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The cost of community

Organizers say 9ICB well worth the price of admission

Local queers are balking at the cost of the upcoming Ninth International Conference On Bisexuality, Gender And Sexual Diversity (9ICB) that hits town the weekend before Toronto Pride. But organizers say it’ll be worth the fee — $100 until Sat, Apr 15 when it rockets to $150.

“It’s like coming home for many people — being somewhere surrounded by people that don’t require education about your relationship structures and won’t judge you for them,” says Dana Shaw, chair of the committee organizing the conference.

Organizers stress that no one’s making money off the weekend-long event, which will include workshops, community fair, marketplace, a Friday night dinner and dance, and opening and closing ceremonies.

“Our venue cost is just about $8,000. If we’re lucky enough to have over 150 people, that cost is covered,” says Shaw.

“But we can’t just provide space. We also have to provide workshops, registration materials, program guides, promotion of the event, signage, entertainment, airfare and accommodation expenses for keynotes, other printing, mailing and promotional costs, the cost of having a website, etc.”

Outreach coordinator Stephen Harvey has attended two other international bi conferences — the eighth in Minneapolis in 2004 and the fifth in Boston in 1998, an event that drew more than 900 people.

“It was so powerful and liberating to be in a space with so many people like me,” says Harvey. “I found out that others from Toronto also noticed a difference, a new spirit, and brought it back to Toronto.”

In Boston the early bird rate was $25; Harvard sponsored the event so there weren’t any venue costs.

Shaw says the 9ICB venue, Ryerson University, declined to sponsor 9ICB. “We asked but the university policy is not to sponsor conferences being held in their facility.”

“The Ryerson venue is expensive to rent,” agrees 9ICB programming coordinator Margaret Robinson. “We needed one that had housing, classrooms, a social space and somewhere to eat. There is a real limited pool of free meeting space available in Toronto, especially the week before Pride.”

Other university facilities were considered for the conference, but with a downtown location and centralized booking system Ryerson had the edge over York and U of T.

“It’s also important that Ryerson has its buildings close to one another. If a conference is too spread out you never really build up a sense of queer space. If we’re going to make some bi space we need to have people gathering in the same places on a regular basis.

“Ryerson is close to the gay village,” adds Robinson. “A lot of people will be coming from out of town — other cities, other countries, other continents. We want them to be able to explore queer Toronto. They can walk to Church and Wellesley. They can streetcar to Queen West. It’s a good base from which to explore the city.”

To put the conference cost in context: the Mr Leatherman Toronto weekend pass costs $120. The weekend focusses on the titleholder contest and a large dance that takes place off site; tickets for the dance alone sell for $45.

Shaw is also one of the organizers for the upcoming TO Kink weekend, which takes over Toronto’s Holiday Inn On King from Fri, Apr 28 to 30. The cost for that weekend is also $150, and the event includes play parties for registered participants.

Harvey says events like 9ICB help to revitalize local and international bi activism.

“It’s a chance to get energized by the work people are doing worldwide,” says Harvey. “It’s an opportunity to share information, tools and stories to help each other in their work. It’s a celebration of everything we are and can become.”