By Helen Parshall, Lambda Legal Digital Director
Bisexual+ people make up the largest group within the LGBTQ+ community, yet too often we are the invisible majority and forgotten in the fight for full legal and lived equality.
According to research from Gallup, not only are more and more people identifying openly as LGBTQ+, but an increasing majority of those folks — particularly younger generations — identify as bisexual+. Nearly two-thirds of LGBTQ+ millennials and Gen Z represented in the Gallup survey identified as bisexual. Furthermore, at least one in three transgender people also identify as bisexual, according to data from the Movement Advancement Project.
The research is clear, but despite these overwhelming numbers, those of us who are bisexual+ — and we must also acknowledge the similar plight of our asexual siblings — are frequently made to feel ostracized and invisible within LGBTQ+ and non-LGBTQ+ spaces alike.
Stigma and shame keep too many of us from receiving the resources and care we deserve. Our identities aren’t represented in the majority of the most popular LGBTQ+ stories in media or even in the talking points of the most hot-button policy issues facing LGBTQ+ communities today. According to Funders for LGBTQ Issues, less than 1% of all LGBTQ+ funding is allocated specifically to the bisexual+ community.
And it’s because of that invisibility that coming into my own identity as a bisexual+ person while navigating a monosexual-dominated LGBTQ+ movement space nearly a decade ago was hard. While I was out to my friends, I had yet to figure out how to come out both to my parents and professionally. It took my internship mentor, an out and proud bisexual+ person, to show me what possibility meant in building up a community of bi+ advocates working toward inclusion.
Finding that bisexual+ community was what I needed to feel safe enough to step into living openly and becoming that same kind of possibility model as my mentor for someone else in return. What I have learned throughout my career since then is that without also explicitly centering the uniqueness of bisexual+ experiences and stories, our work to fight for full LGBTQ+ equality is incomplete.
And bisexual+ erasure has devastating consequences.
Bisexual+ people experience far worse physical, sexual, social, and mental health outcomes compared to their lesbian, gay and heterosexual peers. Research shows that too many bisexual+ people do not disclose their sexual orientation even to their health care providers, leaving them at risk without access to comprehensive care. These disparities only compound for those of us who are bisexual+ and transgender and people of color.
It’s easy to assume that recent legal and legislative victories over the years have created a world where bisexual+ people are more protected and safe than they used to have been and that these disparities should be starting to change.
Landmark cases like Obergefell v. Hodges and Bostock v. Clayton County, GA have established key rights and protections for LGBTQ+ people, affirming that we are entitled to the same rights, protections and freedoms in marriage and the workplace as heterosexual, cisgender people.
However, when you examine court documents and opinions, bisexuality is rarely if ever mentioned. Per Justice Gorsuch’s opinion in Bostock: “An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII.”
I want to repeat that: “Gay or transgender.”
Nancy Marcus, former staffer at Lambda Legal and co-founder of BiLaw, a group of bi+ attorneys and legal scholars, has analyzed the legal landscape of LGBTQ+ rights as it relates to the bisexual+ community and found “an almost complete systemic erasure of bisexuals in briefings and opinions.”
“When bisexual people are not mentioned by name in LGBT-rights discourse other than as a single letter in an acronym, while the lives of gay men, lesbians and transgender people are addressed in comparative depth,” writes Marcus, “the message perpetuated by such erasure is that bisexual people do not have equal worth, do not have issues either substantially in common with other LGBT community members or specific to bisexuality that are worth mention or consideration in the development of legal protections for sexual and gender minorities. Consequently, when the issues confronted by bisexual people do culminate in litigation or other adjudication, the unfamiliarity of adjudicators with bisexual people and bisexuality as a valid sexual orientation can have damaging and dangerous repercussions.”
Sometimes bisexual+ erasure is overt, but most of the time it isn’t — and that’s what makes it dangerous. Marcus’ research traces the harms of bi+ erasure back through key Supreme Court cases from Romer v. Evans to today’s legal landscape and ties it to a larger international problem of erasure and misinformation.
By solely lumping the bisexual+ experience into the broad category of sexual orientation, the unique needs of bisexual+ communities are easily forgotten in law, policy, advocacy, health, and so much more. This oversight only contributes to the othering and stigmas associated with bisexual+ identities.
Far too often, those of us who are bisexual+ are the only ones pushing for bi+ inclusion in the broader landscape of the LGBTQ+ rights movement, due to the real and present fear that if we aren’t in the room, even the mere acknowledgment of our existence won’t happen.
This Bisexual+ Awareness Week, I challenge all of us who work in advocacy to think of all the lives and stories behind each letter in the LGBTQ+ community and to look critically at our movement’s history.
For too long, our stories have been dominated by white, cisgender, monosexual experiences inside and outside of the LGBTQ+ community. Rarely is space given to the bisexual+, asexual, transgender, BIPOC, disability histories and so many others that make up identities outside of the binary.
But we have always been here.
Bisexual+ people, particularly BIPOC and transgender bi+ people, have been in the trenches fighting for equality this whole time.
Let’s lift up the stories of our bi+ trailblazers throughout history like Brenda Howard, Lani Ka’ahumanu, Sylvia Rivera, Stephen Donaldson, Alice Walker, ABilly Jones-Hennin, Robyn Ochs, Veneita Porter, Loraine Hutchins, Luigi Ferrer, Khafre Kujichagulia Abif, and so many others who have fought for inclusion for decades. Let’s celebrate the work of our young people and lift them up as we step into the shoes of those who came before us and build upon their legacies.
Until our movement holds space for all of us, our lives and our stories in their wholeness, our work to fight for full legal and lived LGBTQ+ equality is not complete.
Check out more of our blogs here, including recent pieces on National Coming Out Day, Banned Books Week, and Suicide Prevention Month.