In the past few days, there have been many news reports about an increase in the number of people identifying as bi. Emily Roach, who recently attended one of Stonewall's free bi role models sessions, writes here about why visibility is so important - and empowering.
Just a day after Bi Visibility Day, Stonewall ran a training session for Bi Role Models. It was generously funded by Trust for London and attendees travelled from all over to learn how to build networks and get more involved with bi activism. Participants came with a variety of different experiences and stories, and the importance of this diversity shone through. It was rewarding and inspiring to hear such differing stories as well as identifying common themes. More established activists had the opportunity to meet new people who were eager to gain more prominence in bi activism, and for those of us just starting out it was the ideal way to build a network.
We began with an introduction from Stonewall’s Chief Executive Ruth Hunt, who spoke about the history of Stonewall’s activism. Ruth acknowledged Stonewall’s desire to undertake more work with bi people and emphasised the importance of increased visibility, as well noting the erasure of bi experiences from historic LGBT activism. Bisexuality is defined as attraction to people of the same gender and other genders and it is used here as an umbrella term because participants defined their sexual orientation in a variety of ways. Inclusivity was an important feature, with issues such as age, race, ability, class, gender and religion all touched upon.
The day identified challenges which many bi people will recognise. Bi-erasure is alive and well and, as a result of a lack of visibility, bi people can find themselves misunderstood, closeted and marginalised. The tendency to view bisexuality as a transitionary stage fuels biphobia and makes bi people feel invisible in both LGBT communities and in spaces which are not specifically LGBT. These factors further a sense of isolation which can have an impact on the health and mental well-being of bi people. Certain facets of marginalisation will be familiar to all lesbian, gay and bi individuals, but bi people encounter different and specific challenges to their lesbian and gay peers. Bringing together a group of bi people generated inspiring and valuable discussions around similar experiences we had as we grappled with sexuality.
The session was empowering and informative and it gave attendees a platform to discuss obstacles as well as encouraging us to think of viable solutions for implementing change. The term ‘Role Model’ in and of itself feels like a high bar and a number of us expressed doubts about our ability to take on such a position, not least because the diversity of bi experience means that one voice can’t speak for all. I came away with the understanding that just being open about my sexuality and receptive to well-meaning questions, is a small but important step towards increasing visibility and changing perceptions.
The Bi Role Models session gave a voice to people like myself who sometimes feel silenced and invisible, as well as serving as a welcome reminder that bi people have valuable contributions to make to today’s LGBT movement. On a personal level, it helped me identify ways in which I can get involved in bi activism and introduced me to a network of people. A terrific day and an empowering one.