3rd August 2019, University of Lancaster
1. Welcome, introductions, and attendance
Doug introduced himself as Chair and David as assistant. He then explained the purpose and function of the decision-making plenary and the arrangements for the meeting.
85 people attended this plenary in total, including the Chair and assistant.
2. Previous minutes
The minutes of the 2018 Decision-Making Plenary were accepted unanimously. They can be found at https://bicon.org.uk/for-attendees/dmp-minutes/minutes-from-the-bicon-decision-making-plenary-dmp-2018/
3. Guideline changes agreed last year
The BiCon organisers' guidelines can be found at https://bicon.org.uk/for-organisers/guidelines/
Changes to the guidelines were agreed in 2018. At that point, the guidelines required that any changes needed to be approved by two successive BiCons, so those changes came back to this BiCon to be approved again.
3 (a) Mechanism for guideline changes
Natalya proposed this change:
Current guideline text:
"Changes to these guidelines should be passed by simple majority by two successive BiCons."
Proposed new text, as agreed in 2018:
"Changes to these guidelines should be passed by a BiCon plenary. Where any change passes by less than a 75% majority, it should be returned to the next year's BiCon plenary for a second vote. On that second vote it needs a further simple majority to be successful."
This change was agreed with almost all people voting in favour and one against.
3 (b) Minor wording changes
Natalya proposed changes to B10 (Disability), preamble (BiCon Continuity Limited), Section C (Financial), D1 (Feedback), D2 and D3 (Feedback), as a batch:
Section B.10 (Disability)
"BiCon should be accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities, including those with invisible impairments. BiCon literature published before the event (including the website) should give a clear description of the accessibility of the site being used, details of adjustments BiCon can make on request, as well as details of how someone can contact BiCon with specific accessibility requests. Accommodation should be provided which is suitable for people with mobility or sensory impairments. BiCon literature should also be made available in alternative formats on request. In planning the programme, consideration should be given to the need for adequate breaks between sessions. The Equalities Fund [see B15] is available to fund additional costs of attending BiCon that may be incurred by people with disabilities (e.g. carer's costs) and this should be publicised appropriately."
Proposed wording for Section B.10
"BiCon should be accessible and inclusive for disabled people, including those with invisible impairments. BiCon literature published before the event (including the website) should give a clear description of the accessibility of the site being used, details of adjustments BiCon can make on request, as well as details of how someone can contact BiCon with specific accessibility requests. Accommodation should be provided which is suitable for people with mobility or sensory impairments. BiCon literature should also be made available in alternative formats on request. In planning the programme, consideration should be given to the need for adequate breaks between sessions. The Equalities Fund [see B15] is available to fund additional costs of attending BiCon that may be incurred by disabled people (e.g. carer's costs) and this should be publicised appropriately."
BiCon Continuity Limited
After the existing first two paragraphs about the guidelines:
"BiCon Continuity Ltd ("Continuity") is the charitable company created by the bisexual community between 2011 and 2014. More information is on their website at https://biconcontinuity.org.uk/about/"
Updating Section C
Proposal to amend C.1 and split C.2 into a new C.2 and C.3 to differentiate the topics.
Current wording for C.1
"BiCon should produce detailed accounts within three months after the event. These should be published and be made readily available to interested parties. "
Proposed wording for C.1
"BiCon should produce detailed accounts within three months of the final venue bill being paid. These should be sent to Continuity to be published and be made readily available to interested parties. "
Current wording for C.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. "
Proposed wording for new C.2
"If BiCon makes a surplus after venue and other suppliers have been paid, this should be passed on to Continuity to be made available to future BiCon organisers. "
Proposed wording for new C.3
"If the surplus reaches a higher total than is needed to fund the next two BiCons, Continuity may allocate funds to bi+ activities in the UK in line with their charitable objects and recommendations of BiCon plenaries."
Updating Section D
D.1 Current wording
"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. "
D.1 Proposed wording
"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. Feedback results should be shared with future BiCon teams via Continuity. "
Current D.2 and D.3 wording
"D.2 Decisions about who should run future BiCons, BiCon surpluses, and any changes to these guidelines should be made at a BiCon plenary.
