Remembering the B in LGBT

By Jonathan Vatner

Originally published on Advocate.com July 26 2009 12:00 AM ET

In a 2005 article in the New York Times entitled "Straight, Gay, or Lying? Bisexuality Revisited," author Benedict Carey questioned whether true bisexuals really exist. If the "National Summit on Putting the 'B' in LGBT," the marquee event of Bi Visibility Weekend in June, had anything to say about it, apparently they do.

Sheela Lambert, founder of the three-year-old Bi Writers Association (formed in response to that article), put together the conference and the weekend's ancillary events (a reading from Lambda Literary Awards finalists called Bi Lines II and sundry meals at nearby restaurants) to illuminate the ranks of bisexuals for the LGBT community to see, and to try to convince organizations such as the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation to add the "B" to their names.

"We're constantly bombarded with articles that say we don't exist and press releases that behave as though we don't exist," griped Lambert. "We see 'marriage for gay and lesbian couples' and 'gays and lesbians in the military.' It's very painful to be consistently ignored and excluded from issues that are so central to our lives."

Frank O’Connell, representing the New York Times Company’s GLBT & Allies Affinity Group, welcomed everyone to the conference. He is a bisexual man who has been married to a woman for 31 years, and has been completely open about his bisexuality with his LGBT coworkers. He did say however, that at many of the events he's attended for LGBT journalists, he often encounters men who publicly identify as gay, but in private confide to him that they are in fact bisexual.

In the push for LGBT rights, the most effective tactic seems to be getting more and more people to come out, to put faces to a supposedly recondite concept and to show straight people that lots of us exist and that we are nice people.

The Summit relied on a similar strategy. The main handout from the conference, the Media Guide to Bisexuality and Reporting on LGBT Issues, included a list of more than 300 "famous bisexuals in history," from Julius Caesar to Nell Carter, and the final panel discussion of the conference brought 11 people (admittedly, not all of them bisexual) up to the stage to speculate on the reasons why bisexuals are so often ignored.

From a numbers standpoint, the weekend was a success. Lambert estimated that 150 people attended the conference -- so many that extra chairs had to be brought in and more media guides had to be printed.

"I'm assuming we're all bi here?" asked one young male attendee in the back row, addressing the people sitting around him.

This reporter wasn't brave enough to contradict him.