July 25, 2017 at 9:00 am EDT | by Helen Parshall
‘Building our community is the most important thing’

BiNet USA members take part in the National Equality March for Unity and Pride in D.C. on June 11, 2017. (Photo courtesy of Lynnette McFadzen)

Editor’s note: This is part two of a two-part series on the global bisexual rights movement. Part one of this series was published on July 20.

The Washington Blade recently spoke with bisexual activists in the U.S., Australia, Brazil, China, France, Kenya, New Zealand, the Philippines, Serbia, South Africa, Spain and the U.K. They all said they are fighting stereotypes while seeking more visibility.

Here is what they said.

Australia

Connecting with the global bisexual movement is often difficult for Australian advocates because of their relative isolation compared with many of the other major cities in the world, according to Sally Goldner, who is a bisexual and transgender advocate.

“It’s one of those sad things of how this planet formed that Australia seems to be a large way away from major population centers,” said Goldner. “It’s hard for us to get somewhere else and for everyone else to come here, but it’s really cool when either happens.”

“Legally, bisexual people have it as well as gays and lesbians in Australia,” added Goldner. “But it’s about making sure that people realize bisexuality is separate and that researchers separate it out from gay and lesbian.”

Goldner is the treasurer of Bisexual Alliance Victoria, a Melbourne discussion group born out of Bi Victoria, which had mainly focused on social events.

“I block out our discussion group every month to make sure I go there. It’s a safe space,” said Goldner. “I’ve heard bi people say that this is the only space I can be myself. We’ve had people talk about deep personal stuff because they know it’s safe.”

Misty Farquhar, another Australian advocate, is based out of Perth, which is across the continent from Goldner. While they often collaborate and share stories, Farquhar says Perth is quite different from the “equality bubble” of Melbourne.  

“There is no funding for LGBTI issues anywhere in Western Australia,” said Farquhar. “The idea of getting funding for a bi-specific program is just not happening.”

Farquhar’s work centers around bringing people together to connect and offer each other support.

“We’re all really keen, but no one has funding,” said Farquhar. “I want people to feel like they’re not alone.”  

Brazil

Natasha Avital was the second person that Daniela Furtado contacted in forming Bi-Sides, a collective of bisexual people working to empower each other in São Paulo.

Bi-Sides was formed out of a frustration and anger about the lack of representation for bisexual people in LGBT spaces.

“Building our community is the most important thing for us right now,” said Avital.

“When bisexual people try to work only in LGBT groups, we get worn out really fast,” added Avital. “It feels like screaming in an empty room if you’re only working in groups that are not specific to bisexuals.”

Avital said one of the most important events that Bi-Sides has organized brought together psychologists to break myths and destroy a lot of the “pathologization of bisexuality” which is often made the scapegoat for misdiagnoses.  

“There have been stories of people’s therapists who say things like ‘Oh, you only think you’re bisexual because of this trauma you faced’” said Avital, touching on the issue of sexual violence. “We’re empowering each other to be able to answer biphobia. I think a lot of people did not expect that we were not going to take it anymore.”

Natasha Avital speaks at a bisexuality town hall meeting at the São Paulo City Council in Brazil. (Photo courtesy of Natasha Avital)

Social media has made the work of Bi-Sides much easier. Before Facebook, they often struggled to get more than 10 people to an event or meeting, but now their reach has grown rapidly.

“People tell me that this is the only place they feel safe to talk about this,” said Avital. “I think a lot of the best discussions thinking critically about bisexuality come from Facebook and blog posts than from academic places. It makes things easier to share stories and ask questions.”

China

Stephanie Wang is one of the Chinese advocates behind the country’s first handbook of bisexuality created to educate LGBT and non-LGBT spaces about what it means to be bisexual.

“Being LGBT in China is actually a very foreign concept,” said Wang. “We have a very long history of same-sex eroticism in China’s dynasties, but we never really had a name for it. LGBT as distinct identity categories has a distinct political meaning.”

A lot of the work for advocates is simply around education about the existence of LGBT identities.

“One of the main challenges for the bisexual movement in China is that I think identity politics cannot work for bisexuals,” said Wang. “Bisexual as an identity category is considered as ambiguous, as a phase to either being straight or gay. Bisexuality is not really considered an essential identity by many people.”

Bisexual people face prejudice from both conservative and liberal communities who deny its existence, explained Wang.

Chinese bisexual advocates are focusing on collaboration with other community groups and in online forums to clear these rampant misunderstandings about bisexuality. They are starting to collect oral histories of bisexual people in China to share their stories and the diversity of their experiences.

“In our group, we don’t define bisexuals. We don’t define pansexuals. We have multiple meanings for people to be themselves,” said Wang. “I think the next step is to continue to welcome more stories and more experiences that cannot be shared within lesbian, gay communities which will stigmatize them for their sexual adversities.”

