It may only be February, but bi activists up and down the country are already planning their activities for Bi Visibility Day 2017, and getting our flag raised is on most of their agendas. But how do they do it?
After successfully hoisting the bisexual flag over Oxford in 2016, Stephanie talks us through the steps.
This is a photo of the Bi flag flying proudly over Oxford Town Hall for the first time on Bisexual Visibility Day 2016. Since I began lobbying councillors and senior staff to make this happen I have acquired a detailed and unprecedented knowledge of flag flying protocol at Oxford City Council, (OCC). Not every council is the same, but most are at least similar. Here’s my handy ‘how to’ guide should any other bi activists feel inspired to give it a go.
I first had the idea to do this in September 2014 when bringing in cakes and rainbow pencils didn’t seem a big enough way for me to celebrate bi visibility day in my workplace. In a flurry of activity in late summer of 2015 I was told that 6 weeks’ notice was needed under the flag flying protocol. I was out of time for that year. After the Orlando shootings in June 2016 I restarted my campaign with renewed fervour.
As an employee I had easy access to OCC procedures and personnel via the staff version of the website and my work email account. That being said, the majority of councils can be ‘cracked’ by a motivated outsider via the internet and a series of scatter-shot emails or phone calls (it’s true, that’s how us mere mortals managed it – ed.).
Be tenacious – I initially contacted the wrong person, but I got there in the end. For my venture I needed two serving councillors to support the proposal and agreement at committee level. At first this seemed insurmountable, but I finally achieved this with a little help from the ‘right’ person: a sympathetic and efficient colleague.
OCC already flew the rainbow pride flag in June every year. Abingdon, our neighbouring town, had refused to do even this in 2016. This may have been a factor when OCC agreed to fly the Bi flag. County Councils, Oxbridge colleges, adjacent cities, London Boroughs or even hospitals may profitably be reminded of what other comparable organisations are doing or not doing. None of them want to seem old-fashioned or uncaring.
Bisexuals suffer with worse mental health and be more at risk of domestic abuse than the general public. Biphobia and bi erasure are real issues for our community and I believe that increased visibility is the best way to tackle them. It may just be a flag but it could also be the start of countless significant conversations. You could improve the life choices and chances of people you will never meet through this small piece of activism.
Be proud of your achievement. Share it on social media, talk to the press if you can and publicise it as widely as you feel comfortable with. Organise a flash mob, take photos, have a celebratory lunch. Delegate media interviews if you can’t do them yourself: I roped in a friend-of-a-friend to handle some publicity and one of our councillors proved himself to be an outstanding ally when interviewed on local radio about bi visibility.
Although I was ecstatic when I first saw the flag, my reaction was tinged with the thought, ‘I should have asked them to buy a bigger flag’. It was a great day anyway but definitely think big; a standard 6’ x 4’ flag looks tiny above a very large building. Guard against these sorts of niggles and even if things don’t seem perfect try to enjoy your moment.
Do it next year too or see if your organisation will agree to an ongoing arrangement. OCC will want a fresh request, with all the same hoops to jump through, every time someone asks for a flag to be flown.
…And finally, good luck!