Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 46 / 16 November 2017
 

Report details bi 'invisibility'

NEWS


heather@whimsymedia.com

Lindasusan Ulrich. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
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The San Francisco Human Rights Commission unanimously adopted a groundbreaking report examining the consequences of rendering bisexuals "invisible" at its meeting last week.

The report, which bi community members applauded, is believed to be the first of its kind.

"I'm so excited and relieved. It's been such a long time coming. I had a good sense that it would pass, but to not have it even be a question? At the end I'm just so grateful to be a part of it," said Lindasusan Ulrich, author of the report, entitled, "Bisexual Invisibility: Impacts and Recommendations."

Ulrich is also a member of the HRC's LGBT Advisory Committee.

The information Ulrich gathered for the report pained her, which in turn slowed down work on the report, which took four years to produce, she told the commission at its March 10 meeting.

Recent studies have found that bisexuals are the largest population in the LGB community. According to a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine in 2010, 3.1 percent of individuals self-identify as bisexual, compared to 2.5 percent as gay or lesbian.

Yet, Ulrich pointed out bisexuals had poor health outcomes, lived in poverty, faced discrimination from both mainstream society and gay and lesbian, and weren't being served by queer organizations that have "B" in the name. Bisexuals "weren't considered at all" in funding for services or bisexual organizations or even mentioned in annual agency reports, she said.

Ulrich reported, "One out of two bisexual women and one out of three bisexual men gave serious thought to take their own lives." There is no data available about completed suicides, Ulrich told the commission.

In spite of four decades of activism, the report highlights that bisexuals haven't gained much traction.

"There is nothing in all the data I've collected that disputes what is in the bi report," said Heidi Bruins Green, a bisexual researcher and author of forthcoming study about bisexuals in the workplace.

"Experiences talked about in the report were matched by bisexuals across the world," Bruins Green said at the meeting. "Bisexuals in our survey expressed frustration about how invisible they are [and] frustration with lack of welcoming community over and over again."

Veteran bi activists praised the report.

"It's a long time coming. I felt sad that 40 years ago I was saying the same thing," said bisexual activist Maggi Rubenstein. "It's hard to get people activated to do something about invisibility."

Patricia Kevena Fili, a bisexual transgender woman and activist, described the commission's vote as "historic."

"You can almost see the pain released," she said.

The report has the attention of the HRC as well as agencies in other countries.

Nadia Babella, discrimination investigator and mediator of the HRC, pointed out in her introduction of the report that the commission was already receiving inquiries about the report from Bolivia and Spain, as well as universities.

"I felt very empowered by [the report and commission vote]. As someone who is attracted to all sexes, I felt a sense of hope that my sexual orientation would be seen and celebrated," said Babella.

Bi time

One of the major components of the report discussed health disparities among bisexuals.

Out Commissioner Mark Kelleher praised the report and offered support to implement the recommendations.

"I've been involved in the gay community in health for a long, long time," Kelleher said. "I'm shocked. I have never been made familiar at all with any of this data or the impact in anything I've ever read or experienced or learned and I've been at this for 20 years."

Kelleher added, "We have to make sure that this is disseminated really broadly" and "help to form and shape full policy developments around it."

Theresa Sparks, an out trans woman and HRC executive director, agreed. "The first thing we are going to do is starting immediately we are going to do a very wide distribution. We are going to send it to other human rights organizations and agencies," including LGBT and straight, "We will send it as broadly as we can."

After wide distribution, Sparks said she plans to work with the LGBT Advisory Committee and SF HRC staff to plan implementation of the recommendations.

No other commissioners had questions or commented on the report after listening to testimony from bisexual community members and researchers, who spoke on topics such as workplace issues, marriage equality, family issues, and misidentification in LGBT and mainstream media coverage.

The reports on bisexual invisibility and unrecognized family relationships, which was also presented at last week's meeting, couldn't come at a better time, Sparks said.

"We have an opportunity through the federal department to use and expand our current definition[s]," she said.

Sparks reported back from a recent meeting of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, where new recommendations to add sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as, redefine family structures to protect queer people and alternative families in low-income housing and home ownership are under way. Sparks said that HRC receives up to 305 housing discrimination complaints a year.

Information highlighted in the bisexual report will aid government officials in the U.S. as well as abroad with including the largest population of the queer community in government departments' and community organizations' policies, said Sparks.

The way forward

The bisexual report touched a number of issues from health to race to seniors, but Ulrich emphasized that the report was in no way exhaustive.

"This is a beginning. It does something that no other report has done before, but it doesn't do everything that needs to be done," said Ulrich after the commission's vote.

"There's a lot of room for more study," she added. "There's a lot of room for more activism. I hope that this is a tool that other people can use in their communities to advocate for their needs."

This is "a starting point. It's definitely not the end of the road," said Ulrich.

She looks forward to implementing institutional changes: training staff on bisexual issues, improving health care information, aiding agencies to truly serve bisexuals, and promoting openly bisexual individuals to address bisexual needs, according to the recommendations of the report.

The vote came on a night where the commission was presented with another significant report, "Beyond Marriage: Unrecognized Family Relationships" produced by another member of the LGBT Advisory Committee. That report is the topic of the Bay Area Reporter's online Wedding Bell Blues column at http://tinyurl.com/4r38q53.

To read the complete report, visit http://tinyurl.com/4gmqmyh.






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