The Bisexual Warriors of the “Gay” Movement
Some gays and lesbians, pleased with victories over homophobia, dismiss the notion that they should help fight biphobia. Not, they say, because they don’t that believe bisexuality or biphobia exists, nor — they claim — because they are biphobic, but rather because they are bitter about bi people not helping in the fight against homophobia.
What??? Wait, let me rephrase that, WHAT!!!
There are so many things wrong with that notion, that it makes bi-activists heads explode. Although biphobia is a separate menace from homophobia, the bi community still suffers at the hands of homophobia, so of course we have been involved all along in fighting for gay rights. This fiction about bisexual people’s absence in gay rights battles commits the grievous act of writing out of history the bisexual community’s oh so very present and active rolls on all levels of battles the gay community has had to endure.
When my attention was directed to a young gay man bulling a bisexual woman on Twitter, I — as @BisexualBatman — found among other biphobic messages he’d sent her — “Why is it so important for you to look straight, be in straight relationships, and coopt gay culture?”
My response was, “We are never in straight relationships. We are not straight. Why is it so important to hate on bisexuals?”
To which he replied, “Girl you half straight.”
Here was a gay guy four decades younger than me calling me girl and accusing bisexual people of coopting gay culture.
I came back with, “Who you calling girl? I was marching in “gay” (bisexuality wasn’t acknowledged) rights protests before you were born.”
Unfortunately, it isn’t just young gay people who don’t realize how active in gay rights, the bisexual community has been all along.
This comment on a bisexual YouTube video show a great deal of hostility and ignorance about the role bisexuals have played in gay rights:
“Personally, I don’t think bisexuals should be part of our community’s acronym. Where were the bisexuals during the height of the AIDS crisis? I don’t remember any bisexuals protesting with ACT-UP. I saw lesbians and transwomen at protests but never any bisexuals. Why is that? The first time I ever saw out bisexuals was in a pansexual BDSM group that used to meet monthly at the bar where I worked. None of them were active in the community. They only showed up when they wanted to get laid.”
So why are so many gays so certain bisexual people were absent in the fight against homophobia? Because for one thing, often part of our contribution was to downplay our bisexual identity to keep the issue of homophobia at the forefront.
As explained in a document entitled Bisexual Movements in the glbt ARCHIVES, “…gay liberationists who were bisexual still often felt compelled to represent themselves as gay in order to challenge compulsory heterosexuality and avoid suspicions that they were ‘selling out’.”
In a Bi.org post, Rio Veradonir wrote, “The enormous and unprecedentedly fast success of the gay rights movement happened due to a strategic choice on the part of activists to encourage as many people as possible to positively identify as gay.”
That statement is an excellent description of the “come out” campaign. What is rarely acknowledged though, is that the encouragement for “as many people as possible” to come out as gay included a whole bunch of bisexual people — bisexual people who decided to “positively identify as gay,” to be part of the political movement to end homophobia. This is a political move which I personally recall a love interest doing back in the 1980s.
When gay icon Dan Savage says, “…it would be great if more bisexuals in opposite-sex relationships were out… More out bisexuals would mean less of that bisexual invisibility that bisexuals are always complaining about,” it’s interesting that he specifies, bisexuals in “opposite-sex” relationships, and adds, “Most adult bisexuals, for whatever reason, wind up in opposite-sex relationships,” (for which he gives zero evidence) then concludes, “And most comfortably disappear into presumed heterosexuality.”
The implication is that all bisexual people who are not out are taking advantage of heteroprivilege, failing to consider that perhaps the reason why he doesn’t know of many bisexual people who are in same-gender relationships, is became they have disappeared into presumed homosexuality, to help gay visibility.
The undeniable fact is, many bisexual people —both those who took on a gay identity and those who wore the bisexual label despite pressures not to — were in the trenches of, and often even leading, gay rights actions. The evidence is myriad.
Bisexual Pride — Gay Liberation is Our Liberation
As this 1985 New York City Pride Parade photo shows, yes we were there, marching alongside gays, yes we understood that bis would never have liberation until gays had liberation.
Listed below are just some of the documented examples of bisexual people involved in the forefront of gay rights and AIDS activist efforts of the last decades of the 1900s. Of course there were many other bi individuals involved in their own less prominent ways.
“GAYS” IN THE MILITARY
Cliff Arnesen co-founded the National Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Veterans of America (now American Veterans for Equal Rights), testified on the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, and became the National Vice President of Legislative Affairs for the Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Veterans of America and the President of the New England chapter.
