Post submitted by Beth Sherouse, former ACLS Public Fellow, HRC Senior Content Manager

On Tuesday evening, HRC convened a panel of bisexual activists, youth and youth-serving professionals to discuss the findings of the HRC Foundation’s report Supporting and Caring for Our Bisexual Youth. Released in partnership with BiNet USA, the Bisexual Resource Center and Bisexual Organizing Project, the report details findings from a 2012 survey of 10,000+ LGBT youth – nearly 40% of whom identified as bisexual.

The evening began with welcoming remarks from Ellyn Ruthstrom of the Bisexual Research Center and Faith Cheltenham from BiNet USA. The panel was moderated by HRC’s Ellen Kahn and brought the report findings to life while exploring what we all can be doing – professionals, parents and friends – to better support bisexual youth.

Youth panelist Katy Butler explained the reaction she encountered from friends within the lesbian and gay community when she began dating a male, including being told that bisexuality “isn’t real”:

“They weren’t exactly the most understanding. […] Hearing that from someone inside the LGBT community was really hard. That was the community that I felt like I belonged to, and these people were telling me that I didn’t belong there.”

Bisexual activist and scholar Dr. Herukhuti explained the negative impact that this pressure to either identify as gay or straight has on bisexual youth:

“It means that your love, your desire, your body, is a battlefield, and a war zone, waged by these two opposing forces: heterosexism and homonormativity. And it is exhausting to be that battlefield; it is dehumanizing.”

Ari Pomerantz, a young transgender activist spoke about the compounded struggle of being both bisexual and transgender. He explained that in the past, transgender people had to deny any attraction to members of the gender to which they were transitioning in order to get access to hormones. “I get a lot of pushback from elders,” because of this history, Pomerantz explained.  He also recalled “issues accessing healthcare, under the assumption that as a trans man I would only be sleeping with women” and that a first step for all of us is to not “make assumptions about someone’s sexuality.”

Bisexual writer and activist Amy André – who was one of the youth report’s coauthors – discussed how coming out is especially difficult for female bi youth because of stigma surrounding bisexuality. “For a lot of these young women, being in the closet is the way to stay safe,” she explained, from sexual harassment, bullying, and even assault based on their bi identities. André stressed the connection between the harassment these youth experience and the disproportionate rates of domestic and sexual violence experienced by bisexual adults.

Panelists also discussed the limitations of certain messages aimed at LGBT youth and their allies. “It Gets Better,” and “Born This Way,” are examples of messages that might help some LGBT youth, but they can be harmful to youth with more fluid gender identities and sexual orientations. SMYAL’s Anika Warner explained, “Youth are being sold versions of their own lives that they don’t believe in, but they think that is imperative to adhere” and “make their identities match up” to these slogans.

Much like the report, the panel discussion ended with a turn toward the question of how to become better allies to bisexual youth. Dr. Herukhuti suggested that lesbian and gay allies can “interrupt the biphobia and the bi erasure that exist among fellow gays and lesbians,” and make sure that bisexual people are represented in LGBT spaces and conversations. 

It is clear from the panel discussion and the report that there is a need for further conversations about how parents, educators, allies, and the broader LGBT community can support and care for bisexual youth.

Filed under: Bisexual, Coming Out, Community

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