23 September is Bi Visibility Day, where we celebrate the huge range of people worldwide who identify as bi. But do you know what it means to be bi? And do you know how you can better support bi people? Read on to find out!
Let's start with the basics - what do we mean by bi?
When Stonewall talks about bi people, we are using bi as an umbrella term used to describe a romantic and/or sexual orientation towards more than one gender. Bi people may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms, including, but not limited to, bi, bisexual, pan and/or queer. There are a range of terms under the umbrella, and no ‘right’ way to be bi!
What is biphobia?
Biphobia is the fear or dislike of someone who identifies as bi based on negative attitudes, beliefs or views about bi people. Biphobia can be targeted at people who are, or who are perceived to be, bi.
Common stereotypes of bi people include that we’re greedy, confused, hyper-sexual, ‘actually gay/lesbian’ or ‘actually straight’. Bi representation in the media, films and on TV is minimal, and when we do see ourselves, these negative ideas are often reinforced – or we’re the butt of a joke. Representation of bi people who experience other forms of marginalisation (like those who are disabled, people of colour, or trans) is especially lacking.
What does this mean for bi people?
Our Bi report shows that biphobia has serious consequences. Bi people are less likely to be out in every aspect of everyday life, whether that’s at home, in education, at work, or as part of a faith community. And being in the closet is just one part of the picture.
Bi people also experience disproportionately high levels of hate crime, intimate partner violence, discrimination in healthcare, and mental health issues. And 18 per cent of bi men, 27 per cent of bi women and 29 per cent of non-binary bi people reported discrimination from others in the LGBT community, a place where bi people should find refuge.
How can I be a good ally?
Everyone can do more to be bi inclusive, including those within the LGBT community. Here are some simple things you can do to create safe and supportive environments for bi people.
1. Believe us.
Bi people exist, and all bi identities are valid. It is all too common for bi people to be challenged and scrutinised on their identity. One bi person might generally date one gender, another might have been in a monogamous relationship with somebody for many years – and they can both still be bi. Believing bi people about our own identity is the bare minimum of allyship!
2. Make no assumptions.
Don’t assume someone’s identity based on their current or previous partner(s). The gender of someone’s sexual or romantic partners doesn’t define them. Take their lead on the language they use to describe their relationships and identity, whether they identify as bi, pan, queer, any of the other labels under the bi umbrella, or no label at all. Some bi people might also use the terms lesbian or gay to describe themselves in some contexts.
3. Recognise and challenge biphobia.
Whether it’s street harassment or a harmful generalisation about bi people, make sure to challenge biphobia when you see or hear it. Don’t leave it to bi people to do all the work, and support other allies when they challenge prejudice.
4. Uplift and support marginalised bi people.
This goes for everyone in the bi community, as well as our allies. BAME/PoC bi people are doubly underrepresented, erased and discriminated against. Bi men face stigma within and outside of the LGBT community. Ace bi people are told they ‘can’t’ be bi. Bi people of faith are often invisible in narratives about LGBT inclusion in faith spaces. And sometimes trans bi people are invalidated when people question how their bi identity intersects with their gender identity. Read about the #BisexualMenExist campaign and find out more about how to be an ally to LGBTQ+ people of colour as a first step.
5. Use inclusive language.
Think carefully about who you’re talking about. You can erase and exclude bi people when using words like ‘gay’ as catch-all terms, especially if you don’t know whether everyone you’re referring to identifies in that way. But remember that outing someone or asking intrusive questions to pin down their identity is harmful – there are plenty of resources online about bi-inclusive language. Read up!
6. Make your LGBT spaces and events inclusive.
43 per cent of bi respondents to our survey reported that they had never attended LGBT spaces. Having a safe space to find community and belonging can be life-changing, and every LGBT person deserves to feel accepted and respected in our communities. Make it explicit that bi people and their partners of any gender are welcome at your event or venue, and that biphobia will not be tolerated. If you’re hosting speakers or performers, plan ahead to ensure you have bi representation and that everyone has been briefed about your bi-inclusive stance.
7. Support bi organisations and campaigns.
There are some amazing groups that have been amplifying bi voices, tackling biphobia and building communities for years. Many of them are run by volunteers, but you can support them by donating, sharing their work or lending your time: BiPhoria, Bi Pride UK, Bi's of Colour, Bi Survivors Network, Biscuit, The Bisexual Index.
8. Make sure your workplace, university or school is inclusive.
As a first step, make sure all of your institutional policies are explicitly bi inclusive. These policies should protect all employees, regardless of their gender or the gender of their partner. Try to ensure that any wording used avoids labelling someone’s relationship (e.g. ‘straight’, ‘gay’, ‘wife’, ‘husband’) in a way that they might reject. Make sure that biphobic bullying is explicitly addressed in policy and practice.
9. Support bi people to live full and complex lives, like everyone else!
Watch out for the bi double bind. Biphobia can double down hard on bi people if they are seen to ‘fit’ a stereotype. For example, if a bi person has multiple romantic and/or sexual partners, it’s seen as ‘proof’ of the greedy and promiscuous stereotype, and yet a bi person in a monogamous relationship might be accused of ‘making up’ their bi identity. Affirm your bi friends’ lives and relationships, and remember how much harm negative stereotypes can cause bi people.
10. Celebrate us!
Amplify and celebrate bi people and their stories. Days like Bi Visibility Day are a great reason to celebrate us, but ensure that you’re also giving our identities and experiences a platform throughout the year. As a start, look up bi creators on social media, follow them and share their content.