Why Saying 'Bisexual' Is More Important Than Ever

With a health crisis growing, it's time to stand up and be counted

LGBT rights have made great strides, but bisexual people still face elevated risks to their health and safety. Credit: Burak Kara/Getty

A pair of recent studies found that one in three young adults in the United States identify on the bisexual spectrum, and one in two in the U.K. These findings are consistent with numerous other studies that have shown that bisexuals are the largest portion of the LGBT community – but you wouldn't know it if you only paid attention to media representation. Both in fiction and in real life, it's surprisingly hard to find bisexual characters and celebrities. This is an issue that comes up both within the LGBT community and outside it: For some bisexual people, society's unchallenged biphobia makes it easier to identify as straight, gay or label-less. But openly claiming bisexuality as a sexual orientation is more important than ever.

The lack of bisexual representation in the media leads to a dangerous lack of awareness of the problems facing this community. In the last year, over a dozen studies have pointed to a bisexual health crisis. Bisexuals face elevated risks of violence and discrimination, often at higher rates than gay and lesbian peers; biphobia in medical offices contributes to an environment where bisexual men have a higher risk of contracting HIV and STIs than either straight or gay men. Mental health issues, domestic violence and substance abuse are all higher in the bisexual community.

Considering these studies, the lack of bisexual-specific initiatives in governmental policies and LGBT organizations is disconcerting. No national LGBT organization has any bisexual-specific programming comparable to what they do for other marginalized groups; the work is typically limited to a fact sheet on bisexuality with no actual, tangible, active initiatives. Neither do any have a staff position dedicated to responding to the needs of the bisexual community. And the national bisexual organizations that do exist are not receiving the funding needed to address the bisexual health crisis. The 40th annual LGBT Funders Report, which tracked funding to LGBT organizations between 1970 and 2010, found that lesbian and gay organizations had received $487 million in funding; transgender organizations received $16 million; and bisexual organizations received just $84,000 in 40 years.

This week, the White House convened a Bisexual Community Policy meeting with the intent to address some of these disparities. The National LGBTQ Task Force has posted a search for a bisexual health intern, and several organizations are hosting the second annual Bisexual Awareness Week to amplify these issues. These are small but necessary steps in addressing the needs of the bisexual community.

But truly fixing these problems will be impossible if the bisexual community remains an invisible majority. Having individuals who are attracted to more than one gender proudly proclaim their bisexuality brings us out of obscurity. It erases the misconception that bisexuality is transitory, mythical, or sexually promiscuous. Claiming bisexuality puts a face to a community that otherwise wouldn't be seen, and that's something we can't put off any longer.