Conferences · National Black Justice Coalition

The Bisexual Community and HIV/AIDS

As part of last fall’s National Black Justice Coalition Conference, “Out on the Hill”, I attended a White House meeting on Gay and Bisexual Men and HIV/AIDS.  I came away from the meeting impressed by the level of concern that the White House and other partners in the fight to eradicate HIV/AID are consistently demonstrating.

At the White House meeting, 09/26/14 Photo Credit. S. Washington
At the White House meeting, 09/26/14 Photo Credit. S. Washington

We’re 30 years into the HIV/AIDS epidemic but according to a report released by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), infections among gay and bisexual men are on the rise in the U.S, especially for men of color.

kaiser hiv-aidsAs a bisexual community expert I think it’s essential to educate folks to the fact that bisexuals have always been at the forefront of the fight to prevent HIV infection. Even if many times history erased us. Since the very beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the bi community helped shape the messaging, support opportunities and intervention models pertaining to ending HIV/AIDS.

In honor of the 1990 National Bisexual Conference, the City of San Francisco proclaimed the first ever "Bi Pride Day" (check out the dot matrix copy of the proclamation above). As part of the acknowledgement, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors also proclaimed: …Whereas, The contributions of bisexuals in developing AIDS service projects, combating discrimination, and advocating for social justice have long been undervalued or discounted by most of society; and Whereas, The 1990 National Bisexual Conference offers the bisexual community an opportunity to showcase some of its extraordinary work and leadership in establishing model AIDS programs, and working to build a society free of discrimination and injustice; and Whereas, The 1990 National Bisexual Conference gives all people the occasion to finally end the silence about the numbers of bisexual persons who have died of AIDS, and to recognize the tremendous leadership contributions of bisexual activists in the fight against the killer disease...
In honor of the 1990 National Bisexual Conference, the City of San Francisco proclaimed the first ever “Bi Pride Day” (check out the dot matrix copy of the proclamation above). As part of the acknowledgement, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors also proclaimed:
…Whereas, The contributions of bisexuals in developing AIDS service projects, combating discrimination, and advocating for social justice have long been undervalued or discounted by most of society; and
Whereas, The 1990 National Bisexual Conference offers the bisexual community an opportunity to showcase some of its extraordinary work and leadership in establishing model AIDS programs, and working to build a society free of discrimination and injustice; and
Whereas, The 1990 National Bisexual Conference gives all people the occasion to finally end the silence about the numbers of bisexual persons who have died of AIDS, and to recognize the tremendous leadership contributions of bisexual activists in the fight against the killer disease…

Many times bi efforts were slighted, invalidated, forgotten or in some cases erased. And as Dr. Herukhuti, Black bisexual theorist, so eloquently once put it, “bisexual erasure is psychic murder”. Nowhere is this more dangerous than in the arena of public health, where bisexual populations are often erased in favor of a few more convenient fictions:

  1. There are few bisexuals (Not!)
  2. Most bisexuals experience privilege from their heterosexual presenting relationships and do not need (or deserve) care allocated from LGBT resources. (FALSE!)
  3. Even if support providers frequently use bisexual data (‘cause it’s the worst) to strengthen arguments for more support in reaching LGBT populations, there is no legal requirement for them to find and serve bisexual people (SADLY TRUE).
dr_h_sotu
Jan 20th, 2015 tweet from Dr. Herukhuti

Dr. Herukhuti has also directly linked bisexual erasure to the disproportionate rates of HIV bisexual people of color report saying,

“Bisexuals become the disappeared of the movement. Nowhere is the impact of this dynamic felt more viscerally than in black and brown communities. Historically, HIV research and prevention has had a problematic relationship with bisexuality in black communities, fluctuating from demonizing black bisexual men as vectors of HIV transmission to treating us as if we are exactly like black gay men — lumping us into a single box of men who have sex with men along with them. It is, therefore, no wonder that HIV rates are disproportionately higher in black communities.”

