Last month, the Bi Writers Association, with support from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center of New York City, organized "Putting the "B" in the LGBT", a national summit whose aim was to "give people the tools to understand and include the bi community more fully,"
said bi activist Sheela Lambert, who was also the driving force and primary organizer behind the summit.
The summit began with an incredibly stirring welcome address by Robert A. Woodworth, Director of Meeting and Conference Services and Capital Projects at the LGBT Center. During the course of his address, Woodworth recalled the time and efforts it has taken to make our communities as inclusive as they are now:
"After years of organizing and prodding by some people in this room - Sheela can tell you stories - the Center changed its name in 2001 to include the words "Bisexual" and "Transgender". Words used publicly - like "gay" in the early 70s and "lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender" today - have the power to spark awareness as they are absorbed into the culture. But awareness is not true understanding. That comes with connection and dialogue. That's why we need a Center where we all bump into each other day in and day out, and why we need this summit."
Click here to read his entire address.
Summit attendants were also welcomed by Frank O'Connell of the Steering Committee of the New York Times Company GLBT & Allies Affinity Group and Hawk Stone, Board Member of NGLTF, who appeared on behalf of Dr. Jaime Grant, Director of the Policy Institute at NGLTF, who was unable to attend. During the course of the summit, O'Connell also mentioned he was the only openly bisexual person in the Affinity Group, though many others had come out to him in private. Click here to read his welcome speech.
Bisexual and marriage equality activist Robyn Ochs, who was recently honored by NGLTF for her tireless lifetime commitment to the LGBT movement, was the keynote speaker. She spoke of the problematic nature of bi invisibility as people only "see" bisexuals when we are simultaneously partnered with members of both sexes, which is not the reality lived by most of our community.
As a marriage equality activist who is married to a woman, Ochs knows first hand the ways in which media outlets and others have tried to make her bisexuality invisible. She situated part of the blame with the messaging of LGBT organizations and their own biphobia.
“We oversimplify our messaging so people will ‘get it’ but then they don't ‘get it’ because we’ve given them an over-simplistic message...The ick factor with with regard to bisexuality is both about a resistance to sex and a resistance to complexity."
Following the keynote address, was a series of panels, including Bisexuality: Exploding the Myths*, Bi Community Panel: Telling Our Stories and Crafting the Message: How to Put the "B" in LGBT. The Summit ended with a closing plenary discussion: Putting the B in LGBT: How Can We Do a Better Job?.
Many and varied issues were touched upon emanating from both within and outside of the LGBT community. In Exploding the Myths, Peter Ruggiero of the Bi Writers Association, spoke movingly of the despair that came from the lack of images of bisexual men.
"Hearing bi men don't exist had detrimental effects on me - I literally though of doing myself in."
Other speakers called for more representation on a national and political level. Author and activist Ron Suresha noted:
"We have a lack of representation on a national level. They don't have anyone addressing bisexual issues full time. I think that's a problem."
Educator and activist Renata Moreira spoke movingly about her inability to secure a visa for the woman she loves and the fact that the mere request for her partner's visa has put her own citizenship in jeopardy. Moreira, who has a green card and was applying for her citizenship, was previously married to a man.
"Now they are now reevaluating my paperwork because they think my previous marriage might be fake."
This suspicion has caused much stress and pain for Moreira, as well as her ex-husband and family, with whom she is still close, as they are all being subjected to an investigation as to the validity of Moreira's previous marriage.
Moreira's story illustrates what happens as bisexuality is made invisible on a national and international level. As LGBT organizations continue to do more work around the effects of current immigration law and same-sex couples, this is something we must keep in mind.
Joshua Lynsen, News Editor for the Washington Blade, followed up the panel on Telling Our Stories with a lesson on messaging for news outlets who want to be inclusive of bisexuality. You can read his article which covers all the main points of his talk here.
The closing plenary was a roundtable discussion that featured LGBT activists, media professionals, politicians as well as bi community activists. GLAAD's Director of National News, Cindi Creager, also took part and addressed the issue of how LGBT organizations could work to keep their messaging consistent with a bi inclusive perspective. It was a rousing discussion with many diverse perspectives and as Ann Northrop, cohost of Gay USA, noted, as someone with 39 years of experience in journalism,
"People do not like complexity. The human race runs screaming from the room not to deal with this."
Northrop's suggestions for how to move forward?
"I want to encourage you to encourage the conversation. Talk more. Think more. Have conversations with everybody."
The first National Summit on “Putting the “B” in LGBT” is a promising beginning to an inclusive and complex conversation.
*Segments of Bisexuality: Exploding the Myths can also be heard on Out FM WBAI New York. It begins about halfway through the segment. Tune in to 99.5 FM New York City on Mondays at 11 am for additional coverage of the summit or visit the station's archives.