Bi Activists in the White House

As he has done each year since taking office, President Obama has included bisexual activists in his annual LGBT Pride Reception, taking place Friday, June 15. I had the opportunity to speak with some of this year's bi guests to learn how they are gearing up for their trip.
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This year, as he has done each year since taking office, President Obama has included bisexual activists in his annual LGBT Pride Reception, taking place Friday, June 15. I had the opportunity to speak with some of this year's bi guests to learn how they are gearing up for their trip. I will post another article after the event, covering how the event went for them. In the meantime, here's some info about the folks I got to interview.

During the past decade Lauren Beach served as Chairperson of Minnesota's Bisexual Organizing Project (BOP), helped organize BOP's BECAUSE Conference on Bisexuality, and co-founded the University of Minnesota's Bisexual, Pansexual, Fluid Sexuality Inclusion Project. Lauren is also an NIH- and Point-Foundation-funded candidate at the University of Minnesota, where she simultaneously pursues a law degree and a Ph.D. in genetics.

Emily Drennen has been an outspoken bisexual advocate since appearing on CNBC to talk about her undergraduate research on bisexuality in young women. Married three times to each other, Emily and her wife of 14 years, Lindasusan Ulrich, have been vocal spokespeople in the same-sex-marriage movement. They have been featured in stories by Reuters, The San Francisco Chronicle, and numerous other outlets. Emily, a transportation policy analyst, earned her M.P.A. from San Francisco State University.

Lindasusan Ulrich is the principal author of Bisexual Invisibility: Impacts and Recommendations. This report was the first of its kind released by a governmental body in the U.S. She received her undergraduate degree from MIT and an M.A. from UC Berkeley, and she is currently on the path toward becoming a Unitarian Universalist minister.

Chiquita Violette, a board member of BiNet USA, volunteered in the Bi Suite at Creating Change in 2010 and, two years later, co-facilitated the Creating Change Bi/Pan/Fluid Institute.

Here is our conversation.

Amy Andre: How did you get invited to this year's LGBT Pride Reception?

Lauren Beach: Robyn Ochs sent out a message to a number of bisexual activists across the United States, asking if we would be interested and able to attend. [I said "yes."] A few days after that, I received the official invitation from the White House. So, in less than a week's time, I went from thinking [about it] to being confirmed to attend the event!

Chiquita Violette: The last time I was in D.C., I was outside the White House and shouting during the National Equality March in 2009. I never thought that I'd get the opportunity to be inside the White House. When I heard about the reception last year, I thought to myself jokingly, "Well, that's where I want to be next time I'm in D.C."

Lindasusan Ulrich: Robyn Ochs was invited to the first LGBT reception at the White House in 2009 and has pushed to make sure bisexuals were represented at subsequent receptions.

Andre: What is your hope or goal for this event?

Violette: It would be awesome to meet the President [and have] a conversation on other aspects of LGBT equality that don't get as much attention or support as marriage equality, such as ENDA and the DREAM Act.

Beach: [For visibility], all of the bisexual activists plan to wear identical pins saying "Bi Pride." We will be bringing extra pins as well as many "Bi Pride" and "Bi Ally" stickers to the event, too, so that we can hand them out to attendees, maybe even including the president!

Ulrich: If I have an opportunity to [speak] to President Obama, I want to urge him always to include the B, particularly because bisexuals have the highest rates of suicidality of any sexual orientation. As dire as that statistic is, it's a striking and succinct way to convey that bi invisibility has serious consequences.

Emily [Drennen] hopes she'll have the chance to bookend an experience she had at the 2008 California Democratic Convention, when she met then-Senator Obama. She took a page from something he describes in one of his books, about his mother meeting a politician, shaking the man's hand, and not letting go until he really heard what she had to say. Emily did the same thing, and when she had Mr. Obama's attention, she looked him in the eye and said, "It hurts my heart that I can't marry my partner. Domestic partnership isn't the same." And he looked back at her and said with deep sincerity, "I know." It was a powerful moment. So at the White House reception, she's hoping she can thank him for speaking out in favor of same-sex marriage.

Beach: My hope for this event is that by being present, we bring increased bisexual visibility to the White House! [And] given our numbers (a study conducted by the Williams Institute recently found that the total number of self-identified bisexuals is greater than the combined number of gay- and lesbian-identified people in the United States), attaining the full inclusion of bisexuals in GLBTQA organizations would have the potential to double the funding and energy of GLBTQA movements. Additionally, I think that bisexual activists would benefit from having increased access to the leadership present in GLBTQA organizations.

Andre: What do you feel is the significance of bisexuals being invited to this event?

Beach: Having bisexuals be invited to this event demonstrates that bisexual movements are making inroads. To me, our bi presence at this event for the past three years indicates that we have begun to develop a place of increased recognition in national GLBTQA movements.

Ulrich: It's a way of showing that we're not interlopers in the queer community. We've always been here, and we'll continue to be here. This year's contingent of eight bi activists is the largest group so far. Of course, given that bisexuals represent the largest queer population yet only a tiny fraction of the hundreds of invitees, we've clearly got some work to do. Still, I get the sense lately that something is shifting. [And] not a moment too soon.

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