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.