Post submitted by Beth Sherouse, former ACLS Public Fellow, HRC Senior Content Manager
According to the Williams Institute, about half of lesbian, gay or bisexual people identify as bisexual, which makes bisexual people the largest single group within the LGBT community. Yet in my 14 years of LGBT activism as an out bisexual, I could count on one hand the number of openly bisexual people I knew before I connected with the bi advocacy community last year. And like many of my fellow bisexual advocates, I’ve experienced biphobia more often from lesbian and gay people and in LGBT spaces than I have among non-LGBT people.
The Scottish organization, Equality Network, released a report this week detailing the experiences of bisexual people in the UK, showing that bisexuals feel unsupported and unaffirmed both in LGBT spaces and non-LGBT spaces, and that they have difficulty connecting to the bisexual community.
“In many parts of the UK,” the report explains, “there are a lack of local bisexual groups and events because bisexual specific work receives very little funding or mainstream support.”
The report found that:
- 85 percent of respondents only felt “a little” or “not at all” part of a bisexual community.
- 66 percent of respondents only felt “a little” or “not at all” part of the LGBT community.
- 69 percent of respondents only feel “a little” or “not at all” part of a straight community.
- 25 percent of respondents were not usually comfortable sharing their sexual orientation when accessing LGBT-related services.
- Only 33 percent of respondents usually feel comfortable and 28 percent never feel comfortable sharing their sexual orientation with their general practitioner.
- 66 percent of respondents feel that they have to pass as straight and 42 percent feel they need to pass as gay or lesbian when accessing services.
For those of us who identify as bisexual, these findings are sadly not surprising. Even with significant momentum when it comes to visibility of others in the LGBT community, bisexual people are often assumed to be straight or gay based on where we are and whom we are with – and thus our identities are erased and we become invisible even to each other.
Additionally, the report explains, “Some stated that they are misread as straight and therefore are assumed to be part of a straight community [and…] many said that biphobia and bi erasure within their LGBT communities limited their full inclusion.”
In an instance that was emblematic of this bi erasure, bi activist Robyn Ochs – who is arguably the most well-known bisexual advocate in the country – found her 2004 marriage celebrated with the headline, “A Carefully Considered Rush to the Altar: Lesbian Pair Wed After 7 Years Together.”
The responses of bisexual youth to the HRC Foundation’s 2012 LGBT Youth Survey echoed these experiences, expressing sentiments like “I wish that more people inside the gay community itself would support my decision to call myself bisexual. I’m not being selfish. I am not a liar. I am not gay. I am not straight. I am bisexual.”
“As a bisexual,” one youth said, “I feel shunned by the gay and lesbian community.” Another respondent said, “My parents aren’t homophobic, but, when it comes to me, they aren’t accepting at all. They say I can’t be bi. I have to be gay or straight.”
The Equality Network’s report once again proves what bisexual youth and adults already know – that biphobia is real, that it’s rampant both within and outside of the LGBT community, and that it hurts bisexual people in profound ways.