Today is Bisexual Visibility Day, a day that celebrates the B in LGBT+, and gets content writers like me asking and answering important questions like; ‘what is bi visibility?’, ‘how to celebrate bi visibility day’, and ‘why do we have a day dedicated to bisexuality?’.
In this blog we’ll help with all your questions. We’ll dispell common myths and misconceptions about the bisexual community, and delve into why we need to stop the erasure of bisexual people. We’ll also offer guidance on how we can go about supporting and celebrating our bisexual friends, peers and colleagues.
Misconceptions about bisexuality
First of all, let’s dispel some harmful myths about the bisexual community:
- Bisexual people are greedy/non-monogamous
Why people say this:
The idea that bisexual people are greedy or polyamorous relates to the thought that an attraction to more than one gender means a desire to form intimate relationships with everyone. It’s possible that this is linked to the equally harmful misconceptions around the promiscuity of the LGBTQ+ community.
Why it’s harmful:
The main reason this is harmful is because it intrinsically links an individual’s sexual orientation to their sexual activity. If a straight person told you they were straight, it is unlikely that your initial thought following that would include the number of people they sleep with.
When people hold these views of bisexual people, it creates an image of the person that is not necessarily aligned to who that person is. In a work context this can create discomfort, is inappropriate to assume/verbalise, and can lead to bisexual people avoiding conversations that relate to their sexual orientation.
- Bisexual people can’t make their mind up
Why people say this:
The harmful perception here is that people are either homosexual or heterosexual, and that bisexual identifying people are just deciding which category they fall into. It dismisses bisexuality as a legitimate sexual identity.
Why it’s harmful:
For anyone that isn’t heterosexual, typically your life before coming out (and often much after), is surrounded by reminders about why your sexual orientation strays from the norm. LGBTQ+ people are often made to hide their sexual orientation, or are deterred from exploring and understanding their sexual identity.
Getting to know yourself, and feeling confident in sharing your sexual orientation with others is therefore a significant life event for many LGBTQ+ people. Bisexual people in particular are often made to feel as if their identity is invalid, not real, or still worth questioning, especially when asked to ‘decide’ or ‘pick’ an orientation.
- It must be worse for lesbian/gay men
Why people say this:
Ever since the LGBT acronym and movement for equality formed, there has been discussions around how to equally represent the interests of each community represented by the iconic rainbow flag. Conversations on lesbian rights and gay rights have dominated popular culture, and often for very legitimate reasons. However, this means that a lot of the progress that has been made has been for the benefit of these communities, and not all LGBTQ+ people.
Why it’s harmful:
Bisexual people are more likely to experience mental health challenges than lesbian and gay people. Bisexual people are more likely to attempt suicide, to be impacted by substance abuse, and to experience domestic violence. Clearly, bi-invisibility prevents us from seeing, at multiple levels, very serious issues impacting bisexual people.
The pros of removing bi-invisibility and supporting our bi colleagues
Bi-invisibility or bi-erasure, is when we ignore or re-explain the existence of bisexuality. Take for example a colleague who you met whilst in a same sex relationship, who then leaves that relationship and begins a heteronormative relationship. Comments such as ‘I think they were gay, but they must be straight now’, would be an example of bi-erasure.
Hopefully from the above myth busting you can see why that might be harmful, so, what can you do to be more supportive , and challenge bi-erasure when it happens?
How to support bisexual colleagues at work
We’ve now reached the nitty gritty of the blog, the ‘How to’ apply the learnings from above. What do individuals and organisations need to achieve so that we can ensure that all bisexual employees are able to exist and thrive openly in work without fear of discrimination, bias, and harassment:
- Stop being so urgent to label people
Our human desire to understand the world around us often forces our minds to categorise things quickly, including someone’s sexual orientation. So if someone refers to a same sex relationship, we assume that they are likely homosexual. If you can acknowledge that there is a whole spectrum of sexuality that people sit within, we can help our bisexual colleagues by preventing them having to continuously correct people, or keep coming out.
- Ask inclusive questions
‘What’s your boyfriend’s name?’ assumes the sexuality of the person you’re engaging with, and the gender of their partner. Try asking more inclusive questions such as ‘what’s your partner’s name?’. Alternatively, wait for the person to give a name and gender, and reflect that back to them.
If you’re not sure, ask! A lot of the time people are afraid of asking because they’re worried they’ll cause offence.
Think about that for a second. Being bisexual, or homosexual is not a bad thing. Asking about someone’s sexual orientation politely, in a safe environment, and with good intent isn’t inherently a bad thing.
- Apologise and move on
This one’s simple. If you make a mistake, apologise and move on with the conversation. Dwelling, and asking additional and intrusive questions is inappropriate and can make your colleagues feel uncomfortable.
- Ask Google!
If you have questions on bisexuality, go to google before you bring them up with your bisexual colleagues. Chances are you’ll find an answer. If you’re looking to understand your colleagues’ experience based on what you’ve taken the time to learn about privately, make sure that they’re comfortable having the conversation before asking.
- Empower your bi employees to focus on their jobs, not consistently coming out
When you consistently question, deny or incorrectly define the sexual orientation of someone who is bisexual they then need to spend time correcting that. This process of constantly coming out can be exhausting for bisexual people. All of this worry, concern, action, and time, is time that could be spent on other more productive activities.
- Save time by getting your policies and processes right first time
To be truly inclusive, don’t assume that an LGBT+ policy, LGBT+ network, or any related initiatives are inclusive of all LGBT+ needs. Consult with bisexual employees, or specialists to understand where gaps might be in your planning. 7% of gay men are not out at work, compared to 49% of bisexual men, and 4% of lesbians compared to 34% of bisexual women. This indicates that on a whole, we have more to do to help bisexual employees feel safe in the decision to be open about their identity. Doing it right the first time means you don’t have to invest further into reviewing and changing your policies in hindsight.
- Ensure there’s a safe space by promoting education & visibility
At a company wide level, make issues impacting bisexual employees known through training and education programmes. By spreading awareness, you can create safe spaces by increasing allyship. At a network level, ensure that your networks have bi-visibility at the forefront by having representatives within your network structure.
- Give bisexual employees the means to speak up about harassment
Encourage bisexual staff to speak up if they encounter discrimination or harassment. Give them the tools to understand their experiences, by providing useful support systems and information points. Speak up about your reporting pathways.
Offer a variety of ways for people to report to ensure that regardless of the individual’s circumstances, they can find a way to report safely and confidently. For this to be effective, your processes need to be airtight too.