By Shauna Brock
In September of 2005, I crawled home to lick my wounds and start over after life had crashed and burned in North Carolina. Reeling, all I wanted was community. Anything to make being back in Salt Lake City a little bit easier.
About a week after throwing my suitcases on the bed, before all of my boxes had arrived, I took a seat in a town hall being held by the Utah Pride Center’s staff and the mayor of Salt Lake. During a breakout session, my sibling and I asked if there was a bi-focused community at the center. The adult programs director grinned and said, “You’re volunteered.”
We took her seriously.
Within a week we’d scheduled a meeting with staff. We sat together in the multipurpose room, which was really a large garage with carpeting, and were cautioned that bi groups had trouble because leadership always got burned out. Having come out in Austin, where in 1998 the bi community was rocking hard, I couldn’t imagine what that could mean. Burning out? Never. (Newsflash: I did.) Determined to make us be the group that stuck, the process began. We were encouraged to try, and fail, and see what happened. Six people attended our first official meeting in November of 2005. We decided on a monthly peer support group and a monthly social gathering. Our name? The 1 to 5 Club, in honor of bisexual sex researcher Alfred Kinsey.
Side note: people ask me if I regret the name of the group, especially as research moves away from Kinsey’s work, and fewer people know him. I don’t. We tried Bi-Utah for a while, and it never felt right. Kinsey’s scale isn’t perfect, but because of him, we have a place to start.
Back to the story.
Truth is, despite allies on staff, it was a chilly welcome. The executive director questioned us, we were left off calendars, rooms and meeting times were often moved around for other groups. I even had to weather consternation online. I’ll never forget a conversation in a LiveJournal forum where the moderator didn’t believe we existed because we were in Utah. But we pushed on. The Pride Center was going to be our home base. My mule-like stubbornness paid off.
Stepping beyond our meetings, which grew quickly to coffee and brunch and meeting at the Pride Center twice a month, our first huge push was Bisexual Awareness Month in 2007. For a lot of reasons at the time, we decided on January before eventually moving our celebrations to line up with Bi Awareness Day in September. For years, we’d thrown around the idea of a conference, and eventually it came true. Queer Continuum is now in its sixth year.
By that time, I’d also realized there was a need for sustainability in leadership. I couldn’t do it all myself. No one can. As people who attended became regulars, I asked them to help. Imagine my surprise and relief when they said YES. But, suddenly, I wasn’t a group moderator. Suddenly, I was a leader, and that was a learning curve. The nasty secret is that it’s one thing to walk into a room, put on a huge smile, and lead a group. It’s another to sit at a table and listen, truly listen, to the needs of your community. The questions came: about the name of the group, the times we met, the people we were reaching out to, the way that I often took on too much rather than trusting my team to get things done. What I learned is the best way to lead your community is to create a space for others to stand up, own their skills, and do what they do best. Leadership is about support, and it’s about mistakes.
Mistakes were made. Big ones. I was often not proactive enough on issues related to accessibility, or the needs of our queer family of color. This was even an issue under our own Bi+ umbrella. It took a long time to fully integrate our ace and aro members into conversations. It was only a couple of years ago that we found space and capacity for an ace-focused group. Initially, I pushed back on the idea. I was worried the proposed moderator was taking on too much. The group held firm, saying that we’d been putting groups like this on hold for far too long. They were right. The first meetup was scheduled for later that month and was incredibly successful.
Also, sometimes, in our zeal to speak out and see change, action we took was short-sighted and poorly thought out. But it always forced important conversations with community leaders. In these moments, I learned that I’m not as confrontational as people seem to think I am, but I also learned how to stand up for my team.
The Pride Center staff was right, by the way. I did get burned out. After fourteen years, I finally hit a wall that I am still peeling myself off of. Following Pride in 2019—right when the Pride Center was finally, openly cheering their bisexual and pansexual staff members and right as I was being told that Pride 2020 was going to have more bi-focused programming— I walked into our weekly sustainability team meeting and quit. Tears in my eyes, I explained that I couldn’t do it anymore, but it was okay because the team at the table were leaders and I was proud to leave the group in their hands.
I’m still involved. I help with coffee, brunch, and the 5th Monday creative group. I’ll volunteer at Pride, I maintain conversations with the team at BiNet, and I’m working on a proposal with an art gallery for a show in 2021. But I’m not on the planning team. It’s not my role anymore. Walking away was hard, and in many ways traumatic, but I could do it because the community was there, and strong, and ready to take things to places I can’t even imagine.
The true measure of success for me, though, came a couple of years ago. I was sitting in the 5th Monday Fluidly Creative group. During introductions, one of the questions was, “What brought you here tonight?” One participant who hadn’t come with anything to work on shrugged, grinned, and said, “It’s Monday. It’s 1 to 5 night.”
Keep showing up. They will too.
Shauna Brock (she/her) is an award-winning writer who grew up in organizing spaces and art galleries. A bisexual, polyam dyke, she co-founded Utah’s 1 to 5 Club in 2005, giving Bi+ identified individuals a safe space in Utah. In 2019, the Utah Pride Center and the 1 to 5 Club presented her with the Shauna Brock Bi+ Community Unicorn Award for her years of service to the community. She lives in Salt Lake City with her partner and their three fur-kids.