Surround me with a few hundred bisexuals for a whole weekend, and I relax like I haven’t in a long time, feeling empowered and supported. Even after all these years as an out bisexual, being with so many bi comrades who understand our unique challenges and care about our community is still a rare experience. But if Keynoter ABilly Jones-Hennin hadn’t launched a full-on campaign to convince me to go with him, I would have missed out on this inspiring gathering of my peers.
The last time I attended BECAUSE (Bisexual Empowerment Conference: A Uniting, Supportive Experience) was soon after the 1991 publication of “Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out,” the bi anthology Lani Ka’ahumanu and I co-edited, which includes ABilly’s coming out story. The love, respect and understanding I received at BECAUSE, both then and this year, were profoundly encouraging. The stigma that’s all too often projected onto bisexuals takes a disheartening toll. This is all the more reason why the Bisexual Organizing Project’s annual gathering is such a treasure.
BECAUSE 2014 was held on June 6-9, at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. The conference featured presentations on media representations of bisexuality; health care; the state of the bi movement, intersecting identities; bi visibility; sexual violence; aging; bi arts and literature; and the publishing industry. There were workshops, panels, plenary sessions, a theater performance, various social activities, even a bi items gift shop. I met young filmmakers, playwrights, bloggers, rappers, student activists, elder caregivers, parents, teachers, scientists, artists, secretaries, and cashiers—all kinds of bi and bi-friendly human beings.
ABilly is among the elder vanguard of the LGBT movement in the United States, and he had much wisdom to share in his keynote address. He is someone who can organize a bathroom line at a crowded movie theater, a line of non-violent resisters at a demonstration, or a rope line at the White House with equal aplomb. Originally from Antigua, West Indies, this month he will celebrate a 36-year, same-gender-loving relationship with his bi partner, Christopher Hennin.
Among his many accomplishments, my longtime friend co-founded Gay Married Men (GAMMA), the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays (NCBLG), and several other gay and human service organizations. In the late 70s, he helped mobilize the first national March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights, convened the first conference of Third World Lesbians and Gays at Howard University, and led the first African-American gay delegation to the White House. His recent essay about himself and his father will be published this fall in “RECOGNIZE,” a new anthology on bi men.
The merry twinkle in ABilly’s eyes first caught my attention at the Washington DC Runaway House when he walked into our tiny basement office in Dupont Circle to interview for a youth counselor position in the mid-70s. His experience as a devoted father and a compassionate human rights activist were just what our young clients needed. He eventually became director of the program. Since that time, we’ve been serving our communities and instigating political action together for almost 40 years, inspiring and mentoring each other along the way.
This year, I was honored to introduce ABilly to the conference attendees, most of whom were meeting him for the first time. Who better to epitomize BECAUSE values? This 72-year-old great granddad exemplifies loyalty and caring, inspiring many by his brave and steadfast love for his partner and their blended, inter-connected family. He’s a quietly persistent instigator who sticks up for seniors, homeless people, prisoners, refugees and workers. ABilly’s big arms embrace us all. He makes everyone feel like family. Just because.