On September 23, 2013, over 30 bisexual activists from all over the nation came together in Washington DC, at the White House on Bisexual Visibility Day to meet with decision makers about prominent issues affecting the bisexual community. I was so proud to be one of these activists for a variety of reasons:
- To take part in the very first bisexual roundtable at the White House.
- To be able to give voice to matters of discrimination, health disparities, violence, and more for myself and my community.
- To have the ear of those who can actually make change happen.
- To come together with my fellow activists for the first time.
The fact that the White House saw a need for a meeting specific to the bisexual community is a huge step forward. What many do not realize are the many negative ways bisexuals are impacted by workplace discrimination, health problems, partner violence, mental health difficulties, bullying and hate crimes and HIV/AIDS in far greater numbers than the lesbian and gay population. This meeting offered an opportunity for bisexual community members ourselves to step forward and inform the Powers That Be about such concerns, as well as to offer possible policy suggestions on how to remedy them.
I was a member of a team that focused on bullying and hate crimes within the bisexual community. Beforehand, we reached out to bisexuals for personal stories of discrimination they knew of or experienced due to their bisexuality; we received more responses than we could present, unfortunately in many ways. The following anecdotes were not shared:
- 17-year-old Bill Clayton (Olympia, WA), an openly bisexual teen, committed suicide in 1995 after experiencing sexual and physical assaults, and relentless bullying from peers due to his sexuality. The high school he attended did little but warn his attackers not to look or speak to Bill. His mother, Gabi Clayton, went on to found Families United Against Hate.
- 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer (Buffalo, NY), an openly bisexual teen, committed suicide in 2011 after years upon years of bullying in his middle school that went unpunished.
- "The harassment [at my high school] got so bad that I started making myself vomit to convince my mom that I was too sick to go to school. I went from being a straight A student with a good attendance record, to a B-C student bordering truancy... And the vomiting went from being a way to get out of school to being a form of punishment for myself... Nobody really seemed to care that I was being treated this way, and it seemed like the people who could do something about it didn't because they, to some degree, felt like I deserved it." - K.
- "We live in a culture where being bisexual signals sexual availability and, combined with rape culture's insistence on the idea that women are objects, those of us who are or are perceived as women can put us at even greater danger. We are not seen as intimidating as lesbians or as prudish as straight women. We are 'more open'/ 'more fun' than they are, my attacker said... Not knowing what to say and not wanting to be 'unfun,' I smiled and agreed, sipping my drink. Then I was raped. In my own apartment. In my own bed. And, yes, during it he did mention how bi girls are slutty so I should be OK with it. That was the moment biphobia destroyed my life." - Aud Traher
- "[My studio mate and I] had known each other for several years and I told him long ago I was bisexual. He kind of ignored it and I socialized with him like a straight man... We got along fine... He saw me date a woman for a year, another woman for six months, and then I met [my boyfriend]... When [my boyfriend] lived there, [my studio mate] became incredibly homophobic and said things like, 'Are you going off with your boyfriend now?' Just the way he said it, I began to get very uncomfortable... so I told him he needed to leave... His response was shouting homophobic/biphobic slurs in my face... He then punched me and went mad; he began vandalizing my apartment ... I told the police what he said and I pressed hate crime charges, and when it went to court I was told by the public attorney that the court can't prosecute hate crime charges because it is too complicated. As he said, if I told him I'm bisexual, he could have thought I was really straight. The PA encouraged me to drop the hate crime charges or the whole thing might be thrown out of court... Even a court of law couldn't understand what a bisexual is." - Matthew K.
These stories and more drive home why I am an activist. There is a lot of work to be done to change the perception and false stereotypes of bisexuals in greater society in order to prevent the bullying and hate crimes that occur as a result -- and until those views are altered, we need policy in place to protect bisexuals in all areas of life. These anecdotes are just the tip of a very large iceberg.
While the roundtable was a closed meeting, I will say that the experience overall was positive and, for me, in more ways than simply being witness to the event. I have been involved in bisexual activism for several years, all through online avenues like Facebook, Twitter and The Huffington Post. Two weeks ago I met face-to-face with activists I have only corresponded with through a computer screen - and yet as soon as I saw them, it was like meeting friends and family I'd known my entire life. That was just as important to me as the roundtable itself. For most bisexuals I know, community is essential to happiness; to not feeling like an outsider in LG and straight communities; to knowing that each of us is not alone in the struggles that come with being bisexual.
I was proud and honored to have shared in such a historic event with each and every one of my bisexual activist brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles. Here's to more of such meetings and conversations continuing, and change for the greater good on the horizon!