A look at the history of the B in our LGBT community
As we continue our celebration of LGBT Pride month, let’s take a closer look at one of the sub-groups within our community that is often ignored, misunderstood or rejected. Despite their seemingly less visible presence, the bisexual community has been a part of the gay rights movement in the United States since its early history in the 1960s and 1970s. Even though they share a long history within the LGBT community, there seems to be a visible disconnect between the B and the rest of our community.
Historically, we see signs of the bi community distinguishing themselves as a sub-group of the LGBT community in American media as early as the 1970s when the “Ithaca Statement on Bisexuality” by the Quaker Committee of Friends on Bisexuality appeared in The Advocate in 1972. During this time, most media focus on the bi community remained on the club scene and on bisexual celebrities and affiliated bisexuals with heterosexual swingers despite the bi community’s active involvement with the gay rights movement.
The need for bisexual specific organizations and resources grew throughout the late 1970s and 1980s as bisexual men and women were being isolated from the gay and lesbian communities, as well as the straight community after coming out. During the mid to late 1970s, organizations and resources began to spring up across the country including the San Francisco Bisexual Center, the National Bisexual Liberation Group and New York City’s Bi Forum. Bisexual organizations were influenced greatly by strong female leaders who associated a bisexual identity with feminist ideologies and can be seen in the creation of organizations like the Bisexual Women’s Network of Seattle and Boston in the 1980s. During the 1987 march on Washington for gay and lesbian rights, the first national bisexual organization was formed named The North American Bisexual Network.
Despite their active history within the LGBT community, there tends to be a great deal of misunderstanding about what identifying as bisexual means to those who do not consider themselves bi. These misunderstandings, and just general misinformation about bisexuality, lead to social stigma placed upon bisexuals both from the straight and gay community.
So, what exactly defines someone as a bisexual? Bisexuality refers to an individual who identifies as being attracted sexually and emotionally to both men and women. To be bisexual does not mean that you have to be equally attracted to both sexes, nor does it mean that you have to be attracted to both sexes simultaneously.
Words like greedy, indecisive and hypersexual often are wrongly associated with the bisexual community. While they may be true for some members of the bi community, they can also be true for anyone regardless of sexual orientation and should not be used to generalize an entire portion of the LGBT community.
Some of these misunderstandings can arise from the fact that no one can be recognized as being bisexual unless they outright identify as bi. Bisexual individuals, when viewed with their current partner, could be perceived as simply either straight or gay if they do not state that they are bisexual. This makes understanding who is bi at-a-glance much more difficult and therefore can make identifying the bi community a challenge. This perception has allowed for members of the bi community to remain invisible if they choose, shifting between identifying as either straight or gay as they enter into relationships.
This inability to identify members of the bi community is further made evident by the lack of statistical data we have about bisexuality. A report from the National Center for Health Statistics in 2002 reported that only 1.8 percent of men and 2.8 percent women age 18-44 identified as being bisexual. Other studies indicate a range of percentages higher and lower than these numbers, but the data varies just as much as does each study’s definition of the word bisexual. Also, as with the rest of the gay community, statistics are only able to reflect based on the number of people who openly identify as LGBT and can not accurately take into account individuals who are closeted, unsure or questioning.
According to a recent report from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), a report in the Journal of Bisexuality indicates that stereotypes placed upon the bisexual community can negatively impact the mental, physical and sexual health of an individual. This causes some individuals to mirror their identified sexual orientation based on their most recent or current partner’s sex. In their article, GLAAD challenges media sources to be more inclusive of the bisexual community and to more accurately reflect the voice of bisexuals within the LGBT community.
Much like the development of the transgender community, the internet has served as an invaluable resource for members of the bisexual community to communicate with one another across the world and has developed a thorough online bisexual community. In 1990 The North American Bisexual Network became Bi-Net, a non-profit organization which created a way for establishing a cohesive bi community across the country. Their website remains one of the most thorough resources for bisexual individuals to find local bi organizations and communities.
While online resources like Bi-Net, Facebook and message boards offer a virtual way for the bisexual community to link up with one another across the world, there is a small physical presence of the bisexual community, especially in North Carolina. When looking for local state resources there are little to no physical groups which can be easily found to participate in and join.
Even LGBT community centers in North Carolina seem to lack groups or programming that specifically target the bi community. For example, The LGBT Community Center of Charlotte hosts a male support group, a lesbian social organization and two transgender support groups but currently has no active bisexual organization or group which utilizes their resources. The Center has attempted to develop a group for the bi community twice in the past year, but has been unsuccessful in their attempts to solidify a meeting or event.
By understanding how all of the LGBT community fits together through our beliefs, our history and our individual experiences, we can better unify as a true community. Each of the subgroups which make up our community, when working together and visible, make us stronger and allow us to more effectively work toward the goal of ending discrimination based on who we love. : :
The design of the bisexual flag design is credited to bi-activist Michael Page. Page revealed the flag in 1998. At a glance, it is easy to assume that the pink and blue of the flag represent male and female respectively with the center purple being a blend of the two. According to Page, the intent behind the design is for pink to represent same-sex attraction and blue to represent attraction to the opposite sex. The purple stripe in the center is to represent the blending of these two attractions.
Another commonly used symbol for the bi-community is different combinations of the male and female symbols intertwined. The traditional upside-down triangle is also commonly used to represent the bi-community, with the three colors of the bi flag brushed through the triangle. Because of the triangles affiliation with Nazi persecution camps, in Germany interlocking crescent moons with the colors of the bi flag are typically used instead of the triangle.
Online bisexual resources
While there may not be bi specific organizations or programming in your area, there are many online resources and ways which you can connect with the bisexual community. Here are a few thorough sites that focus on providing accurate and current information about the bi community.
BiNet USA is the oldest national bisexual organization in the United States. Their website offers articles about current issues, blogs, events and a resource to find local bi organizations in your area. binetusa.org.
The Bisexual Resource Center was originally started in 1985 as the East Coast Bisexual Network. While a portion of their website information is focused around the Boston area, the site also has information and resources about the bi community as a whole as well as a listing of bisexual organizations across the world. biresource.net.
The Human Rights Campaign’s website features a page dedicated to offering support for bisexual individuals in regards to coming out. hrc.org/issues/pages/bisexual.
The American Institute of Bisexuality is a non-profit organization that works to support the funding of continued research and advocacy specific to the bi community. Their website hosts a directory of practicing support professionals who state that they are sensitive and understanding of the unique needs of the bisexual community. bisexual.org.
While many dating sites offer the option to select your sexual orientation, Bicupid appears to the be the largest online dating site which focuses specifically on the bi community. bicupid.com.