celebrates 25 years
by Heather Cassell
The world was a very different place a quarter century ago. AIDS was decimating the gay and bisexual men's community while bi women and lesbians cared for their brothers. At the same time the bi community was under attack, being scapegoated as the carriers of HIV/AIDS to the straight community.
The Bay Area Bisexual Network was launched in 1987 to combat the negative image and misconceptions about bisexual people and to create community and a movement locally.
To celebrate its silver anniversary, BABN kicks off a series of events at the GLBT History Museum on Friday, November 16
Bi authors Betty Blue (better known by her pen name Jane Kindred) and award-winning poet Jan Steckel will read from their popular works.
"It's important to let people in the bi community know that there is fiction out there that is geared toward them as well as trans people," said Blue, 46, who has made a lot of friends through BABN during the past 15 years.
"I'm very excited about the celebration," said Steckel, 50, who will read from her Lambda Literary award-winning book of poetry, Horizontal Poet.
BABN, a 25-year-old all-volunteer organization, is also seeing a new generation of leaders taking the reins.
A quarter of a century later, Lani Ka'ahumanu, who co-founded BABN with Ann Justi and Maggi Rubenstein, Ph.D., said she feels proud that the organization remains strong.
"It's still not easy coming out with bisexual people, there is still so much misinformation out there that work still continues and BABN still provides a solid foundation to counter that," said Ka'ahumanu five years ago when BABN hit the 20-year mark. It remains true today.
"The longevity of the Bay Area Bisexual Network ... just shows that bisexuals do have a community. We have a movement," said Ka'ahumanu.
BABN currently operates on about $5,000 that was raised at its 20th anniversary. The money funds general operations and a presence at events, such as San Francisco Pride, said Martin Rawlings-Fein, a core organizing member of BABN.
Birth of a movement
BABN was founded in 1987 after the historic March on Washington for gay and lesbian rights. The Boston Bisexual Women's Network organized a national contingent of bisexuals for the March on Washington. They marched alongside gays and lesbians, pushing back against the backlash against the bisexual community and against accusations from the gay and lesbian and straight communities that bisexuals helped spread the AIDS epidemic.
AIDS and the climate for bisexual people, in particular bisexual men, in the late 1980s was hostile, said Ka'ahumanu, noting that it is only a little bit easier to be openly bisexual today.
Justi and Rubenstein attended a conference hosted by the East Coast Bisexual Network in New York City around the same time.
Fueled by biphobia and the toll the AIDS epidemic was taking on the LGBT community, there was no place for bisexuals to turn to for support or to educate the broader community about bisexuality.
The Bisexual Center of San Francisco closed its doors in 1985 after nearly a decade of providing services to the community.
To fill the void – and to stop the growing misunderstanding about bisexuality and bisexuals – BABN was launched in 1987.
BABN quickly grew into an educational network that hosted a speaker's bureau, retreats, festival booths and parade contingents, monthly cultural and education forums, and a newsletter that became the first national bisexual magazine, Anything That Moves. BABN became the umbrella organization that spun off a political arm, BiPOL, the bisexual political group founded in 1983, and a social arm, Bi Friendly, the bisexual social group founded in 1988, Ka'ahumanu said.
In 1990, the first national bisexual conference welcomed more than 400 bisexual individuals representing 20 states and five countries during Pride Week in San Francisco. The conference was organized by members of BiPOL.
Other members continued the momentum in the 1990s creating change for the bisexual community.
As board members of the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee, at the time known as the Gay and Lesbian Freedom Day Parade, bisexual leaders Matthew L. Le Grant and Bill Beasley successfully had the organization's name changed to include bisexual and transgender in 1994.
Le Grant was co-chair of BABN from 1987 to 1997. Beasley was a BABN organizer.
Anything That Moves was founded by Karla Rossi in 1991. Rossi, 56, was the managing editor of the editorial collective until 1993. The magazine, which folded in 2002, addressed a variety of bi-related issues from spirituality to health care to community news, and included bisexual themed fiction and poetry.
As the Internet burst onto the scene, BABN created its web presence in 2000 with two active listserves – one for events and the other social – that has grown to more than 800 members today. The listserves are vibrantly active today, the website is gaining a new life, and BABN has a Facebook group with 114 members.
BABN members also participate in local festivals, such as the Folsom Street Fair, and the San Francisco LGBT Pride Parade.
A core group of about five bisexual leaders, including Rawlings-Fein, a 35-year-old bisexual trans man, are re-energizing the BABN and giving the organization a fresh new look for a new generation.
Older bi leaders, such as Ka'ahumanu, are lending their expertise in advisory roles as the new generation takes the lead.
"This is something worth maintaining," said Rawlings-Fein, who has co-led the bi brunches for the past seven years with his wife, Shelli Rawlings-Fein. He joined the BABN leadership six months ago. "It's important that we have a space to be ourselves and not have it dictated to us."
The BABN 25th anniversary kick-off, from 7 to 9 p.m. on November 16, is free to the public. Donations to the GLBT Historical Society are welcome. For more information about BABN, visit http://www.babn.org or contact Martin Rawlings-Fein at firstname.lastname@example.org.