By Angela Dallara
When I first came out as bisexual at age 16, I was on my own personal journey toward understanding the fluidity of sexuality and gender. I realized early on that I felt passionately and wanted to work toward LGBT equality as my career, and I am one of the lucky people able to make a living doing exactly what I’d hoped. I do external communications for an organization that works to pass nondiscrimination laws and policies that improve the lived experiences of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. For five years prior to that, I worked for an organization dedicated to winning marriage for same-sex couples. Every day, I am surrounded by beautiful, brilliant queer people who inspire me personally and professionally. What more could I ask for?
But it was only this fall that I found myself in a community that was new and different from anything I’d previously been a part of. I had the opportunity to join approximately 150 bisexual advocates for #BiWeek in Washington, DC, thanks to an invitation by BiNet USA’s president Faith Cheltenham. My organization, Freedom for All Americans, began working with BiNet this year on a storytelling partnership to showcase the impact and intersections of nondiscrimination protections on bisexual people and bisexual issues. As part of promoting the project, known as #BiStories, Faith graciously and generously invited us to be a part of the 2016 #BiWeek activities. I participated on a panel about bisexual women on Friday, networked with community activists on Saturday, facilitated an “un-conference” on Sunday (similar to a conference, with the exception of the sessions structured by the participants rather than the organizers), and moderated a short panel at a first-of-its-kind, on-the-record bisexual community briefing at the White House on Monday.
That weekend was a bisexual activist’s dream come true and one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. It was the first time that I’d ever been in a bisexual-specific space. A space where the overwhelming majority of people were like me – where being bisexual was the automatic, assumed, default identity. Where I did not have to go out of my way to explain myself or wait to be asked. I didn’t quite realize how exhilarating that feeling could be.
Since I’d never known it, I didn’t realize what I’d been missing for so long (and when it occurred to me that gay people feel this way most of the time in queer spaces, I could not believe that either!). Although bisexuals make up the majority of LGBT people, the nature of heteronormativity, the trajectory of the history of being LGBT in America, and a myriad of complicated other factors have presented unique challenges to creating bisexual-specific communities and spaces. I find it difficult to meet other openly bisexual people even in my specific field working on LGBT causes. Events like BiWeek offer the visibility that I believe we don’t often realize we are aching for and which we struggle to articulate. They give us the opportunity to share a stronger sense of the community, pride and knowledge of our history that we see many of our loved ones in the gay and transgender communities carrying with them.
Also important, BiWeek was a space full of bisexual activists from various backgrounds, including people of color, transgender and gender nonconforming people, local community organizers, service providers and people of varying ages and abilities. I met one woman who had come out to herself as bisexual only a few months ago and was not open to anyone else in her life. I met a hero of mine whose writings and lectures on bisexuality have been familiar to me for nearly a decade. In addition, several personal learning moments made me more acutely aware of my white and cisgender privilege that I bring to the table in all of my interactions, and I hope to humbly carry those lessons with me going forward.
I’m grateful that the organization I work for supports my identity not just on a personal level, but sees a place for bisexual inclusion in our professional work. My time in DC during BiWeek motivated me more than ever to think about bisexual issues in a more creative and unique way and to bring that back to my job so that we can continue to value bisexual identities and issues. The #BiStories initiative provides a great mechanism by which to publicly highlight bisexual-specific voices and perspectives in support of LGBT policy priorities. But it doesn’t end there. National LGBT organizations should actively push bisexual people forward to give testimony in front of legislatures and courts. We should do research and testing on the best messages to effectively increase support and understanding of what bisexuality means. And we should make a proactive effort to hire more bisexual people and ensure bisexual representation – not to even begin reiterating how policy priorities and programmatic work specifically makes lives better for bisexual people.
The rates of mental illness among bisexual people are alarming. This can’t be unrelated to the lack of visibility, community, and spaces that we have been able to create for ourselves. I’m encouraged and inspired to do my part to keep moving the needle forward. I hope and believe that we can only grow, and #BiWeek 2017 will be bigger than ever.
Angela Dallara is the Director of External Communications at Freedom for All Americans (FFAA), the national campaign to secure nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people. She lives in New York City