A Call to Action: Looking At You Through the Glass

After such a successful Pride Campaign this past weekend, some people might find it hard to have any real complaints about the festival. Thousands showed up, not just lining the parade route but clogging the festival grounds. The protesters were drowned out by allies. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, the beer was flowing …

… and there in lies only one of the issues.

As an activist, I cannot keep quiet as to what I experienced in the buildup to Pride this weekend. I write these words as an out bisexual, an activist within the bisexual community, and as an ally to many people who came to me this weekend, pointing out problems with the festival and the fears they have regarding the future of community groups participating.

This post, however, is more than a list of complaints or a list of positives. It is a call to action. Not just for myself, but for the marginalized groups within the queer community, the Pride Center, the media, our allies, and everyone.

Issue #1: The focus of beer and hard liquor as a part of the festival.

I understand the need for money and alcohol sponsorships bring in big money for festivals like Pride. Without the partnership of Budweiser, Effen Vodka, and other alcohol companies, Pride would not have the draw that it does.

Yet, I spent two days at Pride. One as a volunteer for the Pride Center and one as a participant in the festivities. Over the course of time, I talked to six people who were concerned about the importance of booze. There were two lounge areas that were 21 years and up only, excluding the youth from the ability to schmooze in the VIP area or even partake of the fun on the dance floor. Yes, the dance floor was restricted to 21 years and up, leaving kids to wander the grounds or hang outside the fence to watch. There was a Youth Zone, sponsored by Tint, which is a program of the Utah Pride Center that reaches out to Youth 14-20, but if I were 20 years old, I’d want to be on the dance floor and not hanging out in a tent with 14 year olds.

In addition, there were only three reserved parking spots: the executive director of Pride, the executive director of the Pride Center, and the Budweiser rep for the festival. How important is Budweiser that it gets its own parking spot? It makes me wonder if there are so few sponsorship options for the Pride Festival that it has to rely on the beer company for so much.

The Pride Center sponsored a “Health Zone” where they handed out condoms and lube samples, talked about the importance of women’s health, HIV prevention, and the cessation of tobacco use. Nowhere on the table was there information about alcohol abuse.

It was glaring to me.

Issue #2: The media’s representation of the festival as the “Gay Pride” festival and the Pride Center’s lack of response.

I have to give the Pride Center kudos. They do focus on Pride rather than just Gay Pride, at least on paper. But that does not stop the media around them from talking about Gay Pride. It is the Gay Pride festival and Gay Pride parade and the Gay Pride … blah blah blah blah.

This is not just a Pride Festival issue. Just recently I emailed GLBT community heroine and very out media personality Rachel Maddow, pleading for her to back off the use of the term “gay marriage” when describing the fight for marriage equality. (Read my letter here: https://vegawriters.wordpress.com/call-to-action-a-letter-to-rachel-maddow/ ) I have begged other leaders like Lt. Dan Choi for the same respect. I would hope that the Pride Center, a center that prides itself on its (perceived) inclusion of all groups in the community would be at the front lines to counteract the “gay” terminology that is rampant in the media. And yet, Q Salt Lake, the publication that reaches out to the GLBT community released its Gay Pride Guide for Pride and did so unabashedly.

Inclusion is so easy. Yet, community leaders make the choice year after year to erase the bi (and other groups) from the festival and the media. I wish I was wrong, I wish I could say that I was overreacting, and yet this year, the San Francisco Human Rights Commission released a report detailing the problems that exist with bi-erasure in the media and what it does for an entire community. The findings were not pretty. The Utah Pride Center said over and over again to the group that I run that it had taken a hard look at the report and were making changes, and yet, there was no call to action from the Pride Center to be inclusive.

Read the report and the call to action here: http://www.birequest.org/docstore/2011-SF_HRC-Bi_Iinvisibility_Report.pdf

Issue #3: The Pride Center’s inability or unwillingness to reach out to community groups to include them in the Pride Festival.