Arnesen, who joined the Army in 1965, also, testified as an out and proud bisexual veteran, before the U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs’ Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, in regards to issues relating to AIDS, PTSD, homelessness, gays in the military, and upgrading of less-than-honorable discharges based on homosexuality and bisexuality.
As a Huffington post piece about Arnesen explains,
“When they discovered that he wasn’t straight, he was arrested and paraded through Fort Dix at gunpoint, court-martialed, and served a year in a United States military prison for his bisexuality. There, he was subject to death threats on a regular basis. He didn’t receive half a court martial, and they didn’t threaten to beat him up halfway.”
So let’s hear your complaints one more time about bisexual people busily taking advantage of hetero-privilege while gays did all the work for the “gay rights” movement.
How tragic then, and how wrong, that the Ask Yahoo question, “Why do gay people hate bi people?” included the response, “They feel the whole gay community must stand together, and bisexuals are more prone to stand back and watch.”
LANDMARK “GAY” UPRISINGS
Coverage in the New York Times of the dozens of people who testified in support of a proposal to create the first national monument to the “gay rights” movement, near Stonewall, included this story:
“Every day as Gil Horowitz, 80, passes by the Stonewall Inn near his home in the West Village, he is transported back to the early morning hours of June 28, 1969. He was in his early 30s then, a bisexual man still living largely in the shadows, when, he said, he was arrested by a police officer as part of a protest outside the bar… he said, he witnessed dozens of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people chained to radiators and beaten with nightsticks.
‘It was made clear to me that night that it was never safe to be L.G.B.T.,’ he recalled. ‘Stonewall was our turning point, our rallying cry.’”
An article in The Seattle Lesbian, reported that during Australia’s 1978 police riot at a massive Pride demonstration, Peter Murphy, a bisexual man who was 25 at the time and handed out pamphlets for the event, was arrested and taken to solitary confinement, then severely brutally beaten to the point of convulsions. Murphy went on to be one of the 10 members of the “78ers” who for nearly twenty years demanded apologies to the parade marchers from the Australian government — which they finally got this year.
Where was the bi community? Often getting arrested 1beat up for “gay rights.”
“GAY” PRIDE AND RIGHTS MARCHES
In 1969, a month after the Stonewall riots, Brenda Howard conceptualize and coordinated the pride rally known as the Christopher Street Liberation Day March. A year later Howard also organized the first of what became the annual Liberation Day March. The Annual Marches later morphed into NYC Pride and were the inspiration for Pride Parades throughout the country, earning Howard the moniker “Mother of Pride.” Oh, and almost forgot to mention, Brenda Howard was an out and proud bisexual.
J. Christopher Neal
Yet, further evidence of the lack of appreciation for bisexual people’s contributions to “gay rights,” it wasn’t until 2015, that NY Pride had its first out bisexual grand Marshal, J. Christopher Neal, and that was only after bi-activists raised a fuss about it when the 2014 parade had three Marshals — representing LG and T, resulting in diplomatic talks with a very sweet resolution.
In 1972, Bill Beasley, another bi activist, was a core organizer of the first Los Angeles Gay Pride March. Beasley was also active in the Gay Liberation Front. Later he became a board member of what was then the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Freedom Day Parade, which was changed in the mid-1990s to the LGBT Pride Celebration due to the efforts of Beasley, and another bisexual leader on the board, Matthew L. Le Grant.
The historic 1987 March on Washington for “gay and lesbian rights,” included a national contingent of bisexual people organized the Boston Bisexual Women’s Network.
Where was the bi community? Well, in some cases, organizing “gay” pride actions, in other cases, marching beside you.
“GAY” RIGHTS RULINGS AND LEGISLATION
In 1992 bisexual Deputy Sheriff, Tom Woodard of Orange County, Florida, sued and won his claim of unconstitutional discrimination after being forced to quit his job in 1989 because of his sexual orientation. An article in the Orlando Sentinel reported that a spokesperson from Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund said the case was the first ruling to guarantee “gays” the right to a government job based on state constitutional privacy provisions, and only the second ruling in the country that says sexual orientation may not be used by police in hiring.
In 1977 psychologist and bisexual activist, Alan Rockway, coauthored the first “gay rights” employment non-discrimination ordinance to pass by popular vote in a major urban area in the U.S. The Dade County, Florida, legislation was opposed by Florida Citrus Commission spokeswoman, Anita Bryant, who used a “Save Our Children” campaign to repeal the ordinance, and start similar campaigns throughout the country.