D.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. "
Proposed new Section D wordings
"D.2 Decisions about who should run future BiCons and how BiCon surpluses will be made by Continuity in line with their legal obligations, charitable objectives and strongly guided by decisions of BiCon plenaries.
D.3 Continuity may make independent decisions where no plenary decision exists but will generally only contradict plenaries when required to do so by law, regulations, or to protect BiCon's assets and reputation.
D.4 Plenaries should be minuted and the results reported on bicon.org.uk or its equivalents ."
These changes were all agreed with almost all people voting in favour and none against.
4. Being consistently anti-racist and anti-oppressive
AC proposed this motion:
Racism is the oppressive system of white pseudo-supremacy, into which all white people are – willingly or not – inducted from the start of our lives. Racism is harm done, individually and collectively, by white people to Black people, Indigenous people, people of colour. All forms of oppression in white-dominated cultures are linked to white pseudo-supremacy, including white biphobia and white ableism. Unless we are consistently working to be anti-racist, as white people we are reproducing white pseudo-supremacy in every time and place where we go.
Bisexuals of Colour was founded in 2010, as a self-described 'act of defiance' against racism and Islamophobia in the bi+ community. In 2015, Bis of Colour 2015 compiled an extensive survey report about the experiences of Black bi+ people & bi+ people of colour, which found that every single one of the 128 respondents had experienced racism as well as biphobia in LGBT+ spaces: https://bisexualresearch.wordpress.com/2015/06/22/new-report-bis-of-colour/
Bis of Colour later published a guest 'blog about racism and anti-Blackness specifically at BiCon in 2017, https://bisofcolour.home.blog/2017/09/21/j-applebee-guest-post-by-angreebindii-people/ which concluded
"BiCon and its white apologists are not worth my time. In an act of decolonised queer self-love, BiCon will never be graced by my powerful and important presence. Not until, real action occurs. By that I mean at least 1) a consistent increase of Bis of Colour year on year; 2) a stronger decolonised code of conduct; 3) the proper enforcement of the code of conduct; 4) the end to cultural appropriation; 4) People of Colour focused session *run* by People of Colour; 5) intersectionality.
"I encourage other queers of colour and their allies to demand the same. We need to stand up and own our power. It is an act of self-love to break an abusive relationship. People of colour everywhere deserve to be respected and valued. Until those changes in BiCon happen, we should stand up and demand change. BiCon’s reward would be our presence."
This year J Applebee wrote for The Independent about UK Black Pride 2019, confirming that racism, as well as biphobia and ableism, continue to make the white-dominated LGBTIQA+ community unsafe for disabled and bisexual people of colour: https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/uk-black-pride-lgbt-bisexual-racism-london-ableism-events-a8992351.html
In the white-dominated LGBTIQA+ community in general, and in the BiCon community in particular, white people need to do much more and deeper work to be consistently anti-oppressive.
Many BAME people in general, as well as Bis of Colour in particular, are avoiding BiCon because they do not see white bi+ people individually and collectively dismantling their white pseudo-supremacy.
BiCon is currently NOT a safer space for Black people, people of colour. BiCon is not sustainable, if we are not a safer space for people from marginalised by white pseudo-supremacy, if we are not consistently anti-racist and anti-oppressive.
Learning consistent anti-racist practice as white people, and broader anti-oppression practice, is difficult and challenging work. BiCon cannot achieve consistent anti-oppression through volunteers alone, because it is traumatising to Black people, people of colour. To learn anti-racism, white people must be taught and held accountable by professional anti-racism trainers who are Black or people of colour themselves. Volunteers & white people can offer support to these experts.
As an example, The Allies Academy which was founded by Black women, specialises in consistent anti-oppression (also called 'cultural competency') training and has an office in Oxford. They are interested in working with BiCon to learn more about the UK bi+ community, and to supply professional training in consistent anti-oppression including support for white people to dismantle their individual and collective white pseudo-supremacy and anti-Blackness.
