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Bi Activists in the White House (Part 2)

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Last week I wrote about a group of bi activists who were getting ready to attend President Obama's annual LGBT Pride Reception, which took place Friday, June 15. This week I followed up with them to learn how the experience went. As last time, I talked with Lauren Beach, Emily Drennen, Lindasusan Ulrich, and Chiquita Violette.

I also got to catch up with someone who wasn't featured last week, bi activist Morgan Goode, who does online fundraising for nonprofits and is an active board member at BiNetUSA and Queers for Economic Justice.

Amy Andre: So, everyone, how did it go?

Chiquita Violette: Magnificently! Though some of the logistics got a little tangled up as far as us bi/pan/fluid activists meeting all at the same time, everyone was able to come together like a nice puzzle just in time for Obama's speech.

Lindasusan Ulrich: Earlier in the day Emily and I went to two of the briefings that they organized for attendees -- one on the appointments process and the other on LGBTQ youth -- which were both fantastic. Whatever anyone might think about a particular decision or strategy coming out of this administration on LGBTQ issues, I felt each panelist's clear, deep-seated commitment to move things forward. All of them mentioned how fortunate they felt to work for an administration where LGBTQ needs were simply part of the picture of serving a diverse country. It gave me hope.

The reception itself was kind of unreal. I think that's one reason several staffers and Marines en route to the event greet people with "welcome to the White House" -- otherwise, it would be hard to believe you're really there.

Lauren Beach: During the president's speech, the room we were in was packed! I really felt like we were in the process of making history. The energy of the crowd was electrifying. One thing that I noticed about the president's speech was how much the president seemed to draw from the philosophies of Dr. Martin Luther King, saying that now was the time for the LGBT community to attain equality -- he supported the idea that we could no longer wait to end the discrimination against us.

Andre: Did the reception meet your expectations?

Beach: [Yes.] It was exciting to see the president live in person, and the fact that he was there in front of us speaking about his support for, as he said it, "the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender community" made the experience go from exciting to exhilarating!

Violette: It exceeded my expectations.

Morgan Goode: It definitely did. It was both inspiring and a good time.

Ulrich: I didn't go with a lot of expectations -- more an openness to experiencing the day. That said, it was harder to take it all in than I'd anticipated. Thankfully, friends had strongly recommended taking lots of photos, and those have helped ground me in the day.

Andre: What is one thing that happened that you didn't expect?

Goode: I went to the LGBT youth policy briefing, and I definitely did not expect to hear David Mineta, Deputy Director of Demand Reduction at the Office of National Drug Control Policy, encourage everyone to check out A New Queer Agenda, specifically Tom Hill's piece "A Brief History of Queer Experience with Addiction and Recovery." I was blown away and incredibly excited that this Obama-administration official is aware of the work of Queers for Economic Justice and is using it as a resource.

Violette: I did not expect to see a marriage proposal! I heard loud clapping and turned to see people gathering around someone on a bended knee. It was very sweet and exciting.

Andre: Did you get to meet the president? If so, what was that like?

Violette: He shook my hand! Even though I listened to his speech and had heard the news about Obama's new policy on undocumented youth, starstruck, I still blurted out, "ENDA? DREAM Act? This year, maybe?" He [looked me] in the eye, [giving] me the impression that he heard and was acknowledging me. All smiles and nodding, he said, "Thank you." It was all very quick; he did, after all, have a lot of other eagerly extended hands to shake.

Andre: Did the experience change you as an activist, and, if so, how?

Ulrich: That day reinforced some things for me that are easy to forget. First, our movement has made stunning progress in the last 40 to 50 years. We have to keep that long view in mind as we press for full equality. Second, we shouldn't underestimate the power of infusing LGBTQ issues into existing work, rather than just going for something new or headline-grabbing. One of the panelists at the LGBTQ youth briefing talked about how he looked at where the funding was already in place at the agencies he runs, and then worked to make sure those programs address LGBTQ needs.

Violette: Yes and no. Yes [in that after attending the LGBT Youth briefing] it was very nice knowing that the government is really going to be there for our youth when it comes to substance abuse, mental health, child welfare, and bullying in schools. No, in that while these things are in motion, there is still a lot to get accomplished, and not just the rights of LGBT youth but human rights altogether. I still feel like I have to keep marching on.

Goode: It didn't fundamentally alter the way I look at my activist work, but it was a tremendous opportunity to meet other activists from around the country, make connections, and be inspired by each others' work. Hopefully it will lead to some new collaborations. It was also an important moment to be out and visible as a bisexual activist.

It was also heartening to hear Pat Hyde talk about the differences between all of our identities. She said, "Lesbian is not gay is not bisexual is not transgender," but also emphasized the need for us to work together while paying heed to the specificity of our identities and our different issues. I am so sick of people using LGBT as a synonym for gay and invalidating the contributions of bi folks to the movement. White cisgender gay men have been dominating the conversation and the movement for so long, to see a white cisgender lesbian speak out for bi and trans folks and recognize our needs reminded me that there is hope.

Beach: Attending this event did change me as an activist. Having the opportunity to go to this event with other dedicated, talented bi community members gave me more confidence and conviction that the work we are doing on behalf of the bi/pan/fluid community is right. The connections that we made among ourselves, both at the White House and also afterwards at the Bisexual Networking Dinner we organized, will not soon be lost.

As far as I could personally saw, we were the only group of people at the White House event that had organized ourselves to be visible as a group of activists representing a specific part of the LGBT community. On more than one occasion, other attendees noticed our group's matching "Bi Pride" buttons and commented on what a powerful message of community visibility and solidarity we were sending. Since the reception I have had other attendees tell me that they now see the struggles of bisexual community in a more illuminated and credible light.