San Francisco Human Rights Commission Approves Groundbreaking Report: "Bisexual Invisibility: Impacts and Recommendations"

Today, the San Francisco Human Rights Commission approved a groundbreaking report on bisexual invisibility.

(Download a pdf of the full report here.)  The document was approved by The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Advisory Committee (LGBTAC) in January and approval by the full commission gives this important work even more credibility as an official government report.

Most of the content is not shocking to those of us actively engaged in bisexual activism, but having such a document gain government approval is exciting to say the least and will serve as an important tool for activists and allies alike. The report goes a long way in terms of debunking commonly believed myths about bisexual people and our alleged greater access to privilege. As Advisory Committee member and principal editor and author of the report, Lindasusan Ulrich told Bi Social Network:

“The main thing I hope this report will communicate,” Ulrich says, “is that invisibility isn’t just about bisexuals wanting to feel welcome at the table—it has serious effects on people’s lives.”

From the report:

According to several studies, self-identified bisexuals make up the largest population within the LGBT community in the United States.

Bisexuals experience high rates of being ignored, discriminated against, demonized, or rendered invisible by both the heterosexual world and the lesbian and gay communities. Often, the entire sexual orientation is branded as invalid, immoral, or irrelevant. Despite years of activism and the largest population within the LGBT community, the needs of bisexuals still go unaddressed and their very existence is still called into question. This erasure has serious consequences on bisexuals’ health*, economic well-being, and funding for bi organizations and programs.

  • Nearly half of bisexual women and more than a third of bisexual men had seriously considered (or attempted) taking their own lives. Bisexual men were 6.3 times more likely and gay men 4.1 times more likely than heterosexual men to report having had suicidal thoughts or attempts. Among women, bisexuals were 5.9 times more likely and lesbians 3.5 times more likely to report having had suicidal thoughts or attempts than their heterosexual counterparts.
  • One study of California data was striking, though: it found that while gay men earned 2-3% less than straight men and lesbians 2.7% less, bisexual men earned 10-15% less and bisexual women nearly 11% less. Another 2009 study from the Williams Institute analyzed data from three surveys to compare poverty (as defined by the federal poverty line) between LGB and heterosexual people. Two of the surveys—the 2003 and 2005 California Health Interview Surveys, the only data that included separate numbers for bisexuals—found that bisexual women are more than twice as likely as lesbians to live in poverty (17.7% compared to 7.8%), and bisexual men are over 50% more likely to live in poverty than gay men (9.7% compared to 6.2%).
  • According to Funders for LGBTQ Issues, which tracks data on grants made by U.S. foundations to LGBT organizations, not a single grant in the entire country explicitly addressed bisexual issues in 2008 or 2009.

Bisexual Invisibility also includes personal stories from bisexual people. Jack M., 21 yo,  states:

“The only thing I would change about my sexuality is how others treat me for it...I only wish I didn't have to sacrifice feeling safe, feeling part of a community, and feeling I have anyone to confide in but myself.”

Jack goes on to discuss the animosity he has faced from both straight people and the gay community. Bisexual Invisibility suggests that experiences such as Jack’s are at least partly responsible for the higher instance of suicidal thoughts or attempts amongst bisexual people.

The report also highlights the need for greater research that specifically addresses the needs of bisexual people:

As noted earlier, when researchers conflate data about bisexuals with data about gay men or lesbians, it may significantly skew the findings. It may also result in interventions not reaching or not being effective for key populations. For example, because bisexuals have worse outcomes in most areas of health where specific data are available, conflating the data will generally make the picture look more urgent. Yet few public health programs specifically reach out to bisexuals. This means that even though bisexuals may have greater need, the resources primarily wind up benefiting lesbians and gay men.

This report is an important step towards gaining equality for bisexual people. Hopefully it will inspire more people to share their stories and even more people to listen and commit themselves to working for the full equality of everyone in the LGBT community.

*Author’s Note: Bisexual Invisibility includes a portion on bisexual health which is excerpted from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s research report Bisexual Health. (Download the pdf here.) The primary author is of that report is Amy Andre who I interviewed for Celebrate Bisexuality Day 2009.

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