For example, they can advise us on re-writing our Code of Conduct to be consistently anti-racist and anti-oppressive, as a step toward fulfilling Bis of Colour call forward to BiCon. It needs to be thoroughly reviewed in the light of anti-racism & consistent anti-oppression practice. Nowhere is racism defined, nor the systemic nature of oppression in general explicitly recognised. All Black people, Indigenous people, people of colour must be able to openly and honestly call out any white person during BiCon for their racist behaviour, and talk openly and honestly about white pseudo-supremacy, for BiCon to be a safer space.
The same applies to all other systemic forms of oppression: the Code of Conduct must explicitly recognise the power system, to avoid reproducing it.
Some other specific areas to address that have come forward in the discussions at this BiCon include:
(i) Increased advertising and outreach to people of colour
(ii) Offering cheap/free attendance to people of colour
(iii) Engaging with the local BAME community in the place BiCon is being held
(iv) Better representation of religions at BiCon (beyond an emphasis on Christianity and Judaism, to include, for example, Islam)
BiCon therefore calls on BiCon Continuity Limited to help form a working group to make change happen on this subject beyond this BiCon.
The group should explore:
(a) How can BiCon raise and ring-fence funds for consistent anti-oppression training for everyone involved?
(b) In particular, how will the white members of the BiCon community collectively take responsibility for properly paying anti-racism experts who are themselves Black or people of colour, to train us and hold us accountable to be collectively, consistently, truly anti-racist and anti-oppressive?
It should bring forward advice on action for future BiCon organisers, changes to the Guidelines, and advice on the Code of Conduct. This can and should feed in to the arrangements for next BiCon.
BiCon resolves to review progress on this crucial subject next year.
We were asked to insert this explanatory note when correcting this in the final 2019 DMP Minutes:
"We use the term 'Black person, Indigenous person, person of colour' instead of 'Black, Asian and Minority Ethinic' (BAME). That's because Minority Ethnic includes communities such as Ashkenazic Jews, Roma people, Syrian people, some of whom pass for white, yet for whom racism intersects with anti-semitism, with anti-Roma oppression, with Islamophobia".
Some of the points made in the discussion:
Is the terminology and scope right? Black vs Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic/BAME. It does vary, for important reasons, in different contexts. Not for white people to rule on. Bis of Colour use that name. Black is a political expression. This motion is not about xenophobia, but racism. Anti-Semitism and prejudice against White Eastern Europeans are real problems but addressing them is not part of this work.
There was great disappointment that the "Educating ourselves about white privilege and power" session at this BiCon was cancelled with little explanation. The person running it emailed the organisers to say they would not be attending and hadn’t given permission to share the reasons. They had been sent the Bis of Colour report, which may have influenced their decision. There were black people waiting and willing to contribute to that session and their voices were not heard.
AC acted as the editor of the motion and emailed it to Bis of Colour, who said that it accurately reflected their position and they hoped BiCon would take the motion seriously.
The Labour Party tried to offer discounted tickets to BAME members and were told they couldn't by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. One approach might be to make it clear that any bursary would take issues of representation of Black and minority ethnic people in to account. These details of financial support are an issue for the Working Group
There was a request for a simple language summary of what we are voting on when it comes to that, which the Chair did his best to provide.
This motion was agreed unanimously.
5. Ableism and access
Amber proposed this motion:
We know that the BiCon community can become consistently anti-ableist. We want to help BiCon organising teams, by giving them clearer guidelines and criteria for accessible venue selection, and for addressing access concerns from disabled people.
A number of people who have this year requested important accessibility accommodations to make BiCon practicable for them without serious health risks, have experienced their concerns being challenged, ignored or even insulted. We want to help avoid 'gate-keeping' of who is considered 'sufficiently' and 'the right kind' of disabled people in future, because this causes trauma and health problems for disabled people. We know there have been significant problems this year for disabled people with complex needs, with chronic fatigue, with dietary needs, and who are neuro-divergent, for example.
