Monday, May 18, 2009

Note From the New BiNet USA Prez

By Gary North

Belated greetings (board members took their new positions in late April). It’s been a busy month in Lake WoBiGon (sorry, Garrison), so that’s why I’m only now getting to write this (and with a special thanks to our never-ever-sleeps webmaster, who has inserted all sorts of links in this essay):

  • Biphobia has been running rampant lately (why right now is a mystery to me, but I’ll blame the economy, global warming, bad hair days . . . ), so BiNet USA's supporters and Rapid Responders have been countering the attacks immediately, consistently and repeatedly (donate now so we can continue the fight!).

  • At the same time (not so coincidentally?), same-sex marriage has been approved by courts or legislatures in several states, and there’s a move afoot to try to repeal Prop. 8 in California), so we have yet another fight on our hands.

  • And I’ve been so swamped with work after two more rounds of layoffs that I haven’t had time to say hello. So: Hello!

  • Gary B. North,2009  President of BiNet USAAllow me to introduce myself: You know Methuselah? Well, I haven’t been around the bi movement THAT long — but nearly. Actually, I’m the political/theoretical-construct love-child of Robyn, Lani, Loraine, Alan, Barry, Alexei, Luigi . . . hey, it takes a community to nurture a community, yuh know — and to comprehend what BiNet USA and the bi movement are all about.

    . . . What’s that? You say didn’t even KNOW there’s a bi movement? And you don’t know who those people are whose first names I just rattled off? Well, stick around and pull up a chair(person) . . . Or in this case, a prexy.

    Being president of BiNet USA actually only means being president of . . . a lot of presidents. You see, unlike herding cats (my task when I was president of a local union; I can show you the scratch marks), BiNet USA’s leadership structure is simple: Everyone is in charge, and NO ONE tells ANYONE what to do.

    . . . OK, that’s oversimplifying matters a bit; let me try again: Everyone is in charge of speaking out for themselves; each person is her or his own president, in charge of leading, defining and explaining who they are to the rest of the world and to each other. One of the great founding tenets of BiNet USA is that NO ONE speaks "ON BEHALF OF" "the bi people" or "all bi people" or any other such construct/conceptualization of a bi populace, collection or group. We each speak for ourselves because we’re such a diverse network/coalition of individuals and there is no "one way" to be "bi" — heck, most of our supporters don’t even like the word "bi" itself: too constricting, antiquated, imprecise, etc. (More on that in a future essay, but here’s just one example: "Bi" tends to mean having the capacity to feel attractions toward certain males and females . . . so where does that leave attractions by or toward transgendered persons and other gender-minority people? Ah, semantics . . .)

    However, we’re united in a common cause — several actually (yet another future essay) — and find strength in numbers.

    So, why was I willing to take on the task of being president of a bunch of independent presidents (after years of stepping away from BiNet USA to take care of family matters)? Well, basically because it's primarily operational and NOT MEANT to be "the" spokesperson for "all" bi/fluid/poly/insert-your-own-label-here people.

    Keep in mind that BiNet USA (emphasis on “NET”) was simply the formal recognition that an ad hoc grassroots NETWORK of local and regional bi groups and individuals had begun to spring up with 1987’s March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights (the B and T words would be added to the names of future marches thanks in large part to early BiNet USA activists). BiNet USA as an entity was founded at the first North American Conference on Bisexuality in San Francisco in 1990 (which means our 20th anniversary is next year in June!!! Watch for details!!!).

    Over the course of the next several months, the collective nature of the network (i.e., no president or board) was discussed, defined, crystallized and formalized, culminating with an announcement of BiNet USA’s existence and name at the end of a meeting in Seattle. (The Associated Press refused to even distribute a one-sentence announcement, grrr...).

    The collective/consensus nature of the network has been a healthy hallmark of BiNet USA's existence and functioning, and we’ve pretty much operated with that structure ever since — after all, we’re at heart a national NETWORK of groups and individuals, and it was never intended that we would stand alone and apart from the network(s) that formed BiNet USA in the first place.

    All well and good, but it’s difficult to ask folks to donate to a grassroots "network" that doesn’t exist as a formal/legal entity and therefore can't offer tax deductions on those donations. And as time went on, it became increasingly
    impractical and untenable to interact with other "real" organizations without ourselves having a formal/legal designation/recognition as a "nonprofit organization."

