Bisexuals have a long history of creating change in mainstream sexual rights organizing and creating challenges to simplistic representations of queer people. Brenda Howard, for example, helped coordinate a rally and march to commemorate the first anniversary Stonewall Riots and originated the idea of a week-long series of events to celebrate Pride. The outsider-within status of bisexuals within lesbian and gay groups has given them the space to be radical, inclusive, and committed to the practice of social justice values to achieve social justice outcomes. That history permeates the presence of the day-long organizing institute created for bisexuals, pansexuals, polysexuals, and other non-monosexual queer folks at the largest gathering of LGBTQ activists in the United States, Creating Change—an event organized by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (The Task Force).
Now in its fourth year at the 26th annual convention of Creating Change, the institute originally started as a vision. “It was a dream of Dr. Loraine Hutchins, Lani Ka’ahumanu, and many others as well as a real bone of contention/tension between bisexual folk and the Task Force over the years that there wasn’t such a day, even though Creating Change honored some of these very same bisexual people,” Gary North, a former BiNet USA president and current board member, remembers. According to North, Sue Hyde, the legendary director of Creating Change proposed the institute to him in response to his proposal of a BiNet USA convention within the larger Creating Change experience.
Bisexual Institutes have been part of this conference since 2010 (with the exception of 2013/Atlanta) through efforts by BiNet USA, the Bisexual Resource Center (BRC) and the American Institute of Bisexuality (AIB). Organizers, facilitators and presenters at the institutes have been a who’s who of mainstream US bisexual leadership including (alphabetically): Amy Andre, Estraven Andrews, Lauren Beach, Bill Burleson, Faith Cheltenham, Angel Fabian, Luigi Ferrer, Morgan Goode, Loraine Hutchins, Ph.D., Lani Ka’ahumanu, Paul Nocera, Gary North, Robyn Ochs, Denise Penn, Ellyn Ruthstrom, Becky Saltzman, and Penelope Williams. North indicated that the original intention for the institute was to convene leaders to discuss ways they could go back home and organize more effectively. A regular speaker on college campuses and at youth groups, Robyn Ochs affirms, “It is empowering to enter the Creating Change conference through the portal of an entire day with forty or fifty excited and empowered bisexual folks from all over the United States. People leave feeling more powerful and less alone.” She considers it a valuable experience for “those new to bisexual identity and activism” and “seasoned bisexual activists.”
With the absence of the institute last year, Bisexual Leadership Roundtable members were concerned about losing the momentum of the institute as an expected and grounding experience for non-monosexual queer people coming to Creating Change. “It’s such an important space. We fought for a while to get the institute in the schedule. It has been so challenging getting bisexual-oriented proposals accepted in Creating Change and finding sessions that recognize, respect and embrace bisexuals as members of the LGBTQ that we need to maintain the presence of the institute,” BiNet USA president, Faith Cheltenham acknowledges.
She put out a call for someone who would take on leadership for organizing the institute for 2014/Houston Creating Change and I stepped forward. Having participated in another institute the previous two years in which I felt marginalized as a Black bisexual man and underutilized as educator, speaker, and sexologist, I knew everything was happening in Divine order. I immediately contacted another Black non-monosexual queer person with whom I worked at the other institute, M’Kali-Hashiki, to see if she wanted to collaborate in organizing the institute. She is a sex activist, erotic wellness facilitator and queer organizer. Paul Nocera, facilitator of the popular New York City bisexual discussion group, BiRequest, expressed interest in making the institute happen again and joined us. Given the attitudes of mainstream gay and lesbian figures like Dan Savage about bisexuals, it is a really powerful statement that the three of us will be facilitating the institute.
The institute will have a lot of innovative elements this year. A Twitter version of the institute will occur simultaneous to the activities in the room using the hashtag #BiCC14. People who can’t be physically present can participate in a twitter conversation with each other and the institute participants using the hashtag. M’Kali-Hashiki will tweet and lead the twitter conversation. To our knowledge, this is a first for an institute at Creating Change.
In addition to the Twitter conversation, we will be using Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) techniques in the institute. TO is a process of social analysis, critique and change that incorporates games and activities from the theatre. I’ve been training in and practicing TO since the late 1990s and am excited to bring this resource to the discussion of bisexual organizing in the institute. We will warm up to the TO activities with breath work facilitated by M’Kali-Hashiki, small group discussions organized by Paul, and an adaptation of a life mapping exercise I facilitate with my students each semester at Goddard College. BiNet USA provided financial support for some of the life mapping materials. Paul, M’Kali-Hashiki and I really want to make sure that the institute engages the personal as political and a holistic understanding of social justice organizing. We hope our efforts pay off in the experiences of everyone involved and the impact the institute has on their work.
The Bisexual Institute is open to all non-monosexual queer folks, i.e., bisexuals, multisexuals, pansexuals, polysexuals, etc. and allies who are deeply committed to supporting us through their actions, resources, access and/or privilege. Please join us Thursday, January 30th, 9am-6pm Central Time at Creating Change 2014 held this year at the Hilton-Americas Houston TX USA, and through #BiCC14 on Twitter. And we also look forward to seeing you at in the “Suite Bi & Bi” the official Bisexual Hospitality Center at Creating Change Houston.