17 Ways for LGBT Organizations to be More Bi Inclusive

10/28/16

When bi people need some comic relief from the stress of biphobia we sometimes joke about the initialism LGBT, since it often doesn’t mean LGBT at all. We say, What’s the B for anyway? Bacon, right? No, it’s biscuits. No it means, “Busy talking about only gay things.” Yeah, the B is for “Bonding over gay issues.” One activist concluded that the B must be a placeholder for a ghost. Sometimes we just come right out and admit it’s all GGGG, or LG(b)t. Or as rights activist, Yemisi Ilesanmi said, “The B actually stands for something. It does not stand for Bitch or Bullshit…”

All that really isn’t funny though. It’s actually a super sad situation that can have serious repercussions for bi people. This is especially true for those newly coming out to themselves, those who aren’t yet aware of biphobia inside the LGBT community. Imagine the trauma when a bi person in crisis turns to a supposed LGBT group for help — never even considering that the B would not be respected and represented in an LGBT organization — but instead of much needed support, encounters biphobia. Sadly, this is a reality that happens way too often.

Thankfully not all LGBT organizations have a memory problem when it comes to recalling what the B stands for. More and more groups that fly the rainbow flag are realizing how important it is that they represent bisexuality. Shout out to the LGBT organizations that understand that groups who render the third letter of their initialism silent are in effect silent partners to the conditions that result in the bisexual community’s tragic statistics.

How embarrassing though for the rest of the LGBT organizations. I mean considering all the work bisexual community has done to assure that the B was there; they must be embarrassed that we still aren’t being represented, and instead are actually being harmed. It’s especially embarrassing when you consider all the work bi people have done to fight for “gay” rights.

It seems that some of the leadership in these groups think that biphobia isn’t a thing, that bi people only ever suffer from homophobia — and these organizations certainly do their damned best to fight homophobia, so yes they are helping the bi community. Well yes, bi people do suffer from homophobia, yes we do benefit from work for “gay” rights and against homophobia, but we also suffer from biphobia, which is actually a thing. It’s a thing that can even come from the gay community.

Of course, we think, it pains those who head LGBT organizations to see the bisexual community treated with the same kind of hate and bullying that homophobia produces. Of course they hate the fact that we are getting raped at alarmingly high rates, that we are frequently suffering at the hands of domestic violence.

It’s hard when we don’t see these organizations standing up for us, coming to our defense, calling out the biphobes. Obviously, LGBT groups want to do something about the fact that the bi community’s needs are unacceptably absent in their organizations activities. Obviously these groups do not want to be contributing to biphobia and our higher rates of suicide ideation, poverty, substance abuse, cancer, depression and anxiety. I mean considering all of the bisexual community’s mental health disparities — yes, higher than gays and lesbians. Considering that when surveys and studies include bisexuals, our worse statistics, help these organizations get more funding, and then they channel it predominately towards gay causes. Obviously, this situation is extremely concerning for LGBT organizations. Right?

Instead it often feels like bi issues are intentionally erased and ignored, “but bisexuals have hetero-privilege, therefore gays have it worse; so what are we complaining about?” When we hear things like this, it’s hard to believe that LGBT organizations are looking out for bi folks.

So let’s move on to how LGBT organizations can actually do something to make the situation better. Because, let’s face it, if you’re reading this, then you really don’t want the B in your group’s name or tagline, to stand for Biphobia. Yes, you’d like to make a change in an LGBT organization that you are somehow involved with. Yes, you want to know how to make this organization not only inclusive of, but visibily welcoming of, the bi community. Perhaps though, you are just not sure how to go about that?

Don’t sweat it! Here’s a nifty list of solutions.

1: Change Your Name (if you haven’t already)

It’s never too late to step-up to the plate and do the right thing. If you only have “Gay” or “Gay and Lesbian” in your name, that’s tantamount to publicly declaring that you don’t think being inclusive is important. For example, if you’re the Gay and Lesbian Center of Nobiville, how would bi folks know that you actually represent us? Sure maybe you have “For Our LGBT Community” in your website’s About page, or even in your tag line, but groups that haven’t even bothered to have a B in their name raise a huge red flag for bisexuals. A bisexual is going to guess that it’s more likely that approaching your staff or attending your event isn’t going to be the supportive experience we hope for, but rather one more biphobic trauma.