Europe

Hilde Vossen has become one of the threads weaving together a network for the global bisexual community. So many of the advocates who responded to the Blade’s request for interviews were sent by Vossen, a fact of which they are quite proud.

“I see that there are people longing for a global bisexual movement that is a serious exchange of information,” said Vossen. “I started typing, and I did not stop.”

Vossen has been coordinating the European Bisexual Network for more than 15 years, and is the Alternative Bisexual Secretariat for ILGA World via the Dutch Bisexual Network. But they’ve been involved in the movement for over 25 years.

“I like to get to know people better and see what they like to do, to see their creativity and see the fun they make out of their bisexual activism,” said Vossen. “That’s also very inspiring to me.”

Vossen came out while they were in university, and has not stopped working for the community since.

“I started off with simply preparing sandwiches and ended up speaking for the United Nations,” laughed Vossen, who uses gender-neutral pronouns to refer to themself.

While the Dutch bisexual community itself is still small, it have been ambitious in connecting with the broader European network.

“We had the first European bisexual conference in Rotterdam in 2001, and we had the third in 2016 in Amsterdam,” said Vossen. “So we are a bunch of crazy people here.”

“I still like to do it, because the work keeps on renewing itself,” added Vossen. “And I can do what I’m good at, which is connecting people.”

France

While she lives in France, Soudeh Rad’s work crosses borders to reach out to Farsi speakers around the world. She started in the feminist movement, but quickly found herself needing to carve out a space for her bisexual identity.

“Being a feminist means being active and having this belief in gender equality which comes with sexuality and all identities,” said Rad. “I constantly had to justify myself.”

Rad helped to launch dojensgara.org, which provides resources in Farsi around topics facing bisexual people.

“When we wanted to launch the website, we realized that there was absolutely no information about bisexuality and pansexuality,” said Rad. “Everyone was talking about monosexuality as though people are either homosexuals or heterosexuals, and bisexuality did not exist.”

Because of her background in the feminist movement, Dojensgara launched on International Women’s Day three years ago, but the backlash from the feminist movement was intense.

“We had an activist coming out,” said Rad. “The first reaction was to question, ‘Oh so these people are leaving our movement and launching their own thing right now? What kind of expert are you?’ I’m just a person. I didn’t change anything.”

Rad’s work covers a multitude of topics from sexual health education to training professionals around bisexuality. Her goal is to get people talking about bisexuality so that larger issues such as the stigma facing bisexual asylum seekers can be addressed.

“Bisexual and nonmonosexual asylum seekers are the people who need the most help,” said Rad. “They come from societies where bisexuality is erased and people do not know about it. We have cases where they have to say that they’re gay or lesbian so that they are sure they’re going to get their asylum accepted.”

“We should recognize that bisexuals and other nonmonosexuals are the minority being put into the minority again and again,” said Rad. “This is happening in all countries. This is the asylum-seeking and immigration crisis we are facing.”  

Kenya

Bisexual is a political label that Jackson Otieno has had to take on as an activist in Kenya doing work for the LGBT community.

“I and many others find ourselves in a situation to use that label until people understand it,” said Otieno.

The bisexual community in Kenya does not yet have organizing power in large part, said Otieno, to the work still remaining for the LGBT community as a whole.

“There have been attempts to organize around bisexuality but the timing is not right,” Otieno said. “It has taken a backseat but there is a bisexual community.”

“Like most former British colonies, sodomy laws are still in Kenya’s criminal codes,” said Otieno. “We are currently petitioning the government and constitutional courts to have it removed.”

Otieno sees the work needing to encompass not just laws but also begin at the grassroots level of villages to address the homophobia and violence that LGBT Kenyans face which is often religiously motivated.

“As much as these faiths don’t agree on a lot of things, anti-homosexuality is one they can agree on,” said Otieno. “They are really just scapegoats being used in this rhetoric.”

“All of the progress has been slow, but the effect is that one victory builds onto the next,” he added.

“I just have this general feeling from a lot of observation that from the minute we start organizing around bisexuality, I think we will have such a huge number of people willing to get on board,” said Otieno. “Our biggest challenge will be motivating people who do not want to engage politically in anything.”

New Zealand

Hattie Plant is a student at Victoria University of Wellington, and still new to the “movement.”

“I only worked out that I was bisexual last year, so I’m still easing into it,” said Plant. “I’m very much a small-scale person.”

Victoria University’s LGBT group called UniQ has provided a sense of community for Plant, even if she hasn’t been able to make it to a meeting yet due to class schedules.

“I’m active on their Facebook group,” said Plant. “There’s a lot of people on there who post questions asking our opinions – or if they’ve got questions about an identity that isn’t theirs.”

