KATENOTE: this is one of our consultant reports we paid for during Bicon 2021. Published here for future teams
Class inclusively at BiCon: thoughts and recommendations.
The task of engaging working class bisexual plus people at BiCon falls broadly into two categories: attacting working class people to the event, and ensuring they are not sidelined when they arrive.
Increasing working class engagement in the bisexual plus community is good for working class individuals and good for the bi+ community. When we talk about class, though, we often erase the experiences of working class people of colour, and universalise the experiences of white working class people. Racialised working class people exist in significant numbers, and should be considered at the heart of any anti-classist action.
Defining working class
How do we define the working class in the modern world? The common answer, that class describes a person's "relationship to the means of production" doesn't give you a full picture. Less than 30% of working class people now work in 'traditional' industrial occupations, with insecure desk based roles and the service industry now in the majority, creating a "precariat" that lives paycheque to paycheque. Not just because of these disparities, self definition, often but not always based on background, must be considered.
The pandemic, and the decade of austerity before that, have had a devastating effect on working class personal finances. Income inequality is the big scary monster that we can see, so it stands to reason that it's also one of the easiest things to tackle. For this reason recommendations below will focus mainly on the financial practicalities of attending an in-person BiCon.
Coming to BiCon for the first time can be a culture shock, and this is exacerbated by feelings of otherness. Working class people at BiCon told me of job shaming, hypersexualisation, accent mimicking and classist assumptions made about them, and described feeling ashamed, unwelcome and belittled.
Some of the following recommendations are already in place. It is however worth reiterating their value, and for that reason they are included below.
- Centre Black and PoC working class voices
BiCon is currently focused on anti-racism efforts. According to Claire Ainsley in her book The New Working Class, white people are more likely to claim a working class identity than racialised people in similar economic circumstances. The reasons for this are outside of the remit of this reflection, but suggest that the voices of racialised bisexual people should be at the forefront of the conversation.
- Tweak the sliding scale and introduce a tier for those on benefits
A sliding scale of fees is an excellent accessibility tool, but it's current common incarnation does not accurately reflect the realities of personal finance.
By making the gaps between the lower end smaller, and optionally the gaps between the upper end larger, we can meet the financial restraints of a wider range of people. The banding should not change from year to year, but should be reviewed regularly to take into account inflation.
Similarly, a band should be introduced specifically for those in receipt of benefits that is heavily subsidised by the highest earners.
- Make the Accessibility Fund (Helping Hand) support more meaningful
Working class people described the process of applying to the Helping Hand Fund for reasons of penury to be straightforward but often met with token discounts of ten or twenty pounds. For the lowest earners, for example a Job Seeker earning £75 a week, this still renders BiCon unaffordable.
For this reason administration of the Accessibility Fund should be undertaken by a volunteer with lived experience or significant understanding of the benefits system, and assistance should reflect the financial realities of a person for whom the lowest band BiCon ticket represents around two weeks' income.
- Payment by instalments
Teams should allow for an option to pay for BiCon tickets by monthly installments.
- Consider hybrid BiCons
The pandemic has taught us that online content is viable. Anecdotal evidence suggests hybridity has increased participation of people from working class backgrounds. The benefits of in-person events cannot be overstated, but inclusion of some online elements has the potential to increase participation in several marginalised demographics, and should be strongly considered moving forward.
- Treat classist microaggressions seriously
Working Class BiConners have reported feeling that letting the organisers know about classist microaggressions they've experienced at BiCon are "not a worth mentioning", "too small to count" and like "it probably won't be taken seriously".
Care should be taken to include classism when discussing appropriate behaviour at BiCons, and classism should be specifically mentioned in the Code of Conduct to empower both victims and bystanders to speak up.