Saving Lives in the Bisexual Community

06/26/2015 03:21 pm ET | Updated Jun 24, 2016


"The BLiSS support group saved my life."

We were standing at the corner of Dartmouth and Boylston streets waiting for our Boston Pride contingent to march through the streets of the city. The two of us had just met and I asked him how he had found out about the bi community. Whenever I hear that phrase "saved my life" attributed to our support groups -- and I have heard it quite often -- I know that the Bisexual Resource Center (BRC) is truly doing transformational and life-saving work.

The BLiSS group is the Bisexual Social and Support Group that is peer-facilitated by the BRC. Over the course of the BRC's 30-year history, BLiSS and our other local support groups have saved many lives by providing a safe and confidential haven for bisexual and questioning people to reveal long-held secrets and find the support they need to come out and live more proudly and true to themselves. As a bi community leader for the last 20 years, I have facilitated BLiSS and other bi-specific support groups and have witnessed the power of being seen and of connecting to others who understand you.

Saving lives in the bisexual community is a necessity. In late May, Adam Kizer, a 16-year-old bisexual boy hung himself in California after suffering many years of bullying, including being tied to a tree and doused with gasoline. Thankfully, he was not set on fire but he ultimately chose to end his own life rather than deal with the intense bullying he experienced within his school for being different. Amanda Morgan, a 12-year-old bisexual girl in Iowa killed herself in April, also as the result of constant bullying in her school after coming out to her friends and family.

Studies have shown that bisexual youth have the highest rates of considering suicide (44%) than all LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning/queer) combined (33%), and far higher than straight youth (7%). Bullying is often one of the key factors involved with teen suicide, and again, bisexual youth have the highest percentage of sexual minority youth who have been bullied, threatened, or harassed on the internet -- 49% versus 20% for straight youth and 39% for LGBTQ.

These are startling statistics. The point is not simply to compare the numbers with those of other orientations to compete for support. The point is that until bisexuality is acknowledged and accepted as a valid sexual orientation these numbers will not decrease and we will lose many more young lives to depression and desperation. (Follow the bi suicide awareness Twitter campaign by BiNet USA at #makeittotomorrow.)

Many people may infer from the low-profile that bi people are allowed within the LGBTQ community that we make up a small percentage of this group; however, various surveys consistently show that bi people make up between 40-50% of the LGBTQ community. The perception of bisexuals being a small subset of the community may partially stem from the fact that only 28% of bi people reported in a PEW study they are out to the most important people in their lives (as compared to 77% of gay men and 71% of lesbians). So, even as adults, bisexual people often do not feel supported enough to share their true orientation, and high suicide and depression rates persist.

Most Bostonians have no idea that our city has one of the most vibrant, supportive, and politically active bisexual communities in the country. Due to the BRC and the Boston Bisexual Women's Network (another 30-plus year organization), a longstanding array of support and social groups offer the community safe spaces to meet and connect with other bisexual people. Yet, even with that longevity in the local community, this year was the first time out bisexual leaders were honored as pride marshals in the 45-year history of Boston Pride. Woody Glenn, one of the BRC co-founders, and myself, the president of the BRC for ten years, were both tremendously aware of the historic importance of this to our community.

The BRC is proud of our deep roots in Boston as well as the work we do nationally creating and disseminating resources, initiating the Bisexual Health Awareness Month, co-facilitating the first White House Roundtable on Bisexual Issues in 2013, and helping to establish the Bisexual Leadership Roundtable to connect bi activists across the country. We also publish Getting Bi: Voices of Bisexuals Around the World and Recognize: The Voices of Bisexual Men, which have also been life-savers to countless people around the world that do not have a developed bi community support network.

Riding through the streets of Boston, Woody and I looked behind us at the huge bi pride flag--bright pink and blue stripes with a lavender stripe in the middle--being carried by our beautiful bi community members. It was an emotional day for us to be acknowledged for our work within the community and to have our bi contingent united behind us. Visible. Colorful. Bisexual. Proud.

The next day, many of the bi marchers shared their photos and impressions on Facebook. One post especially made me proud of our 30 years of community building. "This weekend, I participated in my first Boston Pride, marching with a 45-foot bi flag. I found myself surrounded by people cheering at us, for us, and with us. A year ago, I couldn't even have imagined being at this point. As I now lay in bed exhausted and sunburnt, I can't help but feel overwhelmed with love and gratitude for the communities that have empowered me to become so unapologetically myself in so many aspects."

"Unapologetically myself." I want a button with that on it to wear at my next Pride. It's a statement that our entire LGBTQ community can get behind. It's a statement that saves lives.

Ellyn Ruthstrom was the president of the Bisexual Resource Center from 2004-2014 and is the Executive Director of SpeakOUT Boston, the nation's oldest LGBTQ speakers bureau.