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Bisexuals are misunderstood, mocked and ignored

PHILIP FIELDING reports on a growing push by bisexuals for recognition and respect

Writing for Slate magazine back in 2014, bisexual Nathaniel Frank, director of the What We Know Project at Columbia Law School and author of Awakening: How Gays and Lesbians Brought Marriage Equality to America, confessed that he once “dreaded” the subject of bisexuality.

His article, entitled “Bisexuality is not all that complicated” was a response to a New York Times cover story on the quest to prove the existence of bisexuality. The piece looked at the work of the Los Angeles-based American Institute of Bisexuality (AIB), “a deep-pocketed” group partly responsible for a surge of academic and scientific research across the country about bisexuality, and featured an interview with Californian lawyer Brad S Kane, an AIB board member.

He was quoted as saying of bisexuals: “They’re misunderstood. They’re ignored. They’re mocked. Even within the gay community, I can’t tell you how many people have told me, ‘Oh, I wouldn’t date a bisexual’. Or, ‘Bisexuals aren’t real’. There’s this idea, especially among gay men, that guys who say they’re bisexual are lying, on their way to being gay, or just kind of unserious and unfocused.”

In his Slate article, Nathaniel Frank wrote: “I’m one of those people who, when pressed, identifies as bi, but far more often says I’m gay. And I’m not alone: When surveyed, a majority of LGB people say they’re “B” but how many self-identified bisexuals do you know? Most Americans have gay or lesbian friends and associates, but many fewer seem to have bisexual ones that they know of, despite their statistical ubiquity among LGB people.”

Fast forward to the summer of 2017, when the community advisory board (CAB) of Pride in London said more attention must be given by the organisers of Pride to bisexual and transgender communities.

According to PinkNews, CAB’s wide-ranging report, which also outlined a breakdown in communication between Pride in London and UK Black Pride, made several recommendations following this year’s Pride events.

In the report, the board expressed its “strong concerns” about the conduct of Pride board in closing registrations early for the annual Pride Parade, which meant that no bisexual group had registered in time.

No allowance was made for a “late” registration, and it was only following an outcry on social media, that a bi parade entry was included as part of the UK Pride Organisers’ Network.

Additionally, concerns were raised about “biphobic remarks” made by a Cabaret Stage presenter and Parade podium commentator.

“Bi people, despite forming the largest component of the LGBT population, remain marginalised within that community and in society at large, and the organised bi community is itself small and is led by very few volunteers,” read the report.

“The initial response of the LLCP Board that was okay that there was no specific bi group in the Parade was unacceptable. The CAB therefore recommend that to compensate for this failure and to combat bi erasure more generally, Pride in London should follow the example of Tel Aviv Pride this year, by making bi people the central focus of the Pride Parade in 2018 or 2019, which would require full engagement of bi people and groups in both planning and execution.”

Additionally, the board suggested that the “more marginalised” members of the LGBT community in London, such as bi, trans and intersex people, should be given “pride of the place in the Parade” on rotation.

The CAB also called for presenters to be reminded not to make discriminatory remarks, even in jest, and of the need to reflect the diversity of the Pride in London audience. CAB chair Adrian Hyyrylainen-Trett said: “There has been significant disquiet across the LGBT+ communities, around Pride’s corporate nature, lack of inclusion [and] bad handling of sensitive intersectionality issues.

“It felt that we needed to live up to the expectations of the role and that is providing a frank but honest report on the experiences not only from CAB members but also opinions across our communities.”

Shortly after the publication of the CAB report, Stewart McCloud, CEO and founder of the Bi Men Network circulated an open letter which said: “In the last decade, many gains have been made for our gay brothers and lesbian sisters, especially in the area of marriage equality. The wise and astute representation of “Gay Marriage” into “Marriage Equality” did, over time, work wonders for us. Decades ago, who would have thought that today all of us could get legally married in each and every jurisdiction in the United States.

“Other remarkable gains with greater acceptance and tolerance have been blessedly achieved for gays and lesbians, but progress for bisexual and bi-curious men has lagged behind, and now our transgendered siblings are increasingly under attack, most recently in the armed services, and even denied access to public restrooms in many states across the country today.

“Sadly, bisexual men and bi-curious men are once again being shoved further and ever deeper into their closets, and left there in fear and isolation. Acceptance even by our gay and lesbian siblings has lagged, and whereas the LGBTQ family should be united and one, but it is nowhere any nearer to that today than it was decades ago.

