Let’s Talk About the “B” in LGBTQ
With this year’s landmark Supreme Court decision upholding marriage equality all across the country, many have wondered: what’s next for the LGBTQ movement? Yet despite the significant gains in the work to secure full equality for LGBTQ people, many continue to overlook the “B” in “LGBTQ” — bisexual people. This month, from September 20-26, bisexual people all across the country are coming together to celebrate Bisexual Awareness Week with the goal of elevating the voices of bisexual people and addressing the unique obstacles that bisexual people face. At this point, there are some who might be asking themselves, “wait exactly how people living in the US identify as bisexual?” More than you think.
Accurate numbers on LGBTQ populations in the US are not collected by the Census Bureau, yet the Williams Institute estimates that there are over 9 million LGBTQ people in the U.S. Of those, more than half (51 percent) or almost 5 million people, identify as bisexual. But if more people throughout the country identify as bisexual than they do as lesbian or gay, why don’t we hear from them or talk about them more consistently?
Bisexual invisibility Coming out as bisexual can be more challenging than coming out as gay or lesbian. Part of that challenge is the pervasive negative stereotypes and lack of inclusion. Bisexual people often report feeling excluded from the LGBTQ community—an unfortunate reality further perpetuated by the lack of representation of bisexual people in media, film and television. A common misconception about bisexual people that further feeds into the bisexual invisibility is the negative stereotype of “bi now, gay later,” or the erroneous belief that people who initially come out as “bisexual” will later come to identify as “gay” or “lesbian.” The assumption is sometimes based on who the person is currently dating; if the person is dating someone who is of the same-sex, the identity of gay or lesbian is imposed on them; if the person is dating someone of the opposite sex, then they are labeled as a straight person. The fear of this stereotype can make it more difficult for people who actually are bisexual to come out. Because of the lack of understanding and acceptance they experience, bisexual people are six times more likely than gay men and lesbians to hide their sexual orientation. Furthermore, BiNet USA reports that these myths not only contribute to the erasure of bisexual people but also leads to discrimination, harassment, mistreatment, and a myriad of disparities.
Inequalities bisexual people experience.
Multiple studies have shown that being stereotyped negatively can have real life consequences. Even though bisexual people make up the largest number of people in the LGBTQ community, they experience a disproportionate level of poverty as well as mental health issues when compared to their lesbian and gay peers. Over all, while LGBTQ people are more likely to face higher rates of poverty, unemployment, and negative health outcomes than straight people, bisexual people face even more disparate treatment in many arenas. Among the most prominent issues include poverty and health disparities.
Bisexual people living in poverty
Bisexual people face a greater risk of living below the poverty line. A report from the National Survey Of Family Growth (2006-2010) found that approximately 25% of bisexual men and 30% of bisexual women live below the Federal Poverty Level, compared to 15% of heterosexual men, 21% of heterosexual women, and 23% of lesbian women. Looking at this from a different angle means that bisexual women (18-44) are 2.1 times more likely to live in poverty than the general population. Unfortunately, while these numbers are alarming, it is not the only challenge bisexual people face.
Bisexual people also report higher rates of poor physical and mental health. Studies from Kent State University and George Mason University reveals that being misunderstood by both straight and LGBTQ people place bisexual people at an elevated risk for a host of problems including binge drinking, depression, and suicidal thoughts and actions. According to the American Journal of Public Health, bisexual women report the highest prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), 26.6% compared to 6.6% of straight women. Also, bisexual adults have a higher risk of attempting suicide. One study found bisexual people were four times more likely than straight people to report attempted suicide. A study titled, “Health Inequities by Sexual Orientation in New Mexico,” found that bisexual men were 6.3 times more likely to seriously consider suicide in their lifetime than gay and straight men. Another recent report published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that bisexual teens who reported suicidal thoughts did not report a decrease in these thoughts as they aged into adulthood, unlike their straight peers.
While bisexual people comprise more than half of the LGBTQ community, they experience significant health and economic disparities. Research on bisexuality is growing, as is the importance to distinguish bisexual people from their gay, lesbian and straight peers among researchers. Even more critical is the responsibility of community organizations that support LGBTQ people to provide culturally appropriate care to their bisexual clients. We have come a long way in the work to advance full equality for all, but it remains crystal clear that more needs to be done to eradicating stigma and discrimination against bisexual people. We hope you join us in celebrating Bisexual Awareness Week this September by starting a conversation about the hurdles bisexual people face when attempting to access full equality and encouraging others to join the work to eliminating bi-invisibility and bi-phobia.
by Daniel Chevez, National LGBTQ Task Force Media Relations Fellow
This article originally appeared in Adelante