After the historic first White House Roundtable on Bisexual Issues last September, one of the overriding imperatives coming out of the meeting was to draw attention to the severe health disparities affecting the bisexual community. The evidence we presented had a clear message: Our community is suffering and we can no longer afford to be the invisible majority of the LGBTQ community.
To keep these issues in the forefront, the Bisexual Resource Center has designated March as Bisexual Health Awareness Month. It is the first social media event of its kind to raise widespread awareness about bisexual health disparities using Facebook and Twitter. This year's theme -- "Bi the Way, Our Health Matters Too!" -- will highlight the unique ways that the bisexual community experiences physical and mental health disparities and will encourage more research and services be developed to address them. The campaign will highlight research, analysis and personal commentary from across the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and beyond, and will urge more bi-specific solutions in the future.
Bisexuals have traditionally been misunderstood, marginalized and discriminated against in both heterosexual and LGBTQ spaces. Despite actively working within the LGBTQ equality movement for decades, bisexuals are often erased and considered a small subgroup of the community. Yet, the Williams Institute has found that approximately half of self-identified LGBTQ Americans identify as bisexual. This reluctance to address the needs of a large part of the community has resulted in many bisexuals feeling alienated and alone, which contributes to a high incidence of depression, substance abuse, suicide and other high-stress indicators.
For the past few years, there has been a new and positive trend for some LGBTQ research to break down health data into separate gay, straight and bisexual orientations. This has been significant for the bisexual community because it has uncovered hidden issues within our midst that are greatly affecting our lives. These are just a few statistics that illustrate the severe physical and mental health disparities affecting our community:
- Forty-five percent of bisexual women have considered or attempted suicide, followed by bisexual men (35 percent), lesbians (30 percent), gay men (25 percent), and much lower rates for heterosexual women and men.
- Bisexual women are twice as likely to have an eating disorder than lesbians.
- Bisexual women report the highest rates of alcohol use, heavy drinking, and alcohol-related problems when compared to heterosexual and lesbian women.
- Bisexual men and women report the highest rates of smoking of all orientations.
These statistics are important for the obvious health-related reasons, but they are even more overwhelming when you consider that none of the major LGBTQ organizations or LGBTQ health initiatives have any bi-specific programs addressing any of these issues. As noted in San Francisco's Human Rights Commission's Bisexual Invisibility Report:
"Because bisexuals have worse outcomes in more areas of health where specific data are available, conflating the data [with gays and lesbians] will generally make the picture look more urgent. Yet few public health programs specifically reach out to bisexuals. This means that even though bisexuals may have greater need, the resources primarily wind up benefitting lesbians and gay men."
LGBTQ organizations need to commit themselves to serving every letter of our acronym and stop using the suffering of the bisexual community to make their own numbers look more dire.
We also want to emphasize that the health needs of the transgender community are also important to be aware of, as the trans community experiences extremely high health disparities across the board. The bisexual and transgender communities have historically worked together for visibility and we want to continue that alliance. A high percentage of transgender people identify as bisexual, pansexual, or queer. Many bi people are partnered with transgender and genderqueer people so these disparities often hit our families from several directions.
The Bisexual Health Awareness campaign will focus on the following health issues throughout the month of March:
- March 3-7: Mental Health & Biphobia
- March 10-14: Safer Sex & Sexual Health
- March 17-21: Nutrition & Physical Activity
- March 24-28: Intimate Partner Violence & Sexual Violence
We invite supporters who are interested from across the country and around the world to become involved with the discussion on Facebook and Twitter at @BRC_Central (with hashtag #bihealthmonth) and help to spread awareness in your own communities. Our health matters too!
Follow Ellyn Ruthstrom on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ellynruthstrom