Nothing About Us Without Us

On Sept. 23 a group of 33 bisexual activists met with federal officials at the White House for a closed-door bisexual roundtable. The group represented every major bisexual organization in the U.S. I was in this group, and I'd like to share what I told the federal government.
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On Sept. 23, 2013, a group of 33 bisexual activists met with federal officials at the White House's East Wing for a closed-door bisexual roundtable. The group represented every major bisexual organization in the U.S. I was in this group, and I'd like to share what I told the federal government.

To prepare for the meeting, the 33 of us had split into six teams, each one corresponding to a different topic of national interest: hate crimes, mental health, workplace discrimination, physical health, HIV/AIDS, and domestic violence. Bisexual people make up 50 percent of the LGB population, and these are some of the top concerns facing our community. I was glad to know that the federal government was going to hear about them.

In addition to the many federal officials in the room, we were joined by representatives from all the major LGBT organizations in the country. Although some LGBT organizations have been criticized in the past for not doing enough for us 50-percenters, it was heartening to have them with us here now, showing their support and having our backs with the weight of their reputation. They were not there to give formal speeches, as we were doing, but to be our allies.

One thing I said during the meeting was, "Nothing about us without us." This was in reference to the fact that, the week prior, the White House had convened a meeting of 200 LGBT leaders for a health summit related to the Affordable Care Act. With bisexuals having the poorest health among the sexual orientation groups, and with us making up half of the LGB population, I was shocked to find out that not a single bisexual organization was represented, and, to my knowledge, not a single bisexual person was invited.

As a community we are suffering, and being left out only increases that suffering. Thankfully, on Sept. 23, which happened to be National Celebrate Bisexuality Day, the White House got it right -- so right! -- and literally brought us to the table.

I led the team focused on physical health. Here is my speech:

Hello, and thank you for having me here! It's a true honor to share the health team's work with the group.

We want to start this discussion by showing that there are a lot of us bisexually identified folks out there, and we have unique health care needs.

How substantial are we? Studies from the HRC, the Williams Institute of UCLA, and many other sources consistently report that, of the total population of adults in the U.S. who identify as either lesbian, gay, or bisexual, 50 percent identify as bisexual.

How are we treated? Stigma research from Dr. Gregory Herek of UC Davis shows that bisexuals are the most stigmatized of the sexual identity groups. [I showed a list of different types of people, including whites, blacks, Jews, lesbians, etc.] This is an abbreviated list, pulled from a longer one of 100 types of people, ranked by heterosexuals in terms of stigmatization. Subjects were asked things like, "Who would you most like to have living next door to you? Who would you least like to have next door?" Whites are consistently number one. Everyone wants to live next door to a white person. IV drug users are number 100. Gays and lesbians are in the 60s. And bisexuals are 98 and 99.

Me, I'm a black, Jewish, bisexual woman. I guess no one wants to live next door to me! [This got a big laugh, along with a couple of people letting me know that they would be my neighbors. Yay!] In all seriousness, stigma and biphobia impact bisexual health in many ways, right down the way bisexuals are treated in the research literature.

We get erased. [I read a quote from a study, saying, "In this study, we looked at lesbians and bisexual women, who from here on will be referred to as lesbians."] This does a disservice to bisexuals -- and to lesbians. There are so many studies that mix the groups, even when they don't have to for the purpose of statistical sampling.

Today we'll be talking about research where findings on bisexuals have been correctly coded and separated from findings on lesbians, gays, and heterosexuals.

What we find overall is that in relation to sexual orientation, there is a hierarchy of health, with heterosexuals as the most healthy, and bisexuals the least, and gays and lesbians in between.

Here are some of the examples of our health disparities. Compared with heterosexuals, gays, and lesbians, we have the highest rate of tobacco use. And that's a bad combination with our lower rate of cancer screening, given the links between tobacco and cancer. We cannot underestimate tobacco. It is a killer.

And we can't underestimate the link between stigma and physical health. As you'll hear about during the mental health team's presentation, bisexuals have unique mental health issues and worse mental health overall compared with others. The research proves that the biphobia erodes mental health, which erodes physical health, via addictive behaviors like smoking and the other behaviors that that team will share with you.

Now I'd like to share a story. I gave a speech on bisexual health at a medical association conference a few years ago. One of the attendees, who is a mental health professional -- he's a therapist -- wasn't at my talk, but when he heard the topic of my speech, he told me, "Oh, when I have clients who say they're bi, I really question it. I really make them talk it through, and we examine it very closely."

I said, "What if they say they're gay?" He was gay, by the way.

He said, "Oh, in that case, we just talk about whatever they came to me for."

These are the kinds of stories that underscore the following point: We cannot have vulnerable people being mistreated by those they should be able to trust the most.

By the way, I schooled that therapist that day. By the end of our talk, he saw my point.

So, in conclusion, this is what our team is recommending: a strong commitment must be made to establish a national bisexual health advocacy initiative that will address these and other bisexual health concerns over time.

Thank you very much!

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