Of course, name changes alone are not enough; you must live up to it. Otherwise, please do NOT change your name, so we are at least given a clue that you are not a bi-inclusive organization.

Some sort of flag2: Be Blatantly Obvious About Your Intent to Welcome the Bi Community

Have a bi flag flying next to the rainbow flag outside the center, add a Welcome Bisexuals statement on flyers, your website, and event notices.

It might seem silly to make it clear that bi people are welcome at a center that has a B in its name but… well, we already went over all that. I look forward to a day when no one has a clue why an LGBT center specifically welcomes bi people, but right now that seems very far away (please do all you can to prove me wrong about that!)

3: Have a Separate Bi Books Section

Many LGBT centers have lesbian books in one area, gay books over there, and maybe a trans section. If there are any bi books they’re generally mixed in with gay or lesbian books, and thus pretty unfindable. Give us our own area, label it clearly and fill it with great reads.

 4: Have Bi Groups

If you have separate support or social groups for gays and lesbians, having bi groups too is a great way to be not only bi-inclusive but also bi-aware. Commonly, gay groups are for “gay and bi men” and lesbian groups are for “lesbians and bi women” in organizations that think of themselves as being bi-friendly. However, while some bi people may feel like one of those groups works best for them – and certainly they should be welcome — many bi people find that their issues, concerns, joys, and thoughts, are not addressed or even welcomed in gay and lesbian groups.

Sometimes the reason for not having bi specific groups is because there doesn’t seem to be enough interest. Keep in mind that while gays and lesbians may feel more comfortable in gender segregated groups. Many bi people would feel more comfortable in a group of multi-gender bi people than they would in a same-sex group of people with a different sexual-orientation. So, while there may not be enough interest for both a male bi group and a female bi group, there may be enough for one group. This is an especially useful idea when we take into account the fact that many bisexuals are non-binary gender. Additionally, it should be kept in mind that the more bi-inclusive and bi-welcoming an organization is, the more bi people will participate, and soon there may be enough for gender-specific bi groups to form.

5: Put Bi Links on Your Website

It’s not uncommon for LGBT organizations to have a resources page with lots of great links to all kinds of great gay and lesbian info and help but no links to bi specific resources.

Checking such pages on a group’s websites is one way a bi person can ascertain whether an LGBT organization is really LGBT or actually just LGT or LG. Of course, the assumption is often that gay resources cover bi issues, but it should be clear by now that often isn’t the case. Meanwhile, there are many bi specific non-profits, blogs, documents, sites, etc. that need to be findable by bi people.

6: Be Inclusive and Supportive of Trans People

Certainly, any LGBT organization should be doing this already, but if these groups were already doing everything the way they should be, I wouldn’t be writing this. So yes, in addition to the obvious reasons why you should be inclusive and supportive to trans people, if you want bi people to feel welcome, you’re going to need to be sure trans people feel welcome. For one thing, many bi people fall under the trans umbrella. In fact, it’s been shown that about half of transgender people identify as bisexual or queer. Additionally, cisgender bi people tend to be strong allies to the trans community.

7: Be Ethnically and Racially Diverse and Welcoming

Again, this is obviously something you should already be doing, but it’s additionally imperative if you want the bi community to feel welcome. More than forty percent of LGBT people of color identify as bi. Being inclusive and welcoming of bi people has to mean that ALL bi people can be confident that they will be comfortable in your LGBT spaces.

8: Have Bi Visibility Day Activities and/or a Celebration.

Big picnic? Bisexual poetry slam? Freddy Mercury impersonator contest? Whatever makes sense for your community. Invite everyone in your organization to celebrate with the bi community. Don’t forget the pink purple and blue cookies and/or streamers.

9: Put Bi People on Your Board of Directors and Staff.

The best way to assure that your group is bi inclusive is to have bi people in your leadership and staff. But heed the words of bi Bolivian, LGBT activist, Frank Evelio Arteaga,

“The B must stop being like a decoration. It is not enough to have bisexual people in organizations. I have heard various activists say that when they propose an activity or action with a bisexual focus, the rest of the non-bisexual people block them or question them (as if they were bisexual themselves or they understood their reality of being bisexual); they then ask us to make ourselves more visible, but don’t help us with our activities. This must definitely change.”

