Amy Andre

Professional Bisexual: One of the First Paid Staffers of a Bi Org [Interview]

Filed By Amy Andre | April 22, 2012 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: bisexual activists, Bisexual Resource Center, BRC, Ellyn Ruthstrom, paid organizing, professional activist

Ellyn_Ruthstrom.JPGIn 2011, Ellyn Ruthstrom became the first - and so far, only - regular paid employee of the Bisexual Resource Center (BRC), a Boston-based organization that "has been working for over 25 years to provide support and resources for bi and questioning people, and to raise awareness about bisexuality in the community at large."

As such, Ellyn joined a tiny number of people in the world who have been paid to work at bi organizations. In that regard, we lag far behind gay, lesbian, trans, and LGBT organizations, which have long had paid employees. Does this represent a new trend in the professionalization of the bi movement?

Due to funding running out, Ellyn is no longer a paid employee of the BRC, although she continues to be the president of the organization. In addition, for nine years, she was the editor of Bi Women, the national newsletter of the Boston Bisexual Women's Network.

She's been a political activist on multiple issues for over 30 years. She's also a writer and editor, and her work has been published in The Women's Review of Books, The Bilerico Project, The Huffington Post, The Review Review, and others.

I recently caught up with Ellyn to learn more about the work she does for the BRC, and where she sees the movement heading.

Amy: How did your position come about?

Ellyn: At the start of 2011, the BRC was fortunate to have had several major donors make gifts to the organization at about the same time. The board saw this as a great opportunity to have a paid position for the rest of the year and they hired me as their Administrative Director.

We have been an all-volunteer organization for over 25 years, and have only been able to ever hire a bookkeeper and grant writer on an occasional basis for designated tasks, so this was a big move for us.

Amy: Tell me what you did as a paid employee at BRC.

Ellyn: In that role, I was responsible for the day-to-day activities that keep the organization running efficiently: responding to mail, email, and phone messages; managing the fundraising activities; recruiting and managing volunteers; representing the organization at various local, regional and national events (including three New England Prides, BECAUSE, Creating Change, and Out & Equal Workplace Summit); and coordinating our annual activities such as our Board Retreat, the BRC House Party, and Celebrate Bisexuality Day.

Amy: When, if ever, do you think we'll have more bi-for-pay folks in the movement? And what will it take to make that happen?

Ellyn: I wish I knew. There's a part of me that wishes the few larger bi organizations--BRC, BiNetUSA, [the American Institute of Bisexuality] AIB, [the Bisexual Organizing Project] BOP--would work together more to combine our resources and be able to have staff, but I also recognize that the different groups do different things and it's ok to have multiple groups.

Until we can find more consistent and substantial funding sources, we won't be able to sustain staff. The BRC has built up over time a core group of donors for our work, but we need more people who are able to make a solid yearly commitment in order for us to have enough income to hire someone on a more permanent basis.

Amy: Where do you see the bisexual movement heading?

Ellyn: What I love about the bi community is how diverse we are and the many different ways we live. Unfortunately, that diversity sometimes makes it more difficult to pull people together under one umbrella. Plus, you cannot underestimate the power of biphobia in our culture that keeps people from wanting to openly connect and support our organizations.

I also don't think we will make headway until the greater lesbian and gay community really becomes more open and affirming of bisexual people and until they include us in more visible ways within the national organizations. All of the major LGBT organizations have some sort of transgender project or a special office dedicated to transgender issues. We deserve and need that sort of investment within these organizations as well. Bisexual people are members and donors of those organizations and our financial support should be used on our issues as part of the whole LGBT community's mission.

Amy: What is or was your favorite thing about being a professional bisexual?

Ellyn: My favorite thing has been representing the BRC in more places than we usually have time to attend. It's really important to be visible within the greater LGBT community so I took every opportunity I could to participate on panels, student fairs, conference workshops - anything that got the BRC name mentioned and a bi perspective represented. Being present at these tables is so important and having paid staff enables an organization to participate in the community in a much more involved way.

img src Ellyn Ruthstrom

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