I am not gay. I do not identify as gay. And, as a bisexual woman, my issues are completely different than the issues that gay men and lesbian women face. I am less worried about marriage equality and more worried about safe sex practices, bi-phobia and bi-erasure in the media, the spread of HIV in the GLBT community, the mental health of people who identify as bisexual, the sexual exploitation of people who identify as bisexual, the healthy connection of polyamory to the bisexual community, etc. I am only one activist in the community and many activists take on many different causes. But what I find troubling are the lack of resources at Utah’s own Pride Center for bisexual women and men. The Health and Wellness program focuses on the community as a whole, but there is a lack of focus for bisexual women who need to know about safe sex with men and not just women. There is a lack of voice and communication when other programs contact the Pride Center seeking a bisexual voice. Rather than directing them through a central contact, the events outside of the Pride Center haphazard and without focus. If this is happening with the bi community, I can only assume it is happening with other communities as well.

There is no invitation from the Pride Center for the groups to participate in the planning of Pride. None. There is no communication to leaders of the groups asking what they would like to see in terms of inclusion. Yes, there is a call for ideas that is put out on their facebook page, but there is little active inclusion. I will speak to my own experiences in trying to access the Parade this year:

I emailed an intern at the center, asking who to talk to about marching and quickly received a response. I emailed the person recommended and never had a response. Not even a “This is the right person to talk to.” A few days before the Parade, one of the facilitators of the 1to5 Club (the group I help to run at the center) who is also a board member took steps to get us included with the Pride Center Program entry at the festival. The 1to5 Club is a program of the Center and we were not asked to march nor did they bring the banner that the Pride Center has for our group. As a result, we proudly marched behind the Bi Flag and chanted loudly, but there was no announcement for who we were and what we represented. We are not a fringe group, but a program of the center.

This can be changed easily with better communication on the Pride Festival’s website. Places to sign up to march, for example. And invitations to community groups asking if they want to be included. After that, it is up to us as leaders and activists to take up the charge, but it is hard to approach the table if you do not feel included.

Issue #4: The cost for community groups to participate in the Pride Festival.

Traditionally, the 1 to 5 Club has stepped up as an organization and volunteered for the Pride Center Booth. This gives us a chance to distribute our own information as well as talk up all the programs at the center.

This year, given the lack of communication, we sent out a call to our members to volunteer but we did not volunteer as a group. In part because there was no place for us to come together and hand out our information. There were “zones” at the festival, inclusive of groups such as SAGE, the group that works with the elder population, and a Gender Zone for TransAction, the group that promotes inclusion for the Transgendered community. But there was no place for groups such as the 1to5 Club to distribute their information. As a group of the center, we have little money to purchase vendor space and as was told to me by a group that did purchase vendor space it was wildly expensive to do so, so much so that it was almost not worth the cost of participating.

In addition to the cost of the booth space, there was a charge for extra flats of water and even candy to distribute. Groups were not allowed to bring in their own candy, their own water, etc. They were also required to pay for parking. For groups such as Budweiser and Wells Fargo, this is not prohibitive. For small community groups, it uses up the majority of the operating budget for the year. According to the group that came to me, there was also a lack of professionalism when dealing with the Pride Center that made it almost not worth it to participate in the festival.

Pride is about more than stores selling their wares, Logo advertising their programming, and EBay touting their alliance of “Gay and Lesbian employees.” Pride is about the community groups getting a chance to reach out. It’s about the Polyamory Society and the Atheist Society and other groups finding people they might not see on a regular basis. It’s about promoting safe sex and HIV testing. It isn’t just about HRC’s push to “Legalize Gay,” it’s about legalizing ALL of us. As I walked the grounds this weekend, I saw more and more corporate interests and fewer groups. Where were the GLBT booksellers? There were more pet adoption choices than there were grassroots community groups.

What does that say to us as a community?

Issue #5: A final call to action for community groups and the Pride Center

We need to work together. We need to educate not just the heterosexual community, but each other. We need to understand the definitions of bisexual, pansexual, polyamorous, gay, lesbian, bear, cub, BDSM, topping, bottom, sex, sexuality, transgendered, drag king, drag queen, queer, queer-questioning, intersex, ally …

This past year, the Pride Center was cleaning out its offices and found a Bi Pride Flag tucked away. Rather than hang it in the coffee shop, rather than fly it outside, they gave it back to the 1 to 5 Club because “they had no use for it.” To truly be inclusive, the center needs to proudly display all of the flags for each community. They need to educate everyone. They need to extend sexual health information to include women who might be having sex with men and men who might have having sex with women. They need to accept that the issues of the 20 something’s are different than the 30 something’s and the 60 something’s.