“It’s a mix of activism and community,” said Plant. “They have alternating movie nights and discussions around stuff. It’s more serious than just hanging out as a casual, like-minded group.”

Plant hopes to work with high school students one day to provide support around issues of LGBT identity and mental health.

“My teachers were no help at all,” said Plant. “I currently work with students just tutoring them, so I think it would be nice to be that voice that’s just slightly more relatable in a lot of ways.”

The Philippines

Fire Sia is one of three co-founders of Side B Philippines, an organization of bisexual people working to educate and advocate for the bisexual community.

“We are a young organization, just a year old but we have gained strong visibility in the LGBT activist space in Manila,” said Sia.

A lot of Side B’s work is focused on combating the widespread misunderstanding of bisexuality as an identity, even from other LGBT people.

“In the gay community, they see bisexuality as some sort of a dress code,” said Sia. “This means that many gay men identify as bi because they are masculine or straight-acting.”  

“Many believe that it is a phase, which I am certain it is not — at least in my case,” said Sia.

“Being bi is also seen as a ‘single phase,’” added Sia. “This means that we are only seen as bi when we are single. Our identity and orientation is expected to change depending on the sex of our partner.”

Bisexual advocates attend the Metro Manila Pride March in the Philippines on June 24, 2017. (Photo courtesy of Side B)


Side B is focused on education and advocating for employment equality for bisexual people in the Philippines.

“We have a long way to go, but we feel like we’re on the right track,” said Sia.

Serbia

Radica Hura is a bisexual activist taking a break from organizing.

“It’s an activist burnout,” said Hura. “People were not cruel, but they were asking me all these questions about how can you be bisexual and be from Serbia? Isn’t it a cultural thing?”

She organized two bisexual visibility days, but bisexuality is still incredibly misunderstood in Serbian society. Serbia has some laws that protect LGBT people and just elected an openly lesbian prime minister, but at the fundamental level, Hura says that there are a lot of problems.

“If you’re a non-heterosexual man living an ordinary life, then you will struggle,” said Hura. “People here accept their sexual side of their bisexuality, and they’re okay with having sex with the same sex and meeting the same sex, but they have problems accepting that it’s a part of their identity.”

“When it comes to women, [bisexuality] is not even observed seriously,” added Hura. “In their sexual identity, it is accepted because it is part of the male gaze. It is nice to see two girls kissing, but if women are accepted as sexual beings who are attracted to other women and fall in love, then they are starting to lose their mind because of it.”

“When I see how they are not observed seriously, I even start to doubt myself,” said Hura. “In one period in my life I was asking myself if I am really bisexual. People are asking that question all the time.”

“I’d like to see more bisexual people in Serbia actually say it — even just to their families and friends. Without saying it publicly, there is just silence,” said Hura. “There are so many couples who are actually bisexual, but they’re not saying it. Saying it is enough for me, it’s a step ahead.”

South Africa

When Werner Pieterse came out as bisexual, he could not find any spaces that specialized in serving the bisexual community in South Africa.

He decided to create his own.

“I started by reaching out to places in South Africa that might know where i could meet other bisexual people, but no one knew of anything,” said Pieterse. “I started reaching out to support groups in the USA and Canada, which was such a liberating experience but Skype is not the same as someone that’s literally here that you can touch.”

“I’d like to believe that this support group is the first of its kind,” said Pieterse.

The group’s first meeting was in May, and they welcome people of all identities to the space to talk about issues unique to bisexual identity.

“The amount of people that are interested is just overwhelming,” said Pieterse.

Pieterse described a large gap in education and knowledge of the LGBT community due in large part to the massive jump in legislation within the last twenty years. In just 1996, the country decriminalized homosexuality. Only 10 years later, South Africa became the fifth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage.

“So many of the bisexual people in South Africa are still closeted, and I think that’s because it’s still stigmatized,” said Pieterse. “We are ahead in some cases, but society has a lot of catching up to do as well. I think if you give it another 10 to 15 years, it will be a much different landscape.”

“It’s one of the reasons why I want to be as out as possible,” added Pieterse, showing off the pockets of his jean jacket that he had embellished with the bisexual flag. “A year ago I wasn’t even thinking about what I’m doing right now, and I’m so grateful that it happened.”

Spain

Carlos Castaño says he was one of about five bisexual advocates behind organizing the year of bisexual visibility for the LGBT Federation in Spain last year.  

“None of us realized the impact this year would have on our lives,” said Castaño.
 
The federation had a bisexual network, but it had collapsed in part due to anger about the lack of bisexual visibility in their work.

“The bisexual network is incredibly weak and we are working to bring it back to life again,” said Castaño. “In Spain, right now, there is a lot of individual work for bisexual visibility, but there are not many groups organized for their activism.”

