"I've identified as bisexual since I was 13, so for me bisexuality has been a 40-year 'phase,'" jokes Lou Hoffman, who has been a bi activist since the '80s. "I'm married to another bisexual, and our twin kids identify as straight, so I guess it's not catching."
Lou and I have been chatting about the upcoming BECAUSE conference, which takes place in Minneapolis April 20 to 22 and is put on by the Bisexual Organizing Project (BOP), a local nonprofit. Now in its 20th year, BECAUSE stands for Bisexual Empower Conference: A Uniting, Supportive Experience, and it draws attendees from all over the U.S. (Full disclosure: I'm one of the presenters this year.)
Lauren Beach, another BECAUSE organizer, is a law student at the University of Minnesota; she's also a Ph.D. candidate in biology and an HIV researcher. In addition, she serves on the boards of four nonprofits, including BOP.
Victor Raymond, Ph.D., one of the founders of BECAUSE, joined our conversation to give me the inside scoop on where BECAUSE has been, where it is now, and where it's going. Victor has been a lecturer at Iowa State University (ISU) and Des Moines Area Community College. In the past, he has been a member of the ISU LGBT Student Services Advisory Board.
Here are the highlights from our conversation:
Amy Andre: Tell me about the history of BECAUSE. Let's start at the beginning. What inspired its founding?
Victor Raymond, Ph.D.: There were a bunch of us doing bi activism in the Twin Cities at the time, and there was clearly a sense of "critical mass" in the air. A lot of what motivated us was a sense of the need to find other bisexuals. There was tremendous social stigma attached to being bisexual within the lesbian and gay community, and yet in Minnesota we had developed a growing, sometimes struggling, but often vibrant little bisexual community. The notion of holding a conference was seen as a way to build visibility for bi people and to help bi people support one another.
Lou Hoffman: The first BECAUSE was in February 1992. As of the night before the conference, we had only a dozen people preregistered, eight of them being the planning committee! Friday night, we had over 120 people crowding into a room meant for 100 to listen to Lani Kaahumanu talk about bisexuality and the book she co-edited with Loraine Hutchins, Bi Any Other Name. By Saturday night we went from saying "If we do this again..." to "when we do this again...." It was a rush!
Lauren Beach: I have always heard that the event that inspired the creation of BECAUSE was the completion of the needs assessment on bisexuality that was conducted in the Twin Cities in 1991. The needs reported were "more social activities, political action, and resource development." Specifically, bisexuals reported that "having bisexual conferences, seminars, celebrations, and parades" would help fulfill this need.
Raymond: We had no idea what to expect for the first conference. Lou is correct in noting that we had practically no preregistration. The handful of people who signed up ahead of time left us feeling like maybe we were more alone than we had thought -- until people kept coming up to register the morning of the conference. I remember telling Lou's partner that if we hit 100 registrations, I would be elated -- and I think we got that number before noon.
Andre: What will make this year's conference unique?
Hoffman: We are bringing back seven of our prior keynote speakers, so that's going to be exciting! We are also continuing our "mini-speakers," where local activists get five minutes to address the community.
Andre: What is your role in making BECAUSE happen? How long have you been doing that?
Beach: In 2008 I attended my first BECAUSE. The general atmosphere of support and acceptance I found inspired me to get involved with organizing the next BECAUSE, as well as to get on the board of BOP. So, in 2009, I raised nearly all the money for the conference through grant writing, sponsorships, advertising, and individual donations; helped bring in Robyn Ochs to keynote; and promoted the conference. In 2009 we had the most well-attended and well-funded BECAUSE in history. In 2010 I was so inspired by the success of the 2009 conference, and the positive and powerful impacts I saw both BOP and BECAUSE having on bisexual people's lives, I successfully ran for and became the Chairperson of BOP -- a position I held until 2012.
Hoffman: I'm doing programming for this year's BECAUSE. I've done this several times. I've also chaired or co-chaired several times.
Andre: How has BECAUSE changed over the years?
Hoffman: BECAUSE has grown in several ways. Firstly, just in numbers of attendees, we went from 120 up to several hundred. In reputation it's spread from a disregarded local upstart to a well-regarded national [event].
Beach: My personal knowledge of the BECAUSE Conference only extends from 2008. The difference between BECAUSE 2008 and BECAUSE post-2008, however, is striking. In 2008, 80 people attended a conference that was just restarting after a three-year hiatus. The budget of the entire conference was under $4,000. In 2009, in contrast, we had over 300 people in attendance, and our budget had increased 4.5-fold. Since that time, we have been able to sustain the momentum, funding, and publicity of the conference at close to 2009 levels. To me this translates into a high probability that BECAUSE will continue to be sustainably organized and held far into the future.
Andre: Where do you see the future of BECAUSE?
Hoffman: The future of BECAUSE is in the hands of the people who volunteer to run it. It will be different every year because what it is is decided by the people who volunteer to run it. I personally want to see better and more diverse programming every year and an ever-widening outreach to bisexual people of the Midwest and the rest of the country.
Beach: I have a vision that BECAUSE [will] become a "Bisexual Creating Change" conference in scope, in that it would be the quintessential location for bisexual activists from all over the United States and beyond to come and network and learn how to be better activists and advocates for building bisexual community. At the same time, I would want BECAUSE to also to stay true to its grassroots origins and also serve as a starting point for people looking to learn more about bisexuality and/or maybe to come out to themselves or others for the very first time. In terms of funding and location, I envision BECAUSE as eventually having its own dedicated endowment that would ensure the financial health and sustainability of the conference far into the future.