But we community members need to speak up. We cannot just sit in our own corners and grumble. We need to come together, to form our own “Zones” at pride. We need to speak truth to media power. We need to make ourselves a visible presence in community meetings. If we are not invited, we NEED to crash the party.

This is not a vanity exercise. This is about the survival of our community as we move into a new world that is not just about acceptance but legal survival. We are no longer biting at the ankles of mainstream media and mainstream politics. We have a voice and we MUST use it. We must work together because otherwise we will become nothing but splintered groups chasing their own agendas.

I speak today as an activist for the bisexual, pansexual, asexual, fluid, and omnisexual community but I am an activist for all of us. We cannot achieve true equality if we fight amongst ourselves.

Speak up. Speak up. Speak up. Take Pride in your voice and break the glass so many of us feel we are staring through.

  1. Oh, I agree–count me in! I emailed the University of Utah’s IRB complaining about the lack of inclusivity (of trans, non-monosexual, allies, and other groups) at the Human Sexuality Research booth at Pride.

    The Budweiser thing made me think of Gay Shame in San Francisco. I wasn’t aware that they were omitting information that could help people struggling with alcoholism here–I’m angry about that.

    Err, on the subject of speaking out, I actually have a slight problem with the name “1 to 5 Club”, since it’s in reference to the Kinsey scale and I’m genderqueer and therefore do not know what side to start counting on.

    I also really wonder about how very, very underrepresented the bisexual community is–and what we can do about that, considering differences in age and all that. I think if we’d had one of the “zones” there’d be people flocking to it–why does the Pride Center not think we merit or need one? It’s very confusing to me.

    I’m also disappointed by the total asexual invisibility. The Pride Center’s website returns 0 hits for “asexual” or “asexuality,” which is a little silly for an organization dealing with sexuality and questioning folks. Not to mention that many same-sex relationships may involve one or more asexual or gray-asexual partners. And, of course, many bi, trans, gay, and/or lesbian folk might fall into the asexual or gray-asexual category.

    I’m bi, genderqueer, gray-asexual, BDSM-oriented, and uninterested in monogamy. I still struggle to come to terms with all that sometimes–that’s, what, five different types of queer?–and it’d be really awesome if Pride weren’t half-acceptance, half-marginalization. I also struggle with standards of beauty that are upheld in mainstream gay culture, both the effects on the person who’s publicly shamed because of their body and on the person who’s silenced and shamed for being attracted to non-mainstream beauty. I’ve been both those people. Why are we re-creating heteronormativity?

    So, uhh, yeah, I am willing to work toward a more inclusive community. Actually, haha, it’d be cool to get together some asexual activists to approach the Pride Center–any tips on how to do that (approach the center)?

    • Adair,

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. Before I really dive into things, I do want to make one clarification – you mention that your issue with the Kinsey Scale reference in the 1to5 Club’s name doesn’t seem to apply to you because of your own gender-queer identification. So you don’t know what side of the scale to start on. It’s important to note that this reference for Kinsey is about sexuality, not gender identification. On his scale, 0 was completely heterosexual and 6 was completely homosexual, with all the other numbers falling in between. Gender identification is something completely different.

      We would love to get you involved with the group and add your voice to the levels of activism. I applaud you for speaking out like you have. We need more people like you!!!! Our group meets on the third Tuesday of each month at the Pride Center in the multi purpose room at 7:30. We also get together for coffee the first Wednesday of the month at Coffee Connection. We meet at 8:00 then.

