicity in particular, seemed terrified of being "boxed in", "categorised", "straight-jacketed" or "programmed". Indeed, they went on about this so much that they began to sound rather neurotic, as though their sense of themselves were so fragile that it wouldn't withstand the impact of a casual preconception. Relax, you thought after a while, nobody cares what you do in bed remotely as much as you do. "Mutual respect" is apparently important to Felicity, but only for those who wear the same extravagant uniform as she does. "I'd cull about 90 per cent of the population," she said at one point, "and I'd eradicate genetic problems like idiocy, racism and lack of understanding". This final solution would seem to include those debased souls who quite like getting dressed in suits and are perfectly happy in "monosexual" affairs. Lack of understanding is the only kind of response those weirdos deserve.

The Times review said: "Last night's sinner was Felicity Diamond, who purred at us for half an hour about how much she enjoyed bring greedy. As it happens. Diamond — who is a caterer and a masseuse — is just the sort of woman who might well request an extra pillow: she believes in enjoying all that life has to offer. But she still resents the assumption that all bisexuals are promiscuous, explaining that "that's one of the reasons they call us greedy".


* Unlike most other large surveys done for magazines, it looks like all of the over 60,000 responses from men were actually analysed!

** An excellent 200 page book.. but it's just over 600 pages long…