It’s no wonder then that gay history runs parallel to the history of biphobia, and its legacy, bisexual erasure. If bisexual historical figures and bisexual figures aren’t “bisexually erased” into being gay men or lesbians, they are removed from the conversation, even if their data isn’t!

For example, in 1985 when Larry Kramer first published his seminal work on the HIV/AIDS epidemic “The Normal Heart”, the only mention of bisexuals is in the stage directions. In the play’s “About the Production” section, Kramer describes the walls of the set being whitewashed and painted in “black, simple lettering” with “facts and figures and names”. One of the items on set walls?

“The number of cases in gays and the number of cases in straights, calculated by subtracting the gay and bi-sexual number from the total CDC figure.”

If gay+bisexual=gay, where does the bisexual go? Contrary to popular belief, we do not disappear in a puff of logic. We just die, and sometimes we die without anyone to remember our name.

To me this feels like vexation without representation, and bisexuals get nothing for their troubles. And troubles they are, with bisexuals facing higher rates of nearly every societal ill such as alcohol, drug abuse, smoking, cancer, sexual violence (including rape, stalking and intimate partner violence), heart disease, suicide and PTSD.

Bisexual oriented AND bisexually behaviorally people simply report more disparities than their gay, lesbian and heterosexual peers. In comparison to some research on transgender individuals, bisexuals report less hate crimes yet nearly the same rates of suicide and sexual assault.

BiNet USA Bisexual Community Issues Presentation, Jan 2015 http://www.binetusa.org/bi-presentations
BiNet USA Bisexual Community Issues Presentation, Jan 2015

Winning the disparity race has left bisexuals with nothing but shame, often internalized and externalized about our identity. Whether it be damaging oppositional dialogue about bisexual community labels or consistent calls for “visibility” instead of straight up parity, bisexuals have paid the price.

An evolving world is waking up to recognize that binaries are too simple to define love, and that bisexuals need more than just to be named. We need to be served like our lives depend on it and our sanity requires it. Will the world wake in time?

To learn more about the bisexual community and HIV/AIDS, please check out The Bisexual History of HIV/AIDS, in photos.

Uncategorized

The Bisexual History of HIV/AIDS, in Photos

“And I just want it known that there is someone out here remembering him with tenderness in my heart and tears in my eyes.”

– Iris De La Cruz, Kool-AIDS On Ice

1981

Dr. David Lourea, a co-director of The Bisexual Center (founded in 1976), was also a pioneer in fight to end HIV/AIDS. In 1981, Dr. Lourea and bisexual/leather icon Cynthia Slater presented safer-sex education workshops in bathhouses and BDSM clubs in San Francisco. Photo Credit: Queerest Library Ever Blog: http://queerestlibraryever.blogspot.com/2013/01/archives-david-Loreau-and-bisexual.html
Dr. David Lourea, a co-director of The Bisexual Center (founded in 1976), was also a pioneer in the fight to end HIV/AIDS. In 1981, Dr. Lourea and bisexual / leather icon Cynthia Slater presented safer-sex education workshops in bathhouses and BDSM clubs in San Francisco. Photo Credit: Queerest Library Ever Blog

 1982

Caption: Former BiNet USA President Alexei Guren is co-founding board member of the Health Crisis Network (now CareResource) in Miami, Fla.; begins outreach and advocacy for Latino married men who have sex with men.
Former BiNet USA President Alexei Guren helps co-found the Health Crisis Network (now CareResource) in Miami, and begins outreach and advocacy for Latino married men who have sex with men.

