Thursday, September 15, 2016

#biweek Public Policy Priorities

Biweek 2016 logo, credit Deborah Atwater/BiNet USA

Bisexual Public Policy Priorities

2013 Bisexual Community Issues Roundtable at the White House participants at the offices of the National LGBTQ Task Force *Source: BiNet USA

Bisexual people have been a driving force in the LGBTQ community since before Stonewall and continue to be leaders within local, regional and national organizations and issue-based campaigns. Every day, bisexuals work side by side with the larger LGBT community to effect change and equality. What does it mean to be bisexual? Renowned gender and sexuality advocate Robyn Ochs puts it this way: “Bisexuals are people who acknowledge in themselves the potential to be attracted—romantically and/or sexually—to people of more than one gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.”  

In 2015, in preparation for a White House Bisexual Community Policy Briefing, Heron Greenesmith, JD (@HeronD), Lauren Beach, JD, PhD (@LaurenBBeach), and Dr. Herukhuti (@DrHerukhuti) compiled existing research, interviewed bisexual researchers and experts, and drafted federal-level policy briefs in the following eight public policy areas:

Data Collection

Although the data showing health, economic, violence, employment and other disparities faced by bisexuals continue to mount, serious problems with data collection remain. Many studies of sexual minorities report the results of their research in an aggregated fashion that does not distinguish the outcomes of bisexual people from those of lesbian and gay people. In the realm of sexual and gender minority behavioral health risk analysis, federally funded research studies and reports often conflate gay and bisexual men and transgender women under the umbrella of “men who have sex with men,” ignoring the unique disparities and needs of men who have sex with people of more than one sex or gender and of transgender women. These studies also often fail to account for both sexual orientation and gender identity, rendering transgender people who have sex with people of more than one sex or gender invisible. These practices result in commingled data that do not facilitate setting targeted research priorities or tailoring interventions to improve outcomes for all bisexual people. LGBT data ­collection leaders such as The Fenway Institute and The Williams Institute agree that disaggregated data analysis that reports research results of self­-identified and behaviorally bisexual people separately from gay, lesbian, and MSM and WSW is a best practice for LGBT health research.


Bisexual students and youth have needs and experience challenges different from those of gay, lesbian, and straight youth. These challenges include but are not limited to bullying, harassment, difficulty establishing social relationships with peers, and lack of family and other adult support.

Employment and Entrepreneurship

Bisexuals experience a unique form of prejudice and discrimination in heterosexual and LGBT workplaces and business environments––biphobia. Biphobia and stigma make being publicly bisexual risky for workers, business leaders, and entrepreneurs and makes it difficult for them to be productive and successful. These challenges make bisexuals vulnerable to poverty and poor quality of life.

HIV Prevention, Treatment and Care

The experiences of bisexual individuals in HIV prevention, treatment, and care have been obscured by combining the data on bisexual and gay men and transgender women into the category of “MSM” or men who have sex with men. Bisexual individuals are an under-­researched segment of the population. Therefore, we do not know if current interventions developed and tested based primarily on data from gay men and lesbian women are or will be effective for bisexual people. Preliminary evidence suggests, for example, that current HIV prevention interventions geared toward MSM do not effectively address the sexual health needs of bisexual men, particularly sexual risk behaviors with female partners. We do not know enough about the situations and contexts in which bisexual individuals are making decisions regarding HIV prevention, treatment and care, particularly in relation to the sex or gender of their sexual and relationship partners.

Immigration and Asylum

Bisexual immigrants, asylees, and refugees have unique needs and valid claims. Honoring the experiences and validating the claims of bisexual immigrants, asylees, and refugees, regardless of misapprehensions surrounding bisexual persons’ ability to “pass” as straight or to “choose” whom to partner with, is crucial for treating bisexual persons with competence.

Mental Health and Suicide Prevention

Bisexual youth and adults have higher rates of suicidal ideation and attempts than gay, lesbian, and heterosexual youth and adults. The factors that lead to higher rates of ideation and attempts are complex and may include anti­bisexual stigma and discrimination Culturally competent urgent interventions and crisis management services are needed from mental health care providers, teachers, family members, and peers.