For example, 'book taxis and claim it back' is not a complete solution to access needs across a less accessible site such as Lancaster: Many taxis are not accessible, accessible taxis are not always available at all, and disabled people are less likely to have the funds to budget for and pay up-front for taxis. What if someone urgently needs to get back to their bedroom for health reasons? What if BiCon's funds run out?
Access is also a much wider range of issues than simply physical obstacles.
BiCon 2019 accepted on our behalf a non-catered package which presents serious health concerns to a number of people. The flats have no lounge space, making it harder for us to support & check in with one another about health needs. The flexibility to prepare hot meals is important for managing a wide range of long-term, serious health problems. So this site discriminates against disabled people with complex needs, who are likely to be less able to buy portable equipment, drive to site, or carry equipment on public transport.
We also need many more than the four (4) 'accessible' bedrooms in the BiCon 2019 accommodation, as many disabled people – not just wheelchair users – need grab rails, red cords, extra space etc.
Wheelchair users need truly flat surfaces, so we must make all gradients & cambers explicit in access.
Finally, ableism is also part of white pseudo-supremacy; white ableism is racist, and unsustainable.
BiCon therefore calls on BiCon Continuity Limited to help form a working group to help make BiCon anti-ableist.
Proposed actions for the group to explore:
(1) BiCon Continuity Trustees invest in expert training in access for neurodivergent (ND) people, and then urgently seek to recruit and support a Trustee who is ND to whom they will all be accountable.
(2) Update the guidelines to help BiCon organising teams consider all forms of access, through a thorough consultation with the community. Factors that should be given special emphasis include accommodation within close, accessible range of programme space; equipment provided with self-catering kitchens; relaxation space other than bedrooms and public areas; and a minimum of 10 disabled accessible bedrooms.
(3) Stipulate that each BiCon team nominate an Access volunteer assistant, to support the lead Access volunteer and share the work of communications about Access.
This will help make Access communications more timely. With two people, people raising access needs can reasonably expect to have their requests acknowledged within 3-5 days, and start a constructive conversation about meeting those needs, within 7-10 days. Two people can more easily consult one another, and with other relevant people.
Points made in the discussion:
In universities, we will struggle to find venues with accessible bedrooms, because universities take them out, because when non-disabled students get put in those rooms, they complain. There are often disabled students living in those rooms year round. The landscape is restrictive because of structural ableism.
Sensory issues are not always taken in to account and should be catered for.
Clarification that this motion was to set up a working group that would consider those actions and are not necessarily bound to accept them.
We live in a disablist society. We can't build something completely right and do as much as we want to. But we can have a good go.
A neurodivergent person pointed out that the Trustees don't run BiCon, so their role there in point 1 is not clear. BiCon is good on neurodivergent issues. There are problems, but they felt safer at BiCon than at Autscape that is for their exact flavour of neurodivergence.
There are other people who feel that their concerns have been minimised.
BiCon is one of the most disability-inclusive events, there is a good foundation there. But some people’s needs have not been met.
People who have a bad experience may not return and would not necessarily know when it has got better.
This motion was agreed unanimously.
6. Partnerships with external bodies
A similar motion on this topic was proposed last year where, after a long discussion, the meeting voted to defer it to this year. This year it was proposed in two parts.
6 (a) New guideline
Natalya proposed this new guideline without a speech:
"B19. Partnerships with external bodies
Organisers should take into account the principles outlined in Part B when working in financial partnership with external bodies. This includes, but is not limited to, inviting external bodies to run stands and stalls at BiCon or to advertise in BiCon literature. Organisations that share the principles outlined in Part B should generally be welcome to run stands and stalls, subject to practical and spatial constraints. Organisers should not allow financial partnerships of any sort with bodies that oppose or work against these principles. In cases in which this is a matter of interpretation, organisers should consult widely before making decisions."
This change was agreed unanimously. This is above the 75% threshold for guideline changes and so took effect immediately.
6 (b) Arms companies and armed forces
Symon proposed an addition to the end of new Guideline B19:
"No financial partnerships should be entered into with arms companies or armed forces. For the avoidance of doubt, people employed by such bodies are of course welcome to attend BiCon as individuals, on the same basis as anyone else."