1983

BiPOL, the first and oldest bisexual political organization, was founded in San Francisco by bisexual activists Autumn Courtney, Lani Ka'ahumanu, Arlene Krantz, Dr. David Lourea, Bill Mack, Alan Rockway, and Maggi Rubenstein.  BiPol launches demonstrations against “anti-gay/bisexual raids in Haiti and U.S.” Photo Credit: Queerest Library Ever Blog: http://queerestlibraryever.blogspot.com/2013/01/archives-david-Loreau-and-bisexual.html
BiPOL, the first and oldest bisexual political organization, was founded in San Francisco by bisexual activists Autumn Courtney, Lani Ka’ahumanu, Arlene Krantz, Dr. David Lourea, Bill Mack, Alan Rockway, and Maggi Rubenstein. BiPol launches demonstrations against “anti-gay/bisexual raids in Haiti and U.S.” Photo Credit: Queerest Library Ever Blog

 1984

Black bisexual LGBT icon ABilly S. Jones (with G. Gerald and Craig Harris) organizes first federally funded national “AIDS in the Black Community Conference” in Washington, D.C. Photo Credit: BiCities TV @ BECAUSE Conference http://blip.tv/bicities/256-abilly-s-jones-hennin-at-because-7021559
Black bisexual LGBT icon ABilly S. Jones (with G. Gerald and Craig Harris) organizes first federally funded national “AIDS in the Black Community Conference” in Washington, D.C. Photo Credit: BiCities TV @ BECAUSE Conference
Caption: After a two year battle, BiPOL activist, AIDS educator, and therapist Dr. David Lourea persuades the San Francisco Department of Public Health to recognize bisexual men in a weekly “New AIDS cases and mortality statistics” report. This model is then used by other department of public health offices around the country.  Dr. Lourea went on to criticize the Department of Public Health for closures of bathhouses and sex clubs in a March 1984 letter.
After a two year battle, BiPOL activist, AIDS educator, and therapist Dr. David Lourea persuades the San Francisco Department of Public Health to recognize bisexual men in a weekly “New AIDS cases and mortality statistics” report. This model is then used by other department of public health offices around the country. Dr. Lourea went on to criticize the Department of Public Health for closures of bathhouses and sex clubs in a March 1984 letter.

  Continue reading “The Bisexual History of HIV/AIDS, in Photos”

Conferences · National Black Justice Coalition · Uncategorized

The Black Bisexual Experience: Intersections Can Electrify To Save Lives

The National Black Justice Coalition, America’s leading Black LGBT civil rights organization focused on federal public policy, hosted the 5th annual OUT on the Hill Black LGBT Leadership Summit in Washington, DC, from September 24-27, 2014. As a black bisexual cisgender woman identified person attending Out on the Hill was an honor and a deep privilege, because often I enter into a space, event or organization being able to only honor one part of myself, instead all of me. From the very beginning of OUT on the Hill I was able to celebrate my blackness alongside my bisexuality to showcase what the black bisexual experience can really be.

junejordanquoteI was also honored to present at the OUT on the Hill conference, and joined legendary black LGBT icon ABilly S. Jones-Hennin and black bisexual psychologist Shervon Laurice, MS, LCPC, LPC, RYT on a panel at OUT on the Hill (OOTH). From the very beginning of our conversations with OOTH organizers ABilly and I realized the historic importance of our presentation and panel. There have been few resources developed and dedicated to the black bisexual experience even though black folks have been central to the development of bisexual culture and community. As well many of the health, physical/sexual violence and mental health disparities so often reported by bisexuals are also experienced in black communities.

In fact for me I’ve considered my blackness a superhero add-on to my work in bisexual communities and my bisexuality a major asset to my work supporting black and people of color communities. Personally my own diverse background as black person with West Indian roots and American Indian ancestry has impacted my approach to all culture. I call myself “alternablack” not because my experience is alternative to black folks but because of how I look or how I sound, people often assume that my experience is different from other black people when it is not. I experience racism on a daily basis and survive. I regularly am followed by security in the grocery store and every time I fly, I am selected for further security checks. Being black is an every day, every hour and every second experience that I celebrate because my blackness can be a strength and in fact, my blackness is badge of honor that taught me a great deal about how to survive in a world where many will struggle to accept me.

nbjc_faithMy history of being a black American has also shaped how I approach my health because my family history includes cancer, heart disease, auto-immune diseases, obesity, high cholesterol, mental illness, and high blood pressure. In fact, as a child I was often educated by my family and community about the health concerns I needed to be conscious of. Having that education has allowed me to recognize risk factors for what they are, opportunities to get better and save my life. I’m thankful that my blackness and my personal culture has functioned as a bridge for my bisexuality as well so the risk factors I face as a bi person are not always multiplied, sometimes and in some ways I can actually use my various intersections of identities to supercharge my approach to health. To give me strength and courage to keep going to the doctor, and to keep challenging myself to keep getting healthier.