“Bisexuals, especially men, are just not fully accepted and welcomed into our LGBTQ family as they rightfully should be. One day this will come and it must – so we are asking you to help make that a reality sooner than later. One day at a time.

“An important first step for all of us was and is self-acceptance and greater self-understanding. It is all too often so very difficult for bisexual and bi-curious men to do this. The Bi Men Network has been helping in this regard online since the 1990s as a continuous support and presence for our men at www.bimen.org – and in recent years with our new online bi men social fraternity, Beta Mu Society (www.betamusociety.org) and more recently our Facebook public groups. We are reaching out here to you to ask your help in letting bisexual and bi-curious men you may know now or come to know in the future about these opportunities for greater self-acceptance and self-understanding.

“We implore your help for all bisexual and bi-curious men – those you know now and those you will meet and encounter again and again. They are often newcomers to the LGBTQ family and all too often they need your patience, your care and concern, and your understanding. All too often they are not yet where you are on their life paths to self-acceptance and self-understanding. They need and deserve your compassion and empathy and just a little help as they make their own way on their own life path albeit different than your own. The LGBTQ family is a big tent – we are likely 20 up to 40 percent of the entire human race and not just the 1 in 10.

“So please help all members of our LGBTQ family in our pursuit of happiness – and self-acceptance and self-understanding for all of us.”

In America, the backlash has begun with a vengeance

CHRIS COATES reports on reaction to the Trump administration’s ‘religious liberties’ directive

Conservative evangelicals, reported The Daily Beast earlier this month, “handed Trump the presidency when they collectively, and organisationally, agreed to overlook his adultery, sexism, vulgarity, greed, dishonesty, and (to put it mildly) racially coded rhetoric in order to turn the Supreme Court against abortion and turn the government against LGBT people.”

The Guardian elaborated, saying the Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, issued a sweeping directive that undercuts federal protections for LGBT people, telling agencies to do as much as possible to accommodate those who claim their religious freedoms are violated.

In response, one LGBT rights advocate called the directive a “licence to discriminate” and “an attack on the values of freedom and fairness that make this nation great”.

On the same day, the Trump administration issued a new rule that substantially undermines women’s access to birth control under the Affordable Care Act.

The Sessions directive, an attempt to deliver on Donald Trump’s pledge to evangelical supporters that he will protect religious liberties, effectively lifts a burden from religious objectors to prove their beliefs about marriage or other topics are sincerely held.

A claim of a violation of religious freedom will now be enough to override many anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people, women and others.

The guidelines are so sweeping that experts on religious liberty called them a legal powder keg that could prompt wide-ranging lawsuits against the government.

“This is putting the world on notice: you better take these claims seriously,” Robin Fretwell Wilson, a law professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told the Associated Press. “This is a signal to the rest of these agencies to rethink the protections they have put in place on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Rebecca Isaacs, executive director of the Equality Federation, said in a statement: “This licence to discriminate is an attack on the values of freedom and fairness that make this nation great. It opens the door for discrimination in the workplace and public services, flying in the face of the majority of Americans of whom over 70 percent believe laws should protect LGBTQ people from discrimination.

“The Trump administration’s ongoing attempts to undermine LGBTQ Americans’ ability to provide for themselves and their families without fear of discrimination highlights the urgent need for national non-discrimination protections, which are supported by the vast majority of Americans.”

Trump announced plans for the directive last May in a Rose Garden ceremony, surrounded by religious leaders. Since then, religious conservatives have awaited the justice department guidance, hoping for greatly strengthened protections for their beliefs amidst a rapid national acceptance of LGBT rights.

Religious liberty experts said they would have to see how the guidance would be applied by individual agencies, both in crafting regulations and deciding how to enforce them. But experts said the directive clearly tilted the balance very far in favour of people of faith who do not want to recognise same-sex marriage.

“Except in the narrowest circumstances, no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law,” Sessions wrote. “To the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, religious observance and practice should be reasonably accommodated in all government activity.”

The document lays the groundwork for legal positions the Trump administration intends to take in religious freedom cases, envisioning sweeping protections for faith-based beliefs and practices in private workplaces and government jobs and even in prisons.

In issuing the memo, Sessions, a deeply devout Methodist from Alabama, is injecting the department into a thicket of highly charged legal questions that have repeatedly reached the US supreme court, most notably in the 2014 Hobby Lobby case that said corporations with religious objections could opt out of a health law requirement to cover contraceptives for women.