10: Teem up with a Bi Group or Organization for Collaborative Efforts

Working with bi organizations — either national or local — is a really powerful way to declare that you are serious about your inclusiveness. Knowing that you have gotten a trusted bi group to trust you enough to combine their name with yours on an event or action will make major inroads towards assuaging the doubts of jaded bi people. This is a great way to let the bi community know they can trust your outreach to be more than just token display.

11: Create a “No Biphobia / Bi Folks Welcome,” Resolution.

Declare your organization unequivocally bi friendly in a written, recorded, document. Make a bold unmistakable statement. Include in the resolution ways for biphobia to be reported, and details on how such reports will be followed up. Announce the resolution to your members, the bi community, and send out a press release.

12: Have Bi Sensitivity Training

Just like any other marginalized group there are realities about our identity that others are just not likely to be aware of. Even an organization trying their best to be inclusive can easily miss the mark if their staff unintentionally participates in microaggressions, so it’s really important to be knowledgeable of our terminology, issues, politics, and triggers if you want to include us. Do a training session for the board and other key leaders, then have one for your staff, then offer one for your members.

13: Don’t Allow Hateful Comments about Bisexuality to Run Rampant

Meetings, blogs, and social events are all places where biphobic comments can tend to crop up. Truth is, bi people see this allowed in places where other forms of hate would not be accepted. Treat biphobia the same way you would treat blatant homophobia or racist comments. No tolerance!

14: Include a Statement About Being Bi Inclusive in You Writer’s guidelines

If you’re an LGBT media or your org has a blog make sure your writers know you won’t tolerate language that is not bi-inclusive, erases bisexuals, or is in any other way biphobic.

Often when I – as @BisexualBatman on Twitter — call out an article for containing bi-erasure, the response by an editor is, I don’t censor our writers. This is a totally offensive comment because the same editor would never allow for example, racist, homophobic, or anti-Semitic language, but somehow they deem bi people as not as worthy of the same kind of respect and dignity.

15: Don’t Make Assumptions About Sexual Orientation

There is a tendency in our society to assume everyone is heterosexual – part of what is known as heteronormativity. Likewise, if we see someone with another person who appears to be a same gender partner, there is an automatic assumption that both people are gay or lesbian. Mononormativity — when everyone is assumed either gay or straight — is a lesser-known concept but is what is at work in that case. Both heteronormativity and mononormativity erase bisexual identiy.

If two people walk into your center who look like a man and a woman and are introduced to you as partners or spouses, don’t assume they are straight. Likewise, if what appears to be two women or two men arrive at an event arm and arm, don’t make the assumption that they are a gay or lesbian couple. One or both individuals may be bi, and if you automatically fail to acknowledge that, you are going to find yourself quickly alienating or offending bi people.

16: Make Sure All Your Events are Bi Inclusive

Do you host a regular gay movie night? Change the name to LGBTQ movie night and show some bi movies too. LGBT poet’s week? Include bi poets. Whether you are having a pride rally, famous LGBT entertainers’ gala, inspiring coming out stories video, etc, be sure that the bi community is represented.

To be sure your events are both bi inclusive and not bi offensive, have bi people, bi organizations, or a bisexual consultant involved in the planning.

bi-swag17: Include Bi Merchandise

Does your organization have a gift shop? Online catalogue? Booths at events? Make sure there are plenty of bi oriented items available, little flags, big flags, bumper stickers, buttons, Tee-shirts, etc. Also, eliminate items that erase bisexuality. For example, items that refer to “Lesbian, Gay, and Transgender Rights,” or items that refer to “Gay Marriage “instead of “Same-sex Marriage” or “Marriage Equality.”

It may seem like a long list, but really it doesn’t take a lot to put the B back in your LGBT organization. And all the wonderful bi folks you will gain participating in your events and organization will make it more than worth it.

Harrie Farrow
Harrie Farrow is the author of the bisexual themed literary novel, “Love, Sex and Understanding the Universe.” She’s written articles, blogs, and columns about bisexuality in various publications such as Unicorn Booty and The Gayly. Harrie fights biphobia on Twitter as @BisexualBatman, and has also worked as an investigative reporter. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from San Francisco State with a BA in psychology and a minor in Human Sexual Studies, and is currently finishing her second novel, “The Man with the Camera.”