Around the World: The First Ever Bi Pre-Conference at ILGA Asia
The seventh ILGA Asia conference was held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, from December 4th through 8th, 2017. ILGA, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association is the largest worldwide LGBTQIA+ rights association and has members from all over the globe. ILGA activities are organized through six different geographic regions: North America, South America, Europe, Pan Africa, Asia, and Oceania.
More than 350 individuals from more than 48 countries joined the 2017 ILGA Asia Conference to debate and discuss various subjects. Pre-conferences on the topics of bisexual, intersex, interfaith, trans, United Nations advocacy, and LBT Women were held during the two days prior to the conference. Some of these spaces were closed events. For example, intersex pre-conference participants had to self-identify as intersex, while the bi pre-conference was open to everyone.
The bi pre-conference was the first in ILGA Asia history and welcomed more than 50 individuals. Candy Yun from the Korea Sexual Minority Culture and Rights Center and Soudeh Rad from the Iranian Dojensgara co-hosted the event. During the first half day, participants introduced themselves, talked about the situation for bi+ individuals in their respective countries, and shared their definition of bisexuality. Hearing the variety of definitions given by people from Nepal, Bhutan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, Lebanon, China, Hong Kong, etc. was interesting and revealing. There was no clear consensus on the definition of bisexuality. Most participants were wondering if they would be considered bisexual and many were there to find their own answers to questions such as: “Is this my label?”; “Do I have the right to identify as bi?”; “I am a lesbian woman, but I have a child—am I bi?”
Some of the participants in the Bi Pre-Conference
Thus, facilitators Candy and Soudeh decided to change their plans in favor of more discussion about the layers of identity, behavior, fantasy, orientation, and fluidity to help find a definition that could satisfy all participants. Not surprisingly, everyone seemed to be happy with Robyn Ochs’ definition: “I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge in myself the potential to be attracted romantically and/or sexually to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.”
After lunch, more people joined the bi pre-conference. Almost every participant invited someone else to join.
During the afternoon session, Robyn Ochs’ “Beyond Binaries” program, facilitated by Candy and Soudeh, moved the the people in the conference room, melted hearts, and put smiles on faces. It also brought tears to some eyes, as some attendees felt lots of pain answering the survey questions. This discomfort did not last, though, and the explanations, conversations, and support of hosts and participants created a safe and judgment-free space. Some participants realized how they have been denying their desires or identities because of discrimination.
In this happy, friendly ambience, hosts facilitated a brainstorming session outlining the first bi-pre-conference statement, which was then approved by participants to be read during the closing ceremony. The organizers consider the pre-conference a success because of compliments from participants and questions about bi+ issues that came up during the rest of the conference.
A statement issued from this group follows on the next page.
Soudeh Rad is a queer, feminist, bisexual, Iranian immigrant, who arrived in Europe 27 years ago and has been living France for 18 years. Among other things, Soudeh Rad serves on the board of ILGA Europe, and co-curates BWQ’s “Research Corner.”