11-BiHealth
Slide on Bisexual Health Disparities, BiNet USA Bisexual Community Presentation

I’m lucky to have had the information to educate myself and help educate the communities I live and thrive in. I’ll be writing more about some of the various things that affect the health of bisexual, pansexual, fluid, queer and/or non-monosexual people too so stay tuned!

Download “The Black Bisexual Experience” PowerPoint Presentation here.

Download “The Black Bisexual Experience” Handout here.

Conferences · National Black Justice Coalition

Bisexual Naming at National Black Justice Coalition Out on the Hill Conference

One of the great things we discussed at length during last week’s Bisexual Awareness Week (#biweek) was the bisexual identity, the many labels bi people consider using to describe their experiences and why. Awhile back the Patheos.com “Camels with Hammers” blog published a great piece that detailed the vital function that both labels and the development of labels serve. I’ve bolded some of the more stunning statements here for the “tl;dr” crowd.

“Naming the gender types, the sexual orientation types, the sexual interest types even, in all their beautiful diversity helps us think better. It helps us acknowledge more realities and account for them with better social practices so that the people who don’t fit into one or two current everyday categories are now taken into account. Having words for these differing people at the tip of our tongue, reminds us they exist at all. Refusing the words for them. Refusing the conceptualizations of their experience they offer us is an attempt to erase their existence. It’s an attempt to make it harder for us to remember them or think about them. It will make it harder for us to take any interest in their thriving. The conditions of their thriving may be different than ours. Denying them labels to describe themselves or their experiences will make it harder for us to meet their needs.”- “Why Do We Need Labels Like “Gay”, “Bi”, “Trans”, and “Cis”?

With this in mind we should welcome new conceptualizations of sexuality, gender, race, culture and every aspect of our humanity. For black bisexual people this conversation has been an on-going cultural experience. As a child I remember my West-Indian grandfather bristling as popular culture began to exclusively use African-American to describe black experiences in America. For him and other members of my family, the term African-American did not fully describe their experiences, political history and culture of their Black America.

cheltenham_clinton
Meeting former president Bill Clinton one night at dinner was a highlight for my grandparents (left)

Every so often it seems that words will change to reflect our better understanding of each others experiences. Nowhere is that truer than for bisexual folks who have re-claimed terms like bisexual, pansexual, fluid and queer to describe our lives as sexually fluid individuals. It’s also necessary for there to be some examples and role models for black and bisexual people, whether it be youth, elders or working professionals.

ooth-label-ocean
From The Out on the Hill Black Bisexual Experience Presentation, click here to download it.

Being able to positively identify yourself within a group of people is also extremely important for bisexual people striving to find a safe haven from the micro aggressions bisexual people regularly report experiencing. For as a recent report on bisexual women and micro aggressions said:

“We hypothesize that microaggressions that render bisexual women’s identity claims faulty or, worse, false and inauthentic, burden bisexual women with additional ‘identity work’. This burden, or stressor, is both cognitively and emotionally taxing, and in turn, likely has negative consequences for mental health and well-being.” – Wendy Bostwick on bisexual specific micro aggressions

ooth-bisexual
Faith Cheltenham, ABilly S. Jones-Hennin, and Shervon Laurice at Senate Hart building #OOTH2014

One of the more important things we did at our Out on the Hill black bisexual panel was exist as our total selves and in doing so continue to cement the importance of affirming black people, bisexual people, LGBTQIA people and every person working towards a world where we’re all equally valid.