      Your comment here: “I’m bi, genderqueer, gray-asexual, BDSM-oriented, and uninterested in monogamy. I still struggle to come to terms with all that sometimes–that’s, what, five different types of queer?–and it’d be really awesome if Pride weren’t half-acceptance, half-marginalization. I also struggle with standards of beauty that are upheld in mainstream gay culture, both the effects on the person who’s publicly shamed because of their body and on the person who’s silenced and shamed for being attracted to non-mainstream beauty. I’ve been both those people. Why are we re-creating heteronormativity?” really speaks to what so many of us in the community are saying. We want to deconstruct normalcy so we can define it ourselves. We all have a right to live how we want to live, and it’s frightening that our own community seems to keep us from doing that.

      Thank you! I can’t wait to work more with you!

      • Homosexual and heterosexual are a bit ill-defined for genderqueers too, but thanks for the clarification! I did not know that. 🙂

        Can I try inviting asexuals to the 1 to 5 club meetings? You said, “I speak today as an activist for the bisexual, pansexual, asexual, fluid, and omnisexual community but I am an activist for all of us. We cannot achieve true equality if we fight amongst ourselves,” so it seems like there’s room in the group for activism for all non-monosexuals?

        Last night I saw an asexual post talking about similarities between the bi and ace communities–one of them was something like: “Organization: It’s like trying to herd cats for both groups,” and I think we could really achieve more allied (certainly for the asexual community whose visibility is a lot worse than even the bis’).

        Also, think anyone would be willing to give me a ride to/from the Utah Pride Center meeting? I live in Sugarhouse and, without a car, it’s kinda intimidating to go that far that late in the day. 😛

        And thanks for the welcoming environment! I know that many people in the community share the goal of acceptance and individuality for everyone, and it’s always cool to find more people really dedicated to that.

  2. Adair, we are happy to give you a ride, we pretty much go to every meeting and every coffee!
    Rachel

  3. Adair,

    Thank YOU for the clarification about gender identification and relationships with hetero and homosexuality.

    As for the asexual community, PLEASE invite your friends. The purpose of the 1to5 club is to reach out to the redheaded step children in the GLBT community and we as a group have discovered that a lot of the issues involved with asexuality, bisexuality, pansexuality, omnisexuality, and fluid-identification are similiar. Especially in terms of erasure and phobia. We are all kind of lumped together because of similiar concepts of identification and a lack of need to love by gender/sex and more of a need to love because of the person.

    Let’s get it moving. 🙂

    Can’t wait to see you again.

  4. Thank you Miss Vega! I hope you have sent this directly to Valerie Larabee and John Johnson as well? I have heard more negative comments about pride this year than ever before… and this year they have also been more specific than ever before.

    The most common complaint I have heard so far is that it has become expensive AND boring (no creativity), that it is less about the community than about the VIP’s, the alcohol, and the entertainment.

    It appears that we have a “formula” that works (i.e., brings in the cash). So “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”.

    Well it seems to be broken to me… and in many of the same ways as our community is fractured and in many cases under (or not) represented.

    I am weary of carrying a banner to a party to which I don’t feel invited and don’t have a sense of belonging. I am tired of grasping for a place at the Round Table of equality (which feels more like those times when there really isn’t a place for you to sit at the dinner table so you get to sit in that awkward corner where those on either side don’t want to move a little to give you some space).

    I have tried to be nice. Nice has only gotten me side-lined over and over again. I have tried to appeal to reason, only to be answered with flippant remarks or (at best) empty promises.

    My conclusion is that the Utah Pride Center is damn lucky to even have us volunteering to represent our (invisible) communities at the Pride Center. The Utah Pride Center is also very damn lucky to have the staff that it does even though they are very limited in what they can do and, on average, are young, inexperienced, and in over their heads.

    Anyway well said Shauna. As always I love love love the way you express the angst of our community. It’s time to work on a bisexual trojan horse.

    ❤ xoxoxo ❤

    Joni

    • Bisexual trojan horse, I love it!! Ha!

    • Thank YOU Joni for all the work you do. I did not send this to Valerie or John, but I did post it to the Pride Center’s FB page and other visible places. (Side note: I think I meant to, but got busy.) So, I will make sure it gets out there again.

      Coming together is SO important. I was reminded the other day about “Cutting off my nose to spite my face” and I get that sometimes, we need to just be a community. But lately, I feel less and less part of that community. Language matters. What we present matters.

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