By Faith Cheltenham
Originally published on Advocate.com May 12 2014 4:23 AM ET
I’ve been out and engaged in LGBT activism since 1999. In the spring of 2012 I birthed an actual child, which proved more difficult to recover from than any march, rally, or project launch. To celebrate walking again, we took our newborn, Storm, to the 2012 LA LGBT Pride Festival. We protected Stormy's hearing with a pair of "Baby Banz," strapped him to my chest in a sling, and were off.
Upon entry to the festival, one young man asked if he could hold Storm because he'd been forbidden to see his own nephews once he came out as a gay man. We allowed a brief cuddle and a sniff of newborn, which would have been lovely if the baby sling hadn't accidentally tangled with the young man's nipple ring. After we got untangled, he thanked us for being "good straight people," unlike the family that had rejected him.
My husband said, "Thanks, I'm straight but she's not," and I gave him a brief "Bi 101" on how bi people have the capacity to be attracted to more than one gender, and fall in love with whoever fits our own particular mold. As we walked through the festival, the conversation repeated itself, and each time I added a bullet point:
• The first “Gay Pride” was co-organized by a bisexual woman, Brenda Howard, the "Mother of Pride."
• Bi people make up half of the entire LGBT community.
• Bi people report higher rates of health and safety disparities; often inside other-sex relationships. For example 90% of bi women report having only male perpetrators of intimate partner violence.
In search of respite from the questioning, we visited the Los Angeles Bi Task Force booth at the festival, but the comments got worse as we stood there. Such microaggressions are commonly experienced by bi people in gay and lesbian spaces, and even occur in organizations that call for LGBT equality with one hand while making jokes about bi people with the other.
While I have massive respect for the 2014 NYC Pride Grand Marshals — Jonathon Groff, Rea Carey, and Laverne Cox — it was deeply upsetting to hear that NYC Pride only selected three individuals to represent the LGBT community. Even worse when bisexuals emailed, called, blogged and tweeted about this “oversight”, the organizers ignored us.
Just to hammer home their disrespect for bi people, @NYCPride re-tweeted this joke, “She’s bi…coastal! @ddlovato will be grand marshal at @LAPRIDE and performing at @NYCPride"
Demi Lovato has bravely discussed surviving the very disparities many bisexuals report, but she has never identified herself as bisexual. I bet that Ms. Lovato is unaware that bisexuals are still being denied services in favor of a more convenient narrative that claims bisexual people experience "straight privilege." You know, the privilege that finds us more likely than our gay or straight peers to be raped, commit suicide, have cancer, or live in poverty.
That's correct, bi people are the least supported and least served minority group within the entire LGBT ecosystem, with just .01 % of all LGBT funding directed toward bisexual projects or programs since 1970. There is not a single national bisexual health initiative, even though bisexual people are the largest group within the LGBT community, nor does a single LGBT organization provide bisexual specific health services for the health concerns we consistently report experiencing (see 10-year summary of data here).
It’s fantastic that NYC Pride and L.A. Pride have both taken steps to be more transgender inclusive and transgender-affirming. I desire a world where all gender identities and expressions are treated with dignity and respect, but it must not come at the expense of more bisexual lives.
As Dr. Herukhuti, a bisexual sociologist, recently noted on Bilerico that bisexual erasure is psychic murder. I have lost friends to their own hand, and I believe that psychic murder leads to the very real and far too early deaths of bisexual people—hell, it almost lead to mine.
BiNet USA has commented on the lack of bisexuals acknowledged by Pride Festivals before. We are finding that suggestions for bi inclusion are roundly rejected as not being urgent enough alongside other important LGBT issues of immigration, transgender violence, and marriage equality. This approach plays into “Oppression Olympics,” we play ourselves against each other, instead of holding on to each other to build the massive groundswell needed to end homophobia, biphobia, acephobia, and transphobia.
No matter if we call ourselves pan, fluid, bi, or queer, a single word alone will never be enough to save us if people continue to dishonor complex sexualities. It will take the combined voices of those who have seen us rise from a lifetime of being alone, dejected, weak and afraid; because our troubles are just as real, and we have been brave enough, for long enough.
FAITH CHELTENHAM, president of BiNet USA, a national non-profit advocacy organization for bisexual people, co-organized the 2013 Bisexual Community Issues Roundtable at the White House along with Ellyn Ruthstrom, President of The Bisexual Resource Center. An LGBT activist for 15 years, Faith is an accomplished writer, slam poet and stand-up comic who lives in LA with her husband, step-daughter and son.
Sign the petition, “Stop Bisexual Erasure at NYC Pride.”
For photos of Brenda Howard at NYC Pride through the Years, visit BiNetUSA.org.