Bi Heroes: Lani Ka’ahumanu

4/1/2017

Coming out at any time as any part of the LGBTQ community is adventurous and new. Coming out as bi can at first feel like you are the only bi person in your context. However, there is a long tradition in the queer community of coming out. For many LGBTQ people, it takes time to unpack and understand our self and our history. Lani Ka’ahumanu, a bi activist, knows this well.

In the 1960’s, Lani Ka’ahumanu was a suburban housewife. However, in 1974 she divorced her husband, moved to San Francisco, and came out as a lesbian. While attending San Francisco State University she helped found the Women’s Studies Department. In 1979 she graduated, the first person in her family to get a Bachelor’s degree. To an outsider view, it might appear that her identity is settled. After all, how many times can a person come out as queer and expect to be taken seriously? For Ka’ahumanhu and the entire LGBTQ community, 1980 changed many things.

In the Bay Area, 1980 was at the beginning of a decades-long battle for recognition, treatment, and prevention of HIV/AIDs. In the 1970’s, LGBTQ communities embraced sexual freedom and even used public displays of affection to directly confront homophobia. This mode of activism was turned against queer people with HIV/AIDs, and LGBTQ people were condemned for spreading the virus before anyone really understood it.

For Ka’ahumanu, 1980 was also a turning point; she courageously came out again, this time as bi. Biphobia was all too real for her and everyone in the bi community. There was lack of understanding by the Lesbian and Gay communities, as well as amongst heterosexuals and both felt bi people were a threat. Ka’ahumanu risked losing community from all sides by coming out as bi. Instead, Ka’ahumanu took the opportunity and created community for bi people everywhere.

Ka’ahumanu, along with many other bi activists, was instrumental in breaking bi isolation and using her voice to speak on behalf of bi people throughout the US. In 1983, because of her efforts, BiPol was founded, the first political organization for bi rights. In 1987, she helped found the Bay Area Bisexual Network (BABN), the oldest and largest bi group in San Francisco, which is still operating today. That same year she also helped found Bi Net USA, the first national organization for bi rights.

At the 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay rights, Ka’ahumanu delivered a speech, titled “Out and Outraged,” to the US Supreme Court. Her article is still relevant to our understanding of being bi today. In her speech, she brings to light questions about the lack of bi visibility and puts forward experiences of biphobia through tender words about the lives of bi people. She states many times that coming out as bi is not something done for sensational reasons and it is not a trend. Being bi is a valid and real experience of sexual orientation, and the contributions of Ka’ahumanu continue to impact our community and our visibility today.

Check out her story in her words on #stillbisexual

Throughout the 1980’s, bi people were instrumental in bringing awareness to HIV/AIDs and in demanding treatment and access to health care for the LGBTQ community. Though lesbian and gay communities have at times excluded bi people, much progress has been made in building bridges between the intersections of queerness. While HIV/AIDs continues to disproportionally affect LGBTQ communities, the incredible relentless work of bi and queer people have resulted in the development HIV testing, life-saving drug therapies, and now even preventative medications like PrEP. Because of Ka’ahumanu and countless other bi activists, it is possible to live with HIV/AIDs.

Ka’ahumanu said in her 1987 speech to Washington, “The issue is trust. The issue is building trust. The issue is the right of every one of us to be able to love whom we choose.” Through her unending efforts there is a greater understanding of bi people, paving the way for building trust within the bi community, the LGBTQ community, and the heterosexual community. Because of Ka’ahumanu, groups and organizations for bi people exist in the US and throughout the world, making it easier for bi people to connect with each other. Having foundational bi leaders like Ka’ahumanu has created avenues for being out as bi, having a community, and gaining more and more equality. Because of Lani Ka’ahumanu, and many others, we have more freedom and support for loving the people we love no matter our genders.

Lani Ka’ahumanu still lives in the Bay Area of California and is currently working on two book projects, My Grassroots Are Showing, and Passing for Other. More information on her website: http://lanikaahumanu.com/

Jo Proginoskes
Jo Proginoskes (they/them/theirs pronouns) is an MFA in Creative Writing student at Mills College. They enjoy writing about being alive, science and nature, and queer experiences. When they are not reading or writing or sleeping, they like to watch Grey’s Anatomy reruns or go for walks with their tiny terrier dog. You can find more of their writing at joprogo.wordpress.com.