It’s Literally (not Figuratively) Erasure

Twitter has applied a “sensitive material” filter on the word “bisexual”, with the result being that a search for that word finds no results under Twitter’s categories of “Photos”, “Videos” and “News”.

Put the shoe on the other foot: imagine the response if all results were filtered when people searched Twitter for “Catholic”, or “MAGA”, or simply their favourite sports team.

There is abundant research showing that, compared to their straight and gay counterparts, bisexual people suffer dire outcomes in terms of mental health, suicidality, substance abuse, and unsafe sexual practices. These outcomes are caused by a unique form of prejudice, biphobia.

Biphobia is manifested in a number of ways, but relevant here is bisexual erasure. Erasure involves denying the existence of bisexuality altogether (“there’s no such thing”). Alternatively, it may involve situations where the revelation of a person’s bisexuality is met with assertions that they’re not; that they’re actually straight, gay or lesbian, or just “going through a phase”, and other such claims.

An insidious form of erasure is the literal removal of bisexuality from LGBTI+ vocabulary (“gay marriage”), research (“gay men”, when referring to all men who have sex with men), and participation in LGBTI+ organisations and events.

Removing “bisexual” as a search term in a global social media platform literally erases bisexual people’s existence, and cuts off a central resource for community and erasureTwitter has not yet explained its reasons, so we can only speculate that this action was conceived of, developed, and implemented to stop something less desirable than, for example, climate change denial and white supremacy, which are discussed liberally on the platform.

This buys into another form of biphobia: negative stereotypes. If Twitter were attempting to filter out hyper-sexualised content tagged with “bisexual”, then removing all bisexual content perpetuates the myth that bisexual people are promiscuous and indiscriminate.

The blunt policy choice speaks volumes of the biphobia at Twitter, since the company surely could have rolled out nuanced filtering systems.

Even after two days of outcry by bisexual users all over the world, the search capability has not been restored, even though online bullies, misogynists, racists and bigots can have their account up and running again within 11 minutes after something goes awry.[1]

Scholarly research on what enhances bisexual people’s wellbeing finds that an important factor is access to online social networks.[2] The web offers a community and a sense of belonging. It’s a source of information and resources for bisexual people and people exploring their sexual orientation, so #bisexual matters.

Twitter’s simpleton policy — implemented without ex ante consultation or warning, or ex post explanation or correction — literally removes this important source of wellbeing.

Rubbing salt into the wound, at the time of writing, the problem does not seem to have been reported on or discussed on social media by any New Zealand-based LGBTI+ organisation, except Beyond Binaries (of which I am a founding trustee and operate the Twitter account).

All together, this paints a picture of deep biphobia.



Including bisexuals in LGBTI+ campaigns, including the UN’s

In 2013, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) launched the UN Free & Equal  campaign. It aims to address prejudice towards people based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.UN_Free_and_Equal

They have just released their 2016 Progress Report, which highlights (among other things) that they have reached an incredible 1.5 billion people with their many online and on-the-ground campaigns throughout the globe.

This level of outreach for the rainbow community is unprecedented, and given the role of the UN and the esteem of the OHCHR, it is imperative that they get their campaigns right.

It is entirely appropriate that the campaign targets where LGBTI+ people suffer the worst discrimination and violence. However, in their general communications, they must ensure they do not perpetuate existing problems. There are still instances where bisexuals are erased from the community and from the Free & Equal campaign.

Again and again, research illustrates why it is critical that bisexuals’ issues are accounted for in campaigns by, or for, the rainbow community.

Biphobia and bisexual erasure mean that bisexuals have heightened concerns about stigma and are, therefore, less likely to reveal their sexual orientation than homosexuals. They suffer stigma-related stress and report a greater sense of isolation and lack of social support. The disconnection is not just from heterosexuals, but also from gays and lesbians, which isolates bisexuals from the rainbow community where they might expect support. (At the recent Pride Festival in Wellington, New Zealand, people who were ostensibly gay and lesbian openly expressed negativity towards the presence of a bisexual stall with bisexual staff.)

Bisexual women are more than three times as likely to be raped as straight or lesbian women, affecting nearly 1 in 2 bisexual women.

Given such conditions, bisexuals suffer from: internalised biphobia; a reduced sense of safety; increased rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicidality; increased binge-drinking, substance abuse and heavy smoking; and lower GP awareness of sexual orientation and behaviour and, therefore, lower testing and identification of sexually-transmitted diseases. Most of these well-being indicators are worse for bisexuals than for homosexuals because of the aforementioned prejudice from within the LGBTI+ community.

[References to all of this research can be provided upon request.]

The UN Free & Equal campaign frequently uses the phrase “LGBT and intersex” as its all-encompassing language. However, bisexual erasure sneaks in a few times. In their Progress Report:

  • They use the acronym, IDAHOT, which erases bisexuals. (Page 5) An inclusive alternative is IDAHOBIT.
  • They refer to “gay” relationships being criminalised, when bisexual people can be in similar-sex relationships too. (Page 7)
  • There is a screenshot of a Tweet which says, “Homophobia and transphobia harms [sic] the mental health of LGBT youth”. Yes, and biphobia is evidently more harmful, and thus needs to have been included. (Page 9)

The campaign is doing excellent work, and I applaud them for it. It is critical, however, that the harms from bisexual erasure are not perpetuated by a programme with such massive global reach.

In fact, ideally, given how relatively poor bisexuals’ well-being is, what’s really called for is a targeted programme to deal with the specific issues of biphobia.

When the Free & Equal campaign gets bi-inclusion right, hopefully local rainbow organisations can follow suit and start really representing everyone in the sexual orientation and gender identity spectra.


Bisexuals’ unique issues are frequently subsumed by generic LGBTI campaigns, but need to be considered separately, both in research and in campaigns like the UN’s.

unfe stamps

UN Stamps sold 150,000 of their Free & Equal sets