On 26th September 2016 I attended a historic bisexuality briefing at the White House. Bisexual community leaders had met with the White House on previous occasions, but never before had the meeting been live-streamed, recorded, and made public during and after the event. There were well over a hundred bisexual activists in attendance, and the two hour event mixed together talks and panels on vital topics as well as some powerful music, poetry and other creative input about bisexual experiences.
It was extremely valuable to me to have the opportunity to learn about how bisexual matters are being discussed and engaged with in the US. Speakers emphasised many of the same issues that affect bisexual people globally: invisibility, discrimination from both straight and gay communities, and high rates of mental health struggles due to biphobia.
However, it was also striking how much careful attention was paid to intersectionality. That is the idea that sexuality intersects with many other aspects of experience and identity (race, gender, class, ethnicity, age, disability geographical location, etc.) to produce unique experiences of being bisexual in different groups and individuals. So we heard people speaking about bisexuality from diverse positions, and emphasising the importance of listening to diverse voices, and targeting support to the places where it is most needed.
Another aspect of intersectionality is the idea that we cannot fight each battle separately – racism, sexism, biphobia, transphobia, etc. – just focusing on the issues that obviously impact ourselves. Rather many of the same processes underlie all of these injustices, and they impact everyone.This essential idea comes from black feminism so it was wonderful to be part of an event which foregrounded the voices of women of colour particularly, as well as trans people, and where the #blacklivesmatter message was central. We heard that black young people are particularly likely to identify as bi, and that bi and trans women of colour are particular targets of violence, discrimination, and sexual harassment.
Victor J. Raymond also spoke powerfully about the intersections between bi+ people and Native Americans, and the importance of recognising diverse ways of understanding sexuality and gender across cultures and communities. Solidarity in this area is vital at the present moment when a historically large number of indigenous tribes are working to resist the Dakota access pipeline and to protect this essential water supply for everyone.
Bi, pan, fluid, queer
My panel was focused on bi, pan, fluid and queer communities, so I spoke about the need to increase awareness about the high numbers of people whose sexuality and/or gender experience is non-binary (over a third according to recent studies), and the impact this has when living in a very binary dominant culture. It was wonderful to receive such a positive response from the audience when mentioning the Open University published Bisexuality Report, and many people told me how helpful they had found that. However, we have a long way to go in the UK LGBTQ and bi+ communities in addressing intersectionality and foregrounding the most marginalised voices, rather than marginalising them further. Also it would be great to see the UK government engaging with bisexuality as seriously as the Obama administration clearly does.