When the Citrus Commission supported Bryant’s homophobic campaign, Rockway was among those who conceived of and led the famous and very successful national “gaycott” against Florida orange juice. The boycott not only resulted in the cancellation of Bryant’s contract, but also helped bring “gay rights” issues into the national spotlight.
Rockway co-wrote Miami’s Full Equality Ordinance, and helped pass Florida’s privacy rights amendment of 1980 — both protecting the “gay rights.”
Rockway was also responsible for starting two of the country’s first LGBT mental health programs — in Miami, Florida, and Berkeley, California in the late 70’s and early 80s. The Rockway Institute “a national center for LGBT psychology research, education and public policy,” created to “counter anti-gay prejudice and inform public policies affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people,” was named after the activist, who died of AIDS in 1987.
In 1983 BiPOL, the first and oldest bisexual political organization, founded in San Francisco by Rockway and other bisexual activists included elsewhere in this article, such as Lani Ka’ahumanu, and Dr. David Lourea, launched demonstrations against anti-gay/bisexual raids in Haiti.
In 1977, The San Francisco Bisexual Center held a press conference to speak out against both Anita Bryant, and California’s Briggs Initiative — a statewide ballot measure (Proposition 6) which would have, had it not been defeated, banned “gays and lesbians” from working in California’s public schools.
Where was the bi community? Often doing very hard work to make the world a better place for “gays.”
NATIONAL “GAY” RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS
In 1978 ABilly Jones-Hennin organized the DC-Baltimore Coalition of Black Gays (now known as the D.C Coalition), and then went on to create the first national African-American gay activist group — the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays.
Jones-Hennin also helped organize the 1979 March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights, was part of the first gay black delegation to meet with White House staff during the Carter Administration, and organized the first national conference on AIDS in the Black Community.
This prolific activist was also the co-organizer for The Third World Conference, which was the first national gathering of LGBT people of color.
In 2007, the Rainbow History Project honored Jones-Hennin for being a community pioneer.
He remains active to this day, including serving on or chairing boards of various nonprofits.
Jones-Hennin is quoted in an Autostraddle article, explaining, “In the 70s we fought very hard to break the labels out… we started to say that it is important for the public to recognize that there are lesbians, bisexuals and transgender folks.”
The article goes on to say though, that even then he hesitated to call himself bisexual for fear of being excluded from activism. However, Jones-Hennin elaborated, “In the early 90s I got more insistent about identifying myself as bisexual because I became aware that identifying as gay was a form of bisexual erasure.”
Where was the bi community? Often busy working on gay causes, while putting our bi-identities on the back burner.
“GAY” STUDENT GROUPS
Lest anyone think there was no reason to fear being rejected from gay activism if a person was out as bisexual, consider this Newspaper clipping from 1992 about a rally against homophobia and biphobia at Rutgers University. The article reports that bisexual activist Kyle Schickner “called for all the ‘queers’ to come together and celebrate their differences.” The article went on to say that the activist lamented the fact that the bi community had at times been excluded from the gay rights movement because bisexual people are not considered “completely homosexual.” Schickner was then quoted as saying, “Not one of us is free until all queers enjoy freedom.”
So yes, not only was the bi community right there demonstrating besides gays, but sometimes did so despite gays trying to keep us out.
Stephen Donaldson (aka Donny the Punk) way back in 1966 (yes 1966!) founded the first gay student organizations, the Student Homophile League at Columbia University and New York University. In 1967, Columbia University become the first university in the U.S. to officially recognize a “gay” student group.
That’s right, the first recognized “gay” student organization was founded by a bisexual man.
In college, at age sixteen, Carol Queen, who was out as an out bisexual woman, co-organized GAYouth in Eugene, Oregon in 1975 — one of the first gay youth groups in the country. In an AfterEllen article about the author, editor, sociologist, and sexologist, Queen reflects on starting up the group, “We really did it because the LGBT community (it wasn’t called that then, just the ‘gay’ community) was ageist, but more than that, because its main social networking place was the bar, and we couldn’t go there.”
The ACLU helped Queen and the youth group sue the school district in Eugene for the right to place ads in high school newspapers. The suit, however was dropped when the school district demanded the names, and addresses of everyone in the group.
