“There was this idea that bisexuality was gay-lite”: Jen Yockney On Her Years As A Bisexual Activist

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By Ben Thompson

Manchester Metropolitan University’s The Home Festival welcomed long-time activist Jen Yockney to speak to students about her years campaigning on behalf of the bisexual community, and the problems bisexuals face.

Yockney’s guest lecture covered a long swath of the gay rights movement, with most of it centred around the movement in the UK. Remarking on the public perception that the gay rights movement, which began with the Stonewall Riots in 1969, Yockney questioned: “Do we have to let Hollywood and America rewrite all our histories?”

Yockey has a long running career fighting for the bisexual community and was awarded a MBE for Services to the Bisexual Community in 2016. She was also at the forefront of ‘The Bisexuality Report’ in 2012, notably the first to exclusively look at the problems that afflicted the bisexual community.

This report was borne out of Yockney’s frustration with the government blatantly ignoring issues as they related to bisexuality. The government’s LGBT Action Plan of the previous year had dedicated pages to tackling homophobia and transphobia but lacked mention of biphobia.

Yockney emphasised the work of other members in the LGBT community in their efforts to make things easier for their bisexual counterparts.

One of the most important things allies can do, in Yockney’s view, is to argue against biphobia. “Other people doing your speeches for you, so to speak, is an enormous relief,” she added.

Yockney also made a point to remind the audience that somebody’s sexuality isn’t to doubted. She said, “When we tell you we’re bisexual, believe us.”

Yockney also reflected on the positive steps taken towards full inclusion of the bisexual community. Though she lamented the all-too common portrayal of bisexuals on soap operas as the foil to happy couples who “seduces one of them, ruins everything and is written out three months later”, Yockney did praise the progress with which bisexual characters have evolved on television.

Particularly noteworthy were current shows such as Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Good Place, most notably because their bisexual characters never have to do a big “coming out speech”.

Yockney went on to take the audience through the history of bisexual community, who were largely left to their own struggles. When asked whether she thought things had improved, she replied: “A bit. Not quite enough”.

Despite all the technology that has created networks for bi people and the legislation that has come along to fight prejudice, Yockney still emphasises the importance of bisexuals having a sense of community.

“Pixels are lovely, online forums are lovely, but people are so much more tangible. After 35 years of bisexual spaces in the UK, I still think creating bi space in the gay-straight world is just as important as ever.”

Yockney’s visit was the latest in a series of talks organised by The Home Festival, who are seeking to expand students’ understanding of Manchester by welcoming diverse speakers and encouraging students to engage with Manchester’s rich and diverse culture and history.

For more information about upcoming events visit The Home Festival website.

About the author / 

Ben Thompson

Modern History student. Mostly writes about politics and social issues.

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