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Report: Bisexuals face more discrimination than gays, lesbians

Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Charlsie Dewey

"Understanding Issues Facing Bisexual Americans," reveals striking disparities in poverty, employment, violence & health outcomes experienced by the bisexual community compared to their gay and lesbian peers and the heterosexual community.

The report, which was developed by the Movement Advancement Project, BiNet USA and the Bisexual Resource Center, and released last month, utilized academic and medical studies to inform its conclusions and suggestions for improving services focused on bisexuals.

The report notes, of the more than 9 million LGBT people in the United States, more than half identify as bisexual, making bisexuals the largest sector of the LGBT community.

"Despite comprising the largest population within the LGBT community, bisexual people are among the most invisible," said Ineke Mushovic, executive director of the Movement Advancement Project. "The failure to account for bisexual lives and experiences compounds a lack of social support and keeps bisexual people in the closet."

The report notes one reason bisexuals may face higher rates of poverty, unemployment, negative health outcomes and violence is because bisexual people face discrimination from within the LGBT community as well as from non-LGBT people.

Driving that point home is data from the 2008 General Social Survey, which found 25 percent of bisexual people have never told anyone they are bisexual, compared to just 4 percent of gay men and lesbians.

Heron Greenesmith, LGBT movement and policy analyst at the Movement Advancement Project, said while there was little that was surprising to her in the report much of the information is saddening.

"I think health is one of the most striking disparities, particularly around mental health," she said. "Bi folks have a high rate of suicidal ideation. One study we cited found bisexual folks were four times more likely to report attempted suicide than straight folks.

"A second study we quoted found that bi men were 6.3 times more likely to consider suicide in their lifetime than straight men."

She said a third study from the Journal of Adolescent Health that looked at teenagers found bi teens who reported suicidal thoughts didn't report a decrease in those thoughts when they aged into adulthood, unlike their straight peers.

"I thought the rates of intimate partner violence were very depressing, especially compared to lesbian women and straight women," Greenesmith said. "[By] almost 20 percentage points, more bi women have experienced rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner."

She also said poverty differences were striking.

"It was saddening to find so many bi folks live in poverty compared to gay men and lesbian women, especially the public assistance part was surprising," she said.

According to the report, approximately 25 percent of bisexual men and 30 percent of bisexual women live in poverty, and bisexual women are more likely to depend on food stamps.

The report also highlights the increased harassment bisexuals who come out at work face in comparison to their gay and lesbian peers.

Faith Cheltenham, president of BiNet USA, shared her personal story in the report.

"Nearly every single time I've come out as a bisexual woman in the workplace, I've experienced severe sexual harassment," Cheltenham said. "Coworkers have made inappropriate jokes, made sexual advances, and shown me sexually graphic photos. I've had several jobs where I felt unsafe."

She said when she approached human resources about the harassment she received little support, if any.

"One told me that I brought harassment upon myself simply because

I was out," she said. "Another said that my experience didn't qualify as sexual harassment because I am bisexual."

The purpose of "Understanding Issues Facing Bisexual Americans" is to motivate change and improve the lives and experiences of bisexuals, according to the report.

The report includes recommendations in three areas: cultural competence, visibility and data collection.

Under cultural competence, the report suggests bi-specific trainings for service providers to help them feel more comfortable working with bisexual clients.

"Therapists must understand that the experiences of clients who identify as bisexual can be much different from the experiences of their lesbian and gay clients," the report says.

In addition to offering services geared towards bisexuals, organizations need to make sure those services are visible.

"More and more organizations are realizing that they need specific resources and programming for bisexual people," said Cheltenham. "Cultural competence and deliberate and thoughtful visibility will support the bisexual community and combat stigma and discrimination against bisexual people."

Finally, there is a dearth of studies focused specifically on the bisexual community, making research and accurate data collection a must.

The report notes when researching the LGBT community its important not to confuse sexual orientation and gender identity.

"Surveys that ask if a person identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender risk conflating a person's gender identity with their sexual orientation. … Conflating gender identity and sexual orientation also fails to count transgender people who identify as bisexual, lesbian, gay or straight," the report pointed out.

To read the full report, visit Article Link Here . .

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