An op-ed written by Adalia Woodbury for PoliticusUSA added: “The Sessions memo provides bigots with religious cover to deny services, employment, housing or healthcare to people they don’t like, under the pretence that such barbarity is sanctioned by God. It can also result in denial of treatment by doctors and denial of prescribed medication by pharmacists, under the pretense that this has anything to do with morality or religion . . .

“None of this is surprising to anyone who knew who Donald Trump is. It doesn’t surprise anyone with even a passing understanding of the belief systems that Trump’s coalition of racists, theocrats and fascists represent.

“The combination of drama, Orwellian policy, Trump’s latest comments and gestures are designed to shock, traumatize, overwhelm and envelope us in the darkness of authoritarianism.

“Knowing and understanding it matters. Resisting it matters more.”

No stopping the march towards equality

Seventy-two countries still criminalise same-sex relations and there is an anti-LGBT backlash in about 20 countries. But liberation cannot be halted forever. Queer freedom is an unstoppable global trend. It knows no borders, says UK human rights campaigner PETER TATCHELL.

IN Western countries over the last two decades there has been huge progress towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality. But the global picture is much bleaker, with 72 countries still having a total prohibition on same-sex relations.

Nearly half of them explicitly criminalise sexual acts both between men and between women. And in eight Muslim-majority countries, there is the death penalty for having sex with a person of the same gender.
Hundreds of millions of LGBT people around the world have no recognition of their human rights and no protection; in fact, they face criminalisation, harassment, discrimination and hate crime on a massive scale. Shockingly, even today, there is no international human rights convention that explicitly recognises that LGBT rights are human rights.

The fightback is happening around the world. There are existing or emerging LGBT movements in almost every country; some of them clandestine and underground because they would face imprisonment or worse if they were discovered. We have witnessed the emergence of vocal and courageous LGBT movements, such as in Honduras, where a public movement exists despite the assassination of over 200 LGBT people by death squads in the last decade. Honduran LGBT people still organise, protest, campaign and march, despite the risk to their own lives.

The emergence of these movements, particularly in repressive homophobic countries, has provoked a backlash by about 20 regimes. What is happening is shocking and often surprising. Ethiopia, for example, which had no tradition of homophobic persecution, has ratcheted up victimisation, with police raids, arrests, imprisonments and mob violence. A similar trend is exploding in Indonesia – a country previously not noted for anti-LGBT witch-hunts.

Those countries experiencing backlashes have either passed new anti-gay laws, like the law that was promulgated in Russia in 2013, or they’ve reversed decriminalisation, as happened in India, or they’ve enforced existing laws with renewed vigour, as in Egypt.

Some countries embody extreme contradictions. There are death squads that target LGBT people for so-called “social cleansing” in Brazil and Mexico. Yet, same-sex marriage is legal in Brazil. Most of the major cities and states have laws that protect LGBT people against discrimination in the workplace, housing and so on. The same contradictions are present in Mexico. Mexico City recognises same-sex marriage and some parts of the country have anti-discrimination protections. Yet other regions have right-wing death squads that kill LGBT people.

It’s easy to feel depressed and disheartened given the anti-LGBT backlash that we witness in many countries. Understandably, some people feel pessimistic. We hoped that although progress may sometimes be slow, LGBT rights would always move steadily forward, not backward. However, the important thing to bear in mind is that the backlash countries are a small minority: only about 20 countries out of 193.You could look at the backlash as both a negative and a positive sign. It is happening because LGBT communities are more open and more determined to demand and win their rights. It’s precisely because pro-LGBT change is powering forward that counterattacks are happening. The homophobes are seeking to roll back the ever more visible LGBT minority and thwart their bid for reform.

Every social movement down the ages has provoked a backlash by the defenders of privilege and power. Horrible, tragic and undesirable though it is, backlashes are often a sign of progress. They signify that people seeking advances in human rights are sufficiently threatening to the survival of the status quo that those who want to keep things as they are feel compelled to react.
Queer freedom is an unstoppable global trend. It knows no borders. It transcends all nations and all cultures. One day we will make homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia history. Although LGBT liberation has been long delayed, it cannot and will not be denied.

• This piece was originally published on the Peter Tatchell Foundation's website in August 2017.