As we work to address anti-LGBTQ bias and discrimination in the health care system, it’s imperative to understand the specific needs of people who identify as bisexual — or bi+, an umbrella term that also includes queer, pansexual or fluid identities.
Even after 42 years identifying as bisexual, coming out as bi remains a difficult experience for international speaker Robyn Ochs.
“I am part of a community that faces serious health disparities,” Ochs, who is also the editor of Bi Women Quarterly and of two anthologies, told Equality. “To this day, I fear that when I come out to them as bi, people will see me differently, that they will perceive me in a negative light and that their stereotypes about my bisexuality will become the only thing they see and an obstacle to our interactions.”
Experiences among bi+ people in health care settings remain rarely discussed by community organizers, medical professionals and researchers, but activists like Ochs and Lauren Beach are working to change that.
“The biggest challenge to researching bi+ health issues is simple: biphobia,” Beach, an LGBTQIA health researcher at Northwestern University and a co-founder of the Chicago Bisexual Health Task Force, told Equality. “That answer, of course, begs the question, ‘How does biphobia present a challenge to bi+ health research?’”
As March marks Bisexual Health Awareness Month, Beach said that it is important to address the biphobia that contributes to the health disparities bi+ people experience.
“Biphobia leads people to think that bisexual people either don’t exist or that bisexual populations do not experience health disparities,” Beach said.
HRC Foundation's own research shows that bi+ people face striking rates of poor health outcomes ranging from cancer and obesity, to sexually transmitted infections to mental health problems.
Moreover, transgender people and people of color comprise large portions of the bisexual community, making these groups vulnerable to further disparities that occur at the intersections of biphobia, racism and transphobia.
“Until very recently, reporting on disparities in risk behaviors and health outcomes for LGBTQ people either bundled bi-identified people in with lesbian and gay people or it excluded bi-identified people from reports,” Ochs said. “But now we have evidence and it is clear there is great need, and much that needs to be done.”
For Beach, it's imperative that advocates realize that bisexual people are everywhere and that the "beautiful diversity of who we are" is visible in media and beyond.
“Intersectionality isn’t optional in these pursuits,” Beach said. “Intersectionality is the reality. Bi+ people and community organizations need allies to help us gain the support that is needed to broadcast these realities to each other and to the world.”
Beach said that building a supportive, inclusive community is one of the most important ways to address biphobia and start to chip away at the stigma bisexual people face both inside and outside the LGBTQ community.
“If someone says they are bisexual, they are bisexual,” Beach said. “Being a true ally to bisexual people means that you should be ready to push back against biphobia, not only from straight people, but also from gay, lesbian and other LGBTQ people.”
To learn more about health disparities bi+ people experience, visit hrc.org/bisexual.
This article first appeared in HRC’s Equality magazine. View the latest issue at hrc.org/magazine.