    Therefore, thanks to Barry, Victor, Luigi and several others BiNet USA leaders (forgive me if I've conflated or forgotten some folks — you know how all those bi people look the same and blend together: If you've seen one bi person, you've seen them all, right?...), an application was made to the federal government, and in late July 1995, we received our preliminary "letter of determination" as a 501(c)3 nonprofit org. (Formal recognition usually takes several years and for us ended in late 1998 or so, but we were able to start accepting donations as of July 24, 1995 — and speaking of donations, ahem . . . )

    Anyways, one of the requirements of being a "formal” organization is that we needed to have bylaws (not bi laws, you punsters; bylaws — what is it with these English-speaking bi people that they have to make puns??? . . . Must be genetic or something in the hypothalamus . . . ), and the bylaws generally must create the legal positions of president — Ah-ha! You see where this discussion is headed! — as well as vice president, secretary/treasurer (or both) and a board. Voila: a formal structure.

    So, while the "president" of BiNet USA could be defined as "a bi leader" or "leader of (the) bi people"(gotta love the quaintness of the simplistic mass media mindset), in reality that’s not how we work: Remember, we are consensus-based and we’re supposed to be a network — we don't tell groups and individuals what to do, they tell us. (More about membership in a future essay.) So in BiNet USA’s case, the "president" is primarily a facilitator, not a pontificator ( . . . of course, you wouldn’t know that based on the length of this essay, would you? . . . ); the president presides over the operations of the legal entity (the organization) and meetings of the board of directors. But the prez, vp, sec/treas, etc., are only formal legal designations (albeit with real, legal responsibilities); the REAL structure of BiNet USA — the way we REALLY get things done — is still by consensus. (We only rely on board votes and Robert’s Rules of Orders when we need to do so for legal/parliamentary reasons or when consensus simply can't be reached, which is rare.)

    In other words, it was never the intent of BiNet USA's founders (myself included) to have political positions such as a president or a board (originally we had a steering committee of six to ten equal members), but we have these offices out of necessity for legal/bureaucratic reasons and to get certain work done. So being president of many bi presidents is a challenge and honor — but primarily a function; YOU are the real leaders.

    You are the leaders in your communities, groups, campuses, jobs, neighborhoods and everyday lives. THAT'S where the field work is done; THAT'S where change is made; that's where prejudice is overcome and where biased people become enlightened and educated.

    BiNet USA’s role is to help you do that work: by giving bi people a chance to be heard at the national level, by making sure they have a seat at the table, by being a forum for activists and rapid responders; by helping supply materials and speakers; by networking with other organizations; by maintaining and updating our websites and online forums; by creating task forces as need be (literally); by being a touchstone, centralized clearinghouse and point of contact for media and the larger national community; and by guiding individuals to find local resources that can help them if they are struggling to fit their bi feelings into their lives and be accepted for "being" bi or having bi feelings — and to try to create local support if none exists in their geographic areas.

    All that said, can I be as much a dynamo as our immediate past president, Wendy Curry? No of course not: It turns out there are actually five Wendy Currys — how else to explain all that she accomplished and all the energy she expended? (And did we ever adequately thank her? No, but here’s a start! THANK YOU WENDY!!!! More on her work in future essays.) Can I be as much a dynamo as past president Denise Penn? Of course not; she’s one of those forces of nature (in a good way!). Can I live up to the pace, expertise and accomplishments of her predecessors? Hardly; they kept BiNet USA going through thick and thin and stayed true to the causes of civil rights, fairness and ending prejudices (and throwing great parties!). And can I live up to my role models: the bi activists out there who have carried the day without having a title of any sort other than their names? I blush at even contemplating such a presumption. No, I'm none of those — but collectively we all are.

    So send us some money right now ($10 or more from each person on our Yahoo Groups, Facebook Group, Myspace Page can help us maintain our websites, phone and postal box; click on the PayPal Icon or send a check to our PO Box; $5? $1? SURE!!!); volunteer to help as a speaker, board member, regional rep, graphic artist, computer programmer, content provider, web aide, blogger, researcher, fundraiser or other; and for gosh sake, stay active and get involved at the local or state level as a visible bi person (or whatever moniker you prefer). Be the change. Be proud and out. Practice visi-BI-lity. ( . . . oh, again with the puns . . . )

    Thanks for reading this; next time I'll try to be less windy!