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Bi exclusion

Bureaucracy and Bi-exclusion in the LGBT+ Community

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By Pip Williams

Content note: biphobia, mentions of rape, stalking, and intimate partner violence

A tweet by bisexual women’s magazine Biscuit came to my attention earlier today, sharing parts of an email exchange between editor Libby, and organiser Patrick of London LGBT Pride.

Libby’s email politely points out Pride’s glaring omission; a bisexual marching group, and goes on to ask for the opportunity to register for this opportunity to be reopened. The part of Patrick’s response essentially dismisses Libby’s “demands”, suggesting that they will “tire [the] long-suffering Parade volunteers.”

Following my discovery of this tweet, I, and in turn many of my LGBT+ friends, engaged with London LGBT Pride’s Twitter account over the course of several hours.

Our exchange was, for the most part, unproductive. London LGBT Pride insisted that the responsibility for this oversight lies with the bisexual groups who failed to register before the event’s deadline, and refused to acknowledge that an exception ought to be made to allow at least one bisexual group to register, maintaining that this would constitute “special treatment”.

There’s a lot to unpack here, but first I’d like to address London LGBT Pride’s reliance on the excuse of bureaucracy to excuse their bi-exclusion. When the system is put in place by you, there’s no excuse for not modifying it when it’s shown to be ineffective or exclusionary.

It’s not unreasonable for LGBT Pride attendees to expect to see all groups mentioned in the acronym represented. An event that markets itself as LGBT pride is falsely advertising if it fails to deliver on this representation – L, G, B, and T. Something tells me that were only bisexual groups to have registered, the first-come-first-served policy might have been modified somewhat.

In a situation like this, where there is a complete absence of applications from a specific group, organisers would do well to consider the circumstances in which this has occurred. Applications to march at pride are not happening in a vacuum, and there are plenty of reasons why bisexuals might feel less than welcome.

Bisexual people, and particularly those in relationships read as heterosexual, are often regarded with suspicion on entry to explicitly queer spaces. This suspicion – which can often progress to outright hostility – is a major barrier to bisexual inclusion in community events. The validity of bisexual queerness is determined in relationship to a bisexual’s current partner. If they are in a relationship that does not appear visibly queer, they are immediately excluded.

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If entering into a “heterosexual” partnership truly absolved bisexual people of all the disadvantages and marginalisation of a queer identity, the vitriol might be easier to understand. Alas, this is not the case. A 2010 study revealed that 61.1% of bisexual women, for example, have experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner. 89.5% of this violence was conducted by male partners. This means that 54.7% of bisexual women in the study had experienced violence at the hands of a male partner, compared to 35.0% of straight women.

It’s true that the marginalisation bisexual people face differs from that experienced by other members of the LGBT+ community, but that doesn’t make it any less real or important. The experiences of gay men and lesbians are not the benchmark by which the validity of LGBT+ experiences should be measured, and should not determine whether or not we are welcome within the community. After all, there’s a B in the acronym for a reason.

This lack of inclusion on a community level is probably a major factor in why no bisexual groups applied to march at London LGBT Pride. Conveniently, it also means that London LGBT Pride are unlikely to be held accountable for failing to rectify this, when what they ought to be doing is working to counter it. Outreach projects and a commitment to education of lesbian and gay groups to prevent bisexual exclusion would be a great place to start. Trying to pin the blame on the bisexual community is not an appropriate response. If bisexual people don’t feel welcome at your LGBT event, that’s a sign that something has gone very wrong indeed.

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