This guide from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation, the educational arm of the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, is intended to serve as a primer, a starting point for reporters committed to telling the stories of bisexual (and similar identities including pansexual, sexually fluid and queer) people accurately and humanely, from appropriate word usage to context that reflects the reality of their lived experiences.
Writing about bisexual people, including those making the very personal decision to speak about the unique discrimination they face, can be challenging for reporters unfamiliar with the LGBTQ+ community and, in particular, the bisexual community.
Here’s our list of the top five things reporters covering bisexual people should know:
Number One: Understand what “biphobia,” “bisexual,” “pansexual” and “queer” mean.
Biphobia is prejudice, fear or hatred directed toward bisexual people. A bisexual person is someone who is emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to more than one sex, gender or gender identity, though not necessarily simultaneously, in the same way or to the same degree. Pansexual describes someone who has the potential for emotional, romantic or sexual attraction to people of any gender though not necessarily simultaneously, in the same way or to the same degree. Queer is a term people often use to express fluid identities and orientations. Note that these identities all include attraction to transgender, cisgender (non-transgender) and non-binary people.
Note: Individuals may also describe their sexual orientation with other terms or identifiers; whenever possible, we recommend deferring to how they personally choose to identify. If this includes lesser-known terminology, you may consider the use of clarifying language to respectfully denote their identity.
Number Two: Know the difference between “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” and “gender expression.”
Sexual orientation refers to emotional, romantic, sexual or relational attraction to another person, whether they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, straight or use another word to accurately describe their identity. Refrain from using “sexual preference,” “lifestyle,” “homosexuality” or “heterosexuality.”
Gender identity is one’s internal concept of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither. It includes how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One’s gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth.
Gender expression refers to the external appearance of one's gender identity, usually expressed through behavior, clothing, haircut or voice and which may or may not conform to socially-defined behaviors and characteristics typically associated with being either masculine or feminine.
Number Three: Respect bisexual people by using AP Style recommendations.
The AP Stylebook recommends using “LGBT” or “LGBTQ” when referring to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning and/or queer. The phrase “gay and transgender” is not an acceptable reference to this community, as it excludes bisexual people.
Number Four: Be aware of the reality faced by many bisexual people in the United States and how that can inform the context of your story.
According to the Williams Institute and HRC Foundation's own research, studies suggest that about 50 percent of people who identify as either gay, lesbian or bisexual, identify as bisexual. This makes the bisexual population the single largest group within the LGBTQ community.
Despite this, bisexual people are often excluded or rendered invisible in LGBTQ+ spaces and conversations about LGBTQ+ issues. Bisexual people are sometimes assumed to be straight or gay based on the gender of the person they are in a relationship with. In addition, many negative stereotypes inaccurately paint bisexual people as unfaithful or promiscuous.
Because of biphobia and bisexual erasure, bisexual people suffer significantly higher rates of depression and anxiety, domestic violence, sexual assault and poverty than lesbians, gay men or straight cisgender people. Bisexual people also face major health disparities and poor health care outcomes from a lack of adequate preventative care. HRC Foundation’s study of bisexual youth suggests that biphobia and sexual harassment start affecting bisexual people from a young age.
Number Five: Focus on the whole person.
Focusing solely on a person’s sexual orientation can make people feel like a specimen, which can erase a person’s humanity. Put the person at the center of your story, in the context of family, friends and daily life. While celebrities are helping increase awareness, there have been bisexual people living openly for a very long time, as well as advocates and everyday people working to change hearts and minds in their communities, in government, in workplaces and in all facets of society.
The Human Rights Campaign reports on news, events and resources of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation that are of interest to the general public and further our common mission to support the LGBTQ+ community.