Bi Visibility at the LGBT Human Rights Conference in Copenhagen

Oct 1, 2009 | 2009 Fall - Visibility, Articles

By Di Ponti

I really wanted to go to the LGBT Conference on Human Rights that happened in my city, Copenhagen, from 27th -29th July 2009, as part of the World Outgames. Registration was expensive, and gave rise to protests and to alternative DIY human right gatherings, because it should be a human right to go to human rights conferences. I found a solution, and signed up as a volunteer.

While the whole city vibrated with LGBT people, and with competitions and celebrations of alternative sexualities, about 800 people met at the new concert hall and the fancy IT University to discuss LGBT rights, fights, strategies, freedoms. There were 25 keynote speakers, from grassroots activists to politicians, speaking in twice daily plenary sessions—and plenty of workshops, about 20 parallel sessions, also twice a day.

The atmosphere was quite emotional. Svend Robinson (first openly gay Member of Parliament in Canada and a conference co-chair) kept using words like ‘sisters and brothers,’ and ‘us,’ making it feel inclusive. I was moved to witness and feel part of such an important movement. In the first session I cried when Virginia Apuzzo (feminist, politician and activist, USA) mentioned that there is no reason for our community to be discriminatory, after all of us have been discriminated against in one way or another. I thought immediately of being bisexual, and not having felt entirely welcome in some lesbian/gay settings. Later, Kemone Brown (a young lesbian activist and feminist from Jamaica) also brought me to tears when she explained her own path to becoming open to her bisexual sisters.

I was going around this warm environment when I noticed Robyn Ochs with Miguel Obradors and Lars Næsbye Christensen (Copenhagen bi-activists), and I felt even warmer. I felt even happier and more touched. Now I wasn’t alone, I felt that now I was fully part of the conference. Both the city and the conference were challenging the ‘norm’: there were plenty of same-sex couples, and people assumed from the outset that one was gay. Felt like fresher air when this minority was so visible, a contrast with the heavy clouds of typical heteronormativity. But when I saw my bi friends, I realized that I still needed to be seen as bi, to be fully respected (because it is who I am). Our struggle is still huge: what about our visiBIlity? Who was to assume that I was bi? I was glad for the bi pins Robyn had brought to sell, and wore them proudly for the remainder of the conference.

The “B” was, of the 4 letters in LGBT, the least represented officially, and also very soft-spoken vocally. At the end of the first day, a number of angry Trans activists kept asking “where is the T?” and questioning why only two of 25 plenary speakers were trans-identified. The T though was still more represented than the B. The B had three workshops, no keynote speaker, and only our Robyn as moderator of one of the sessions. But, overall, our presence and the discussions raised an awareness in some of the old-school gay activists: I would guess some of them learned something and that in the future we will be more and more included.

The first bi workshop was centered around the book Getting Bi: Voices of Bisexuals Around the World. Unfortunately, because the books were not released by Danish customs, we were unable able to purchase copies during the conference, or even the day after, when the LBL-BI (Danish LGBT organization) group organized an afternoon with free workshops, on bi creativity, bi self-help and bi history. At the Getting Bi workshop, people read essays from the book, followed by a spirited discussion. At the second bi workshop organized by Australian bi activist Holly Hammond, two caucuses were called, one for bis and one for allies. And the third was a presentation on bisexuality in Danish film. In all of them, there was a mix of bisexuals and other curious people, not self-identified as bi/variant, with their typical questions: “They can leave you for someone of the other gender! Yes – and also for someone of the same gender!” “They must want both genders at the same time!” Bi and poly are different dimensions, but no wonder some bis feel more welcome in a more inclusive poly-movement. It was endearing to see a gay man presenting on bisexuality in Danish film admit that many instances of homosexuality in modern film are indeed bisexual, and that the forerunners in old film are forerunners to different sexual identities and preferences of the present days.

Then, in the plenary session moderated by Robyn, Yemisi Ilesanmi, an amazing, clear-headed and outspoken bi-activist from Nigeria, asked, referencing the previous day’s protests about the under-representation of transgender speakers: “Where is the B in the LGBT?” Robyn acknowledged that bisexuals were underrepresented at the conference, while crediting organizers for the fact that this year’s conference had substantially better bi representation than the last one. She charged organizers of the next conference to continue this trend.

And bis are essential to keep LGBT and allies from splitting, working as a glue. Instead of grounding a movement in fighting – us, them, the good and the bad – we contribute to change by practicing inclusion. I do wish and hope that an inclusive, kind and caring way of tackling bisexuality in and out of the movement will prevail, and that it will become easier and easier to be bi. Or for that matter, that it will be easier to be whatever one is or wants to be.

I’ve really enjoyed these days, my rainbow-colored city, deep and thoughtful discussions and a sense of pride in diversity. These days re-awoke in me a sense of community, of change, of sharing. I look forward to more.

Di Ponti is a Portuguese woman living in Copenhagen.

Featured image: At the Copenhagen conference: Hilde Vossen, Di Ponti, Yemisi Ilesanmi, & Robyn Ochs

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