Points raised in the discussion:
One person said they would be delighted to see a motion condemning the sponsorship of Pride by BAE Systems but are less happy with an imprecise guideline that does not make it clear what an arms company is. The list on the Campaign Against the Arms Trade's website is long.
This is complicated but there are definitions for the purposes of ruling out investment in arms companies, such as making more than 10% of its profits from arms or being on the list of 20 biggest arms companies in the world as ranked by Defence News Magazine.
This can include software, big data, artificial intelligence for the armed forces, which involves quite large brands. It's an area of judgment for the organisers. It might help to say whose definition was being used.
People of colour and Black people are put off coming by the presence of the police. Trans people and sex workers may not trust the police. It would be good to add them to the list not to be included.
The motion we just passed says that organisers need to make sure that organisations should share the principles in part B of the guidelines to be included in BiCon.
The guidelines are the minimum standards a team commit to. They are intended to be relatively brief and guidance. There may be other ways we can talk about arms companies, the police, the Home Office, the DWP, all the people we don’t want here. The guidelines may not be the best place to set that out.
The ambiguity around the definition has been used in the past to hold up making a decision. This is a minimum guideline and does not clearly define them. It follows from a guideline we've just passed that says where there is ambiguity the organisers should consult widely, so we can use that. Most arms companies, like BAE Systems, are unambiguously arms companies.
The Chair explained that, in accordance with the rule change agreed earlier, if more than 50% but less than 75% of people vote in favour, this guideline change would come back to next year's meeting for approval, but if more than 75% of people vote in favour, it would take effect immediately.
This guideline change was agreed by 54 votes to 13, a majority of 81%. This is above the 75% threshold for guideline changes and so took effect immediately.
7. Communication channels
Ian proposed a new guideline:
"B20. Protecting confidentiality of vulnerable and marginalised groups
When communicating with attendees, organisers should not use any social media platform with a 'real names' policy for anything more than read-only announcements."
Points raised in the discussion:
Does this mean we can’t have BiCon Attendees Group on Facebook?
It means the organisers can’t set one up.
A person who is not able to be out about all their identities on social media said that this would make BiCon feel so much safer, since it would remove the risk that it would pop up on someone's feed and blow all their closets wide open.
What other social media are you using apart from Facebook?
A wide variety exist. For example, there is the ability to have a discussion using any name you like on this year's BiCon website. The issue with Facebook in particular is that you have to allow one of the team to 'Friend' you, which lets them see all sorts of things about you. And as a member, you can see all sorts of things about other people’s lives, such as where they live, who their children are, who they are in relationships with, where they work, and so on.
Facebook could be an important place for people to get information and for people to make announcements, which could then link to a website where the discussion can take place.
This was agreed by 57 votes to 10, a majority of 85%. This is above the 75% threshold for guideline changes and so took effect immediately.
8. BiCon Continuity Update
Pascal gave a brief update from BiCon Continuity Ltd, explaining how it was formed to look after BiCon's money and reduce individual liability for organisers.
BiCon costs are increasing each year and the pot is worth less each year. Looking to the future, the trustees of Continuity are worried that in ten years we may not be able to afford to pay BiCon venue deposits up front, as venues increasingly require.
BiCon Continuity Ltd will investigate this issue further and form a plan to make the finances more sustainable.
9. Future BiCons
9 (a) BiCon 2020
Rachel is leading the team for 2020 and gave an update on the plans. BiCon will be 13–16 August 2020 at Leeds Beckett University. This update was welcomed by the meeting with wide acclamation.
9 (b) BiCon 2021
Carol put herself forward to run BiCon in 2021, with a possibility of a venue in Colchester, but no dates yet. This bid was welcomed by the meeting with wide acclamation.
10. Any Other Business
Tess spoke about BiPride UK, on 7 September in Hackey, with music, speakers, panels, and funding for accessibility including a portaloo, BSL interpreters, step free access to all public areas. It’s a completely free event.
The chair thanked everybody, and specifically David for scurrying around with the microphone. The floor thanked the chair.