In the late 1970s, bisexual high school student Alexei Guren created the Gay Teen Task Force in Miami Florida which later became PrideLines, now Miami’s oldest LGBT youth organization.
RESPONSE TO THE AIDS CRISIS
Alexei Guren was also, in 1983, co-founder the Health Crisis Network (HCR) in Miami. HCN, which later became CareResource, focused on providing a response to the HIV epidemic.
Bisexual leader, Luigi Ferrer Program Director and Director of HIV Services at Miami’s Pridelines Youth Services, also has been president of the AIDS Action Council, Executive Director of the AIDS/HIV Body Positive Resource Center, served on the boards of both the Lambda Community Center and the Gay and Lesbian Community Center in Miami, and a board member of the National Association of People with AIDS.
In 1981, in the infancy of the AIDS crisis, therapist, and early childhood educator, Dr. David Lourea, and fellow bisexual activist, Cynthia Slater, presented safer-sex education workshops in bathhouses and BDSM clubs in San Francisco.
Slater, in 1985, also organized the first Women’s HIV/AIDS Information Switchboard.
Lourea was active with the San Francisco Sex Information hotline, served on the San Francisco Mayor’s AIDS Education Advisory Committee, and helped develop the first eroticizing safer sex certification program.
In California, in 1986, bisexual activist Denise Penn co-founded the still annual AIDS awareness and fundraiser event, AIDS Walk Orange County.
In 1988, bisexual leader Veneita Porter published “Minorities and HIV” in The New England Journal of Public Policy, and later became the director of the New York State Office of AIDS Discrimination, where she helped design the first educational projects and trainings for state workers, hearing judges, and legal staff.
Bisexual activist Carol Leigh, aka Scarlot Harlot, was a founding member of AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) in San Francisco. As a member of Citizens for Medical Justice, she also partook in civil disobedience actions at AIDS funding sit-ins.
Frustrated by the poor news coverage of AIDS issues, Leigh developed media skills and went on to produce promotional videos for Bay Area community service organizations including the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. The activist also volunteered at the HIV Prevention Project.
Bisexual activist Liz Highleyman co-founded the ACT UP/Boston IV League needle exchange, one of the first in the United States.
Highleyman has also been a prolific writer, editor and influencer in the HIV/AIDS community and is editor-in-chief and publisher of HIVandHepatitis.com. She was the co-editor of The Harvey Milk Institute Guide to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Internet Research, and has written on health issues for the Bulletin of Experimental Treatments for AIDS, POZ magazine, and numerous others.
Bisexual community leader, Dr. Ibrahim Farajajé was the first scholar to address the theological and ethical imperative to respond to the HIV crisis. He developed a course on how African American religious leaders should respond to the epidemic in their communities, and a gospel performance piece that addressed black communities that refused to bury their AIDS fatalities.
Farajajé was the first faculty advisor for Howard University’s LGBT student group, and was very active in ACT UP D.C. — including leading a sit-in to occupy the D.C. mayor’s office to protest the lack of funding for HIV/AIDS.
Farajajé was the chair of the Political Action Committee for the DC Black Queer Coalition, and his article “Invocation of Remembrance, Healing and Empowerment in a Time of AIDS” was published in “Equal Rites: Lesbian and Gay Worship, Ceremonies, and Celebrations.”
Lani Ka’ahumanu spoke at the rally of the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation.
This prominent bisexual activist worked nationally on HIV prevention and education with organizations such as AIDS LIFE Lobby and Institute, National Gay Lesbian Health Association, and the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
Ka’ahumanu served as project coordinator for the first grant in the U.S. to target young high risk lesbian and bi women for HIV/AIDS prevention/education research. She and fellow bi activist, Cianna Stewart, created the “Peer Safer Sex Slut Team” — a safer sex outreach to young high-risk lesbian and bi women in 1992.
Stewart, working for the Living Well Project (formerly the San Francisco Asian Pacific Islander AIDS Services,) also developed sexual/gender diversity and HIV/AIDS awareness handbooks and videos in five languages, during the mid-1990s.
Hap Stewart, a bisexual AIDS crisis volunteer and early outspoken advocate for alternative holistic HIV/AIDS care and treatment with ACT UP/San Francisco, was appointed to the Marin County, California, AIDS Commission in 1993.
