By Cameron Kude, PQ Monthly
A few weeks ago I was working a booth at the farmers market in Pioneer Square, when a woman walked by who I immediately recognized as Oregon’s governor. She idled at the booth next to mine to smell some flowers, so I seized the opportunity. “Excuse me, are you Kate Brown?” I asked.
“No.” Said the woman blankly, without looking up from the bouquets. “She’s the secretary of state, right? I don’t do politics.”
“She’s our governor!” I exclaimed, filtering the phrase that actually came to mind: ‘she’s our badass bisexual governor!’
“Oh. Yeah, my hair isn’t that dark,” she said, finally looking up. “…and she’s got a few years on me.” She flashed me a big, kind smile and then walked off. I still don’t know if the woman was a doppelgänger or if Governor Brown just likes to screw with strangers who recognize her in public.
I really wanted to speak with Governor Brown that day. I would have asked her if she knew about the 100+ bisexual activists from across the nation (including two Portland locals) who were meeting with officials at the White House at that very moment—during day two of Bisexual Awareness Week.
Why were so many bi activists invited to go to the White House? What did they discuss with members of the Obama administration? Why is there a whole week for bisexual awareness? Perhaps some findings released last month by The Movement Advancement Project (lgbtmap.org) could shed some light. This compilation of studies has found, like many recent studies that look at LGBT subgroups independently of one another, that bisexuals face more adversity than their straight and gay counterparts in the following aspects of their lives:
Employment: Bisexual people face more discrimination in the workplace. While 20% of bisexuals experience a negative employment decision based on their sexuality, almost 60% of bisexual people report hearing anti-bisexual jokes and comments on the job. Nearly half of bisexual people report that they are not out to any of their coworkers, compared to less than a quarter of lesbian and gay people.
Poverty: 25% of bisexual men and 30% of bisexual women live in poverty, compared to 15% to 21% of heterosexuals, 20% of gay men and 23% of lesbians. Bisexual women are more likely to depend on financial assistance such as food stamps.
Violence: Bisexual people have higher rates of sexual and intimate partner violence than gay, lesbian, and straight people. Bi women have significantly higher rates of violence both overall and by significant others, compared to lesbian and straight women. Almost half of bisexual women will be raped in their lifetime, compared to 13% of lesbians and 17% of straight women. 61% percent of bisexual women will experience rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 43% of lesbians and 35% of straight women. Bisexual men also report higher rates of sexual violence.
Physical Health: Bisexual people suffer from poor physical health at alarming rates. Disparities include the highest rates of hypertension, poor or fair physical health, and smoking. In a study of women aged 50-79, bisexual women had a 17.6% lifetime prevalence of cancer, compared to 11.9% for straight women and 14.2% for lesbian women. One study found that bisexual men reported higher rates of daily smoking and risky drinking. Bisexual youth are also at higher risk for substance abuse than their peers.
Mental Health: Studies also show deep disparities in mental health. Bisexual women report the highest prevalence of PTSD amongst all women. Bisexuals have higher suicide rates: one study found bisexuals were four times more likely (and lesbian and gay adults two times more likely) to report attempted suicide than straight adults. Another study found that bisexual men were 6.3 times more likely to seriously consider suicide in their lifetime (and gay men 4.1 times more likely) than straight men. A recent study found that bisexual teens who reported suicidal thoughts did not report a decrease in these thoughts as they aged into adulthood, unlike their straight peers.
Openness of Identity: Despite the health disparities mentioned above (and perhaps compounding them) bisexual people are less likely than gay men or lesbians to be out to their health care providers. Also compared to gay men and lesbians, bisexuals are three times less likely to be open about their sexual orientation to the important people in their lives.
These are staggering figures. In light of these findings, it’s no wonder that bisexual activists are being summoned to the White House in droves. Bisexuals comprise more than half of the LGBT population, and the failure to account for and talk openly about bisexual lives and experiences is precisely why bi people lack social support and stay closeted. I might never know if that woman at the farmers market was Kate Brown, but I wish I hadn’t filtered myself. She is our badass bisexual governor, and I shouldn’t hesitate to say so—even to a complete stranger.
Bisexuals don’t just need an awareness week, they need an awareness shift, and it must start in the queer community. Next time you hear someone talking about how bisexuals have it “easier” or get the best of both worlds, use some of these harrowing statistics to counter their bias. You don’t have to identify as bi to be a vocal bi ally.
Keep checking PQ Monthly for more from Bi Brigade, and keep up to date with Portland’s local bi+ community at www.bibrigade.org.