In previous articles, I've talked about the great need for attention to be paid to issues that are unique to the bi community. Well, now it looks like our administration is doing just that. USA Today and other media sources are reporting that bisexual community leaders and activists have been invited to the White House for a roundtable discussion.
This is a first, not just for the Obama administration, but also for any administration in U.S. history. Reportedly, "[p]articipants and administration officials will discuss a range of topics including health, HIV/AIDS, domestic and intimate partner violence, mental health, and bullying."
I got a chance to speak with representatives from BiNet USA and the Bisexual Resource Center (BRC) -- two of the largest bisexual organizations in the country - to ask them why a meeting like this might be needed.
I also connected with Loraine Hutchins, PhD., co-editor of the ground-breaking anthology Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out, and co-founder and one of the first board members of BiNet USA. (She is not currently a board member of BiNet.) Dr. Hutchins is a 4th generation Washingtonian who co-founded AMBi -- the Alliance of Multi-cultural Bisexuals, a local Washington, DC political action group, in the 1990s. She is now working with ABillyS. Jones-Hennin, one of the organizers of the first March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1979, and co-founder of the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays, to help create Celebrate Bisexuality Day events in the DC area for this Sept. 23 and the weeks surrounding it.
And I talked with Luigi Ferrer, the Program Director for Pridelines Youth Service. Mr. Ferrer is an experienced bisexual activist, a marine biologist and concerned environmentalist, a nationally-recognized HIV/AIDS activist, and a health care and non-profit consultant. He served as executive director for the Body Positive Resource Center and the Bisexual Foundation and held key management and program development positions with several national HIV specialty pharmacies. Most recently he worked for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health HIV/AIDS Bureau overseeing HIV prevention programs throughout the state.
What are the top issues facing the bisexual community?
BRC: With several studies showing that bisexuals represent half of the LGBT community, what affects us affects the entire community. Now that more studies separate out bisexuals from gays and lesbians, we often see in the numbers significant differences, such as higher rates of domestic partner violence, suicide, and drug/alcohol use.
BiNet USA: Not talking about bisexuals has helped lead to our high levels of suicide, poorer health outcomes, and devastatingly high levels of sexual violence and tobacco/alcohol/drug abuse. For bisexual educators, advocates and activists to be discussing these issues on behalf of their own community is essential to eliminating these disparities.
What do you think about the upcoming meeting?
Dr. Hutchins: I think the upcoming meeting has great potential and is long overdue. I'm delighted it's happening and hope the folks going can work with administration officials on giving them lots of concrete suggestions on how current and future federal policies can better respond to the needs of bisexual people, since we are still an uncounted and disregarded majority.
Mr. Ferrer: It is unprecedented and speaks to the Obama Administration serious efforts to truly understand, reach out or and work with minority and disenfranchised segments of the populations.
Why do you think a meeting like this needs to happen?
BiNet USA: We need to take every opportunity to discuss the bisexual community's deep need for recognition and support when it comes to the many disparities we often experience differently from straight and gay/lesbian counterparts.
BRC: A generation of bi activists has worked to have the bisexual community seen as a distinctive group within the LGBT family. It's wonderful that a national meeting will be taking place where bi educators and leaders will be raising awareness about our community's needs and looking for ways to have those needs met. We hope a meeting on the national level can spotlight these issues and build connections to work on making positive changes in bi people's lives.
What's some of the history of the bi community in relationship to the White House?
Mr. Ferrer: I know of no history of any type of relationship between the bi community and the White House.
Dr. Hutchins: For the first time ever in history, the bi community has been invited to the White House, and it has helped our leaders be more recognized and listened to. Of course, there have been bisexual people who have served in the White House and attended White House meetings for years and years, just not as out bisexuals advocating for bi issues per se. There is nothing new about being bisexual. Talking about it and caring about our concerns, rather than stigmatizing us or ignoring us, is what's new.
Personally, I'm very glad that the Obama administration is convening such a gathering, because there is clearly such tremendous need. I have received anonymous confirmation that representatives of national and regional bisexual organizations will be in attendance.
And now I turn to you, readers. What do you hope will come out of this unprecedented event?