Study Finds Bi Women Are The Most Likely to be Liberal, But Why?

12/24/2018

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Are all LGBTQ people liberal?

It’s a question that was once assumed to have a simple answer: yes. But in the era of “Twinks for Trump,” Milo Yiannopoulos, and Bill White and his husband Bryan Eure (the infamous couple profiled last month in the New York Times article titled, How a Liberal Couple Became Two of N.Y.’s Biggest Trump Supporters), the question requires further exploration.

There’s an “underdog principle” that assumes that members of marginalized groups who experience stigma and discrimination for their identity have more empathy for other oppressed communities. It’s for this reason that LGBTQ people would, in theory, be more politically liberal, supporting legislation that supports disenfranchised bodies.

In the past, there’s been a plethora of data to support this. But given the current polarizing political climate, it may no longer be the case. Perhaps, in the era of Trump, the queer community isn’t as liberal as we previously believed. Or, perhaps, it’s unfair to categorize all members of the LGBTQ community together. There could be differences between genders and sexual orientation due to experiencing oppression differently.

Meredith Worthen, Ph.D., sought to answer these questions in her latest research, published online in the journal of Sexuality Research and Social Policy earlier this month.

In a comment to bi.org, Worthen said, “I am interested in centering LGBTQ people in my research. This piece is a partial extension of some previous work I did regarding gay and lesbian attitudes toward the death penalty, but I was surprised to find out there is still such little work done on LGBTQ political attitudes.”

The associate professor of sociology from the University of Oklahoma surveyed 1,940 students from a large university in the Bible belt, asking students about their sexual orientation which she categorized as heterosexual, mostly heterosexual, bisexual, mostly homosexual, and exclusively homosexual. (She then grouped exclusively homosexual and mostly homosexual in into one category of “gay.”) She asked questions about the students’ ideologies, including how they self-identified politically (extremely conservative to extremely liberal) if they consider themselves a feminist, if they support legal abortion, and if they support the death penalty.

When conducting the analyses, Worthen statistically controlled for race/ethnicity, as people of color tend to be more liberal.

The results, in general, support the notion that LGBTQ people are more likely to be liberal than their heterosexual peers. But further analysis of the data shows that there are large differences when broken down by gender and sexual orientation within the LGBTQ community.

Bisexual people, in general, are actually more liberal than their gay/lesbian counterparts, and bi women are the most liberal of all groups!

In the article, Worthen offers reasons as to why this might be the case, and it likely has to do with the fact that bi folks often don’t feel welcome or comfortable in gay and/or straight spaces.

“Bisexual college students may be a particularly liberal-leaning group because they may feel motivated to connect to university groups and programs that support social justice in ways that differ from lesbian/gay college students,” the author wrote. “In particular, bisexual individuals often lack a concrete ‘bisexual community’ and can sometimes feel displaced or erased from the larger LGBTQ community.’

“Thus,” Worthen deduced, “bisexual college students may look to other types of groups that support oppressed people, such as social justice groups. These experiences may have a unique impact on liberalism among bisexual college students.”

The effect is even stronger for bi women, due to their historically contentious placement within both the larger LGBTQ community and lesbian-specific spaces as well. (I’ve heard countless stories of lesbian women being ruthless and exclusionary toward bi women.)

Because of their less than ideal experiences within the LGBTQ community, “bisexual women may be uniquely situated to be reflexive about both their gender and sexual identities in ways that relate to their political, social, and cultural cognizance.” This, in turn, uniquely impacts bi women’s experiences with activism, feminism, and liberalism.

Thus, there’s what Worthen describes as a specific “bisexual woman consciousness” that stimulates liberal social justice perspectives.

Often feeling unsafe on college campuses and enduring higher rates of sexual assault likely contribute to this “bisexual woman consciousness” too.

“Together,” Worthen concluded, “these experiences may motivate bisexual women to become actively involved in advocacy including initiatives that support campus climate change as well as more general liberal social justice issues.”

Zachary Zane
Zachary Zane a Brooklyn-based freelance writer, speaker, YouTuber, and activist whose work focuses on (bi)sexuality, gender, identity politics, relationships, and culture. He's a contributing editor at The Advocate Magazine, a columnist at Bi.org, and currently writes for The Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, Out Magazine, and PRIDE.