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Gary North Headshot

Separate for Equal?

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I love that the Bi Resource Center developed and promoted Bi Health Awareness Month (we're more than halfway through it now) and that BiNet USA and others are pushing organizations and media to stop lumping "bi" (and frankly "lesbian") in with "gay," especially when it comes to statistics about health, justice and economics. (Bi folk have it the worst, per breakdowns from the CDC and other studies.) But separating out the data is double-edged for me: For decades I, and many other bi people, resisted even the hint of dividing us from the lesbian-gay community. We were, we asserted, very much part of the LG community (even though it often was itself divided into L and G communities). It took years of effort to promote and popularize the use of the "B" into "LGBT" as an all-inclusive term in both mainstream and LGBT media and politics.

So imagine my surprise last September when I was present at the first White House conclave on bi-related issues: The presentations to policymakers and others focused on our differences and that we were too often lumped statistically with L&G -- in essence "erased" from sight, even though our health and legal issues were dramatically more distinct than even I ever imaged.

The bottom-line takeaway message for me in that Bi Pride Day gathering Sept. 23 was that we DID need to be counted separately.

But that doesn't mean we as individuals are separatists who want to be clannish, cliquish, elitist, ghettoized or severed from the greater "gay" community. We're still VERY MUCH part of that milieu as well as the mainstream straight world. But in fact, again per CDC analyses, more than half of the so-called "gay/lesbian" community is actually "bi."

The ramifications of this are profound: If we separate B from L&G, the latter two look distinctly smaller. It also implies that the two (or three) are distinctly separate communities. We've been here before and often still are: separation of races, cultures, religions and so forth -- we're all part of the greater society but often have social and cultural tastes that are distinctly different from each other -- freedom of association, but united in our diversity.

I'm not saying there aren't often distinctly different world views and ways of life, but not every gay single person parties every night in the bars vs. their more domesticated married friends. Stereotypes are stereotypes, but "a sense of community" and feeling part of that community? That's a different matter. My concern, then, is that we don't lose sight of our commonalities and that I'm really no more different from my LGT and straight friends, just that I'm aware that historically I have had a slightly expanded sense of attraction. But that doesn't make me any less a part of the LGT community nor the straight community. And yet...

While I hate putting up partitions and pointing out differences (thus my discomfort with even the word "bi," as in "two" or "binary"), the reality is that to get a true picture of situations and to rally support for certain injustices, sometimes separating out the different parts is important. But that doesn't mean a limb of a body can exist on its own; it just means we need to understand how the limb works in conjunction with the body. I know that when I say "bi" I mean "bi and beyond" or "multifaceted," etc., but it doesn't mean I can exist in a completely separate world.

So while I rebel against the idea of divvying up such statistics and drawing distinctions, it turns out they can be instructive, enlightening and eye-opening for all communities. Sometimes the best way to work together is to know our distinctions and differences in order to appreciate each other more -- and become all the more united. Drawing distinctions doesn't mean we're putting up walls necessarily; maybe it means we're opening doors.