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.
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.