In 1996, bisexual leader Angel Fabian co-organized the National Task Force on AIDS Prevention’s first Gay/Bisexual Young Men of Color Summit at the Gay Men of Color Conference, in Miami, Florida. Fabian was also a Health Promotion Specialist in AIDS Project Los Angeles’ POWER Program, and Coordinator of Gay and Bisexual Men’s Services at the Hispanic AIDS Forum in New York.
Take a minute to consider that long list of bisexual people for whom there is documented evidence of serious contributions to the AIDS/HIV crisis. Yet in 2016 we see this on Tumblr in reaction to a YouTube video about biphobia at a Pride event:
“Frankly Bisexuals have no place to complain…. for over 30 years BISEXUALS failed to support the gay community. During the Aids Crisis and for a decade afterwards, Bisexuals stood with the bigots and homophobes. I appreciate their need to be part of us NOW that OUR FIGHT, blood, sweat and death have given them a more welcoming society to be who they are, but it’s time for Bisexuals to start being a full part of the LGBTQ community and stop being like they were in the past. Aids phobia, HIV + phobia, Transphobia are not going to be acceptable patterns by Bisexuals to keep practicing. It’s also time for Bisexuals to be on the front lines with the rest of us.”
No, dude, it’s actually time for the gay community to acknowledge the bisexual community’s dedicated work in the battle against HIV/AIDS.
After all, the City of San Francisco, figured that out over twenty-five years ago. The bi community was so involved in AIDS activism, that the City’s Board of Supervisors went out of their way to recognize the efforts. In honor of the 1990 National Bisexual Conference, the City of San Francisco proclaimed the first ever “Bi Pride Day” proclaiming:
“…Whereas, The contributions of bisexuals in developing AIDS service projects, combating discrimination, and advocating for social justice have long been undervalued or discounted by most of society; and Whereas, The 1990 National Bisexual Conference offers the bisexual community an opportunity to showcase some of its extraordinary work and leadership in establishing model AIDS programs, and working to build a society free of discrimination and injustice; and Whereas, The 1990 National Bisexual Conference gives all people the occasion to finally end the silence about the numbers of bisexual persons who have died of AIDS, and to recognize the tremendous leadership contributions of bisexual activists in the fight against the killer disease…”
Another argument held by gays for not supporting bisexual causes is that bisexual people have not done enough for their own bi-specific causes, which is an equally ridiculous claim. First of all, the bisexual activists listed above were quite involved as well in bisexual activism, many of them founders or board members of bisexual organizations, conferences etc. More information about those efforts can be found in various bisexual history pages such as BiNet USA’s bi history. Also, stay tuned for bi-activist Dr. Loraine Hutchins’ soon to come bisexual history chapter in our National Parks LGBTQ Initiative Theme Study.
It would be disrespectful to not also note that many of the “gay rights” activists listed in this article were/are quite active — often well known — in other important rights movements.
To the extent that bisexual people weren’t more active in fighting for bisexual specific issues, it’s largely because of our focus on “gay” rights — as illustrated in a 1988 issue of the Feminist Newsletter, Off Our Backs, where Hutchins, stated in a commentary called Biatribe, “Our first commitment as bisexuals must be to fight homophobia…”
It’s a tragic travesty that bisexual people who came out as gay for political reasons, and bisexual people who took such an active and dedicated part in “gay issues” for the greater good of “gay rights,” have arrived decades later to find that these actions have not lead to the same level of acceptance for bisexual people that gays now enjoy. Not only is the bi community not reaping the positive results of all their efforts to the same levels as the gay community, but we are not even acknowledged for our work and commitment, and — quite unbelievably — actually criticized for not being there! Adding insult to injury, the community is simultaneously chastised for not fighting hard enough for bisexual recognition and visibility.
There are of course countless other bisexual people not mentioned here who did their part fighting homophobia, being AIDS activists, and supporting “gay rights.” I hope that readers will add examples in the comments section — as the histories given in this article are by no means an exhaustive list of bisexual people actively involved in yes, I’m going to say it, the LGBT rights movement. Because it’s always been ALL of the LGBT people’s movement and how dare gays and lesbians even suggest otherwise, much less point accusing fingers at the bi community.
Paraphrasing myself in a post entitled, Bi-Voice, “Gay causes will always be bisexual causes, and bisexuals will always fight for them, but the converse isn’t true – bisexual-specific issues don’t directly affect gays.” So yes, it requires a bit of altruism or perhaps just an understanding that it would be a great way to say sorry for not acknowledging the bi community’s contributions and sacrifices, in order for gays to now stand up and fight biphobia.