Carlos Castaño , left, joins bisexual advocates on stage after the 2016 Madrid Pride march. They read a manifesto about bisexual visibility. (Photo courtesy of Carlos Castaño Rodríguez)

With the help of the larger federation, Castaño and the other advocates organized events throughout the year from round tables about bisexual visibility to events that taught people inclusive sexual health.

“It was in this year that I felt that I was a part of the LGBT community which I have never felt before,” said Castaño. “When we started the bi year I felt a lot of skepticism, but month by month I could see how the main coordinators of the federation realized the importance of bi visibility.”

“Being a bisexual activist has made me feel like I’m a part of something bigger,” added Castaño.

“It’s also a lonely task. It feels lonely when there’s such a massive amount of work,” said Castaño. “Sometimes it feels like you’re working in the dark because you don’t know the needs of all the bisexual people in Spain. I didn’t know if I was the only one who was interested in all of these things that felt historical for the movement.”

United Kingdom

For a long time, Edward Lord was afraid to come out as bisexual. He clung to a gay identity, having what he refers to as “surreptitious affairs” with women.

“I went to an all male school from the age of seven through eighteen, and my initial sexual and romantic experiences were with guys of my age. So, when I arrived at University in 1990, I immediately openly identified as gay,” said Lord.

Because of the rampant biphobia in LGBT activist spaces in which he was working, Lord remained closeted about his bisexuality.

“I vividly remember attending a national LGB students’ conference, the first one where bi people were included, and the biphobia was horrific,” said Lord. “The women’s caucus had morphed into the lesbian caucus with a clear statement that ‘we don’t want any dirty bisexuals in here.’”

Fast forward to 2017, and Edward Lord sits on the board of BiUK and is councilman and justice of the peace in London. He has been responsible for increasing diversity and inclusion work within the government, which saw him recognized by Queen Elizabeth II in 2011.

Lord also serves as deputy chair and bisexual representative on the advisory board for London Pride.

“Pride in London is a day of mixed emotions for me,” said Lord. “Part of that is because the organizers simply don’t recognize that it is harder for some LGBTQ+ people to participate in events like Pride than others. And that includes bi people.”

“It remains the case that bi people of color are less likely to attend LGBT or bi specific events, and that bi spaces are often dominated by middle class and highly educated folk,” said Lord. “This has to change and I am committed to supporting that change where I can.”

United States

Laya Monarez, a bisexual and trans activist and artist, has experienced her bisexuality through a lot of different struggles. As a trans Mexican American woman, she grew up in a culture they describes as “super machismo.”

“Growing up was difficult because I didn’t even completely understand myself because I had so much going on,” said Monarez. “I wasn’t sure if I was gay or straight, but even more complicated than that I was also trans. I didn’t feel comfortable in my body. There was a lot of confusion.”

“The thing about Latinx communities is that our entire culture is very gendered. Even our language is gendered, and it’s deeply rooted in us,” said Monarez. “When you’re a woman, you’re expected to be a certain type of woman. When you’re a man, you’re really expected to be a certain type of man. So when you come out as bisexual, it’s really strange because people don’t know where to put you.”

If you asked Lynnette McFadzen six years ago what they would be doing in 2017, it would not have included speaking on a panel about bisexual representation at San Diego Comic Con.  Nor would it have included being among the co-chairs of the National Equality March for Unity and Pride that took place last month in D.C.

“I call myself a worker bee,” said McFadzen. “It’s quite amazing with all the wonderful people I’ve met and all the accidents that have led me to this.”

McFadzen, host of a podcast called “The BiCast” and president of BiNet USA, started coming out just five years ago after a lot of soul-searching. They started a podcast about bisexuality in part because it had been really difficult to find information about bisexuality during their coming out process.

“If I could just reach a couple of people and let them know that they’re okay and there’s nothing wrong with them, then it would be so worth it,” said McFadzen, who also uses gender-neutral pronouns to refer to themselves.

“Our power is that as bisexual people, we see all of these intersections. We have to see that the black community is our community, and their struggles are our struggles,” said McFadzen. “A large population of black and brown, Pacific Islanders, indigenous people, and people of all genders and no genders have suffered in our community.”

“We cannot be exclusionary of anyone because we will be excluding ourselves,” added McFadzen. “As bisexual people, we know what it feels like to be left behind.”

Helen Parshall is an avid writer pursuing a master’s degree in multi-platform journalism at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland. She graduated from St. Mary’s College of Maryland with a B.A. in English and a concentration in Latin American studies in 2014.

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  • I am co-editor of the 42-country anthology Getting Bi: Voices of Bisexuals Around the World, and the Bi Women Quarterly, which includes an “Around the World” interview in every issue. I am a strong believer in the value of transnational advocacy, as we can inspire and inform each other. Thank you for this coverage of bi folks organizing around the world!

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