Physical Health

Self-­identified and behaviorally bisexual people have higher rates of obesity, smoking, cardiovascular disease, and mental health disorders (e.g. depression, anxiety, eating disorders, alcohol and substance use disorders) compared to their gay, lesbian and heterosexual counterparts. Bisexual populations are less likely to access needed health care services, with bisexual adults less likely to have a consistent health care provider and more likely to be uninsured. Expansion of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factors Surveillance System (BRFSS) to include sexual orientation and gender identity questions in all states is warranted to further evaluate and assess the physical health disparities that bisexual populations face nationwide. It is essential that future studies also focus on the unique health disparities experienced by bisexual people of color, bisexual youth and elders, bisexual people with disabilities, transgender and gender non­-conforming bisexual people and bisexual people living in poverty. Government investment in outreach to bisexual people to increase their utilization of public health insurance plans provided under the Affordable Care Act is urgently needed to decrease the number of uninsured bisexual people, and reduce their number of emergency room visits. Cultural competency training for health care providers is also crucially needed to ensure bisexual people are welcomed and retained within healthcare settings.


Bisexual youth and adults experience higher rates of intimate partner violence, domestic violence, and sexual assault, compared to gay male, lesbian, and heterosexual youth and adults. Investment in the development of comprehensive, evidence-­based interventions to prevent emotional, physical and sexual violence in bisexual populations as well as the development and implementation of culturally competent supportive services for bisexual survivors are crucially needed. These undertakings should include targeted efforts to address the needs and experiences of youth and college-­aged adolescents as well as incarcerated populations.


Bisexual Resource Center has designated March as Bisexual Health Awareness Month to raise awareness about bisexual health disparities. Source: Bisexual Resource Center

Statistics show quite clearly that bisexual people report higher levels of physical and mental health disparities, sexual and domestic violence, and poverty than gays and lesbians. Often these disparities can be attributed to bisexual discrimination and anti-bisexual bias. Wendy Bostwick’s study on microaggressions against bisexual people points out that many of these negative interactions are initiated by lesbian and gay people, so it is not surprising that Pew research has shown that bisexual people report much lower levels of feeling connected to the LGBTQ community. For more on the important issues facing Bisexual Americans please check out Movement Advancement Project’s Understanding Issues Facing Bisexual Americans report.

About Bisexual Erasure

Bisexual erasure plays a critical role in reducing access to the resources and support opportunities bisexually oriented people so desperately need. Source: Bisexual Resource Center

Bisexual erasure/bisexual invisibility is a pervasive problem in which the existence or legitimacy of bisexuality (either in general or in regard to an individual) is questioned or denied outright. For example, two married women might spend time in community spaces dominated by lesbians. Perhaps one of the women is bisexual and objects to the assumption that she is a lesbian (i.e., when others call the two women a “lesbian couple”). However, every time she mentions this, others insist that she can’t really be bisexual or that her orientation doesn’t matter (perhaps with the subtext that she shouldn’t talk about it) now that she is partnered. Bisexual scholar, activist and theorist, Dr. Herukhuti has cautioned, "By selecting which loved ones and sexual partners in someone's life are worthy of being recognized, bisexual erasure is a violent amputation of a person's chosen family and community."

About Bisexual Stigma and Visibility

Thankfully the bisexual community has displayed a high level of resiliency and despite many challenges has worked to create awareness of important bisexual public policy priorities. Whether it be speaking with President Obama about the bisexual community, launching bisexuality related social media campaigns or advocating for fair treatment in the media, the bisexual community’s hard work towards equality should be recognized and supported. Every day is a day you can support people who identify as bisexual, pansexual, fluid, queer, non-monosexual, no labels, pomosexual, bi-romantic, pan-romantic, polysexual, multisexual or any of the several dozen “labels” the bisexual community celebrates and supports as equally valid and equally brave.

Examples of anti-stigma campaign done by the Centre for Addiction & Mental Health, Toronto. Posters, buttons, and postcards available for sale at

Bisexual cultural competency training is a necessity to understand bisexual history, identity, culture, politics and community. Please contact one of the three U.S. based bisexual non-profit community organizations to be connected to trainers affiliated with The Bisexual Resource Center, Bisexual Organizing Project and/or BiNet USA.