Unquestionably, this will be remembered as the largest gathering of notable bisexuals in the country so far this century–if not ever. And it was hosted by the White House and organized by their Office of Public Engagement.
Who would have thought this possible back in 1993 when bisexuals had to fight for podium time to speak at the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation?
But on the first day of Bisexual Awareness Week in September, there we were: The gathering of the nearly 100 bisexuals included some pioneers of the American bisexual movement, such as Arlene Krantz, Loraine Hutchins, Ellyn Ruthstrom, and Alexei Guren. There were noteworthy authors such as Carol Queen, Bill Burleson, Ron Suresha and my own co-author Nicole Kristal.
Nicole and I were invited because of our book, “Bisexual’s Guide to the Universe,” which won a Lambda Literary Award in 2007, the first year of the bisexual category.
Among other community leaders there were the old school journalists from my era, such as Denise Penn, and newcomers like Eliel Cruz, and popular blogger Camille Beredjick.
There were religious leaders like Rabbi Debra Kolodny, and professional bisexual speaker Robyn Ochs as well as college professors, politicians, teachers, lawyers, photographers, veterinarians, service members, a former porn star, and a few people who were grand marshals at Pride parades.
Some walked with canes, in wheelchairs, with a seeing-eye dog; they were all shapes, colors, sizes and ages; they were not only bi, but trans, pan, asexual and a variety of other identities– but they all were beautiful.
It’s tough and emotional for me to count every friend from every city that I reunited with, or met for the first time.
Most notably absent was activist and author, Lani Ka’ahumanu. She not only was the co-editor with Loraine Hutchins of the bi-Bible “Bi Any Other Name” (now in a just-released updated printing), but also the person who stood at the 1993 March on Washington and represented bisexuals in the final speech of that great gathering. Some of the younger bisexual activists had not met Lani, and were sad she couldn’t make it. She was with us in spirit.
The last time I was in Washington, D.C. was during that March on Washington in 1993. I remember I hugged Lani as she came off the stage in front of the Capitol Dome, and introduced her to my mom. My mother had marched along side of me that day. I wore a shirt saying, “My mom is straight and she don’t hate” and she wore a shirt reading, “My son is bi, I don’t ask why.”
At one point during the 1993 March, my mom turned to me and said, “A lot of these women are going topless!” And, before she got any bright ideas, I encouraged her to keep her shirt on.
Now my mom is gone, and it was fitting to be able to show my co-author and friend Nicole around the city. We walked the two miles from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, taking in the museum we wanted to see along the way. Then, on the morning of September 21st, we went through security to attend the Bisexual Community Briefing at the Eisenhower Executive Building.
It wasn’t the first time the White House staff invited bisexuals there, but this was certainly the largest gathering, and the most comprehensive. Since it was an “off the record” briefing, we cannot report about the specifics of the discussions or papers presented there, but suffice to say that it was a grand reunion for many of us who hadn’t seen each other since we were at that March on Washington.
The ornate Eisenhower Executive Office Building is next door to the White House. This is where the offices of the Vice President and First Lady are located. The White House staff wanted to know what the concerns were for the bisexual community, and what the Administration could do to help.
There are issues about HIV/Drugs, conversion therapy, hate crimes and more. Bisexuals face unique health issues, same-sex marriage problems, housing and work discrimination and an array of other issues that are very different from the LGT communities. In general, we heard personal stories of bisexuals being denied immigration help and sent back to their countries to face certain death. We heard ways that medical professionals and teachers can help understand more and help people who are bisexual.
One of the highlights of the whole weekend was marching with the smartly dressed bisexuals in front of the White House with BiNet USA president Faith Cheltenham leading the way, carrying the purple, blue and pink-striped flag that represents bisexuality. She circled around a guy on a megaphone shouting obscenities about LGBT folk. The guy was quickly drowned out.
And what did it all mean? Well, it’s been a month, and I’m delighted to see that some issues we talked about are now being discussed by President Obama himself. For example, I wasn’t aware, until the trip that bisexuals have a particularly difficult time with immigration issues. The president just this week talked about making it easier for LGT and B folk to get asylum for discrimination.
We will most likely be hearing and seeing more use of the word “bisexual” when many other politicians tend to ignore that identity all together.
Here are some of the other writings that others who attended wrote, and some galleries of photos:
- Here is what the White House said: https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/09/28/recognizing-unique-challenges-bisexual-community
- This is what MTV News said, following Camille Beredjick: http://www.mtv.com/news/2278878/white-house-bisexual-community-policy-briefing/
- Kevin Hogan writes first person about it in the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kevin-hogan2/the-faith-ive-seen-in-was_1_b_8213666.html
- Deb Kolodny talked about the Jewish bisexual contingent on the trip: http://www.nehirim.org/7363-2/
- GLAAD put up a whole photo gallery and Alexandra Bolles shared her thoughts: http://www.glaad.org/blog/photos-glaad-attends-white-house-policy-briefing-national-leaders-biweek
- The Washington Blade wrote about it: http://www.washingtonblade.com/2015/09/21/bi-advocates-discuss-policy-at-white-house-meeting/
- It made the six most important bi moments of the year: http://www.glaad.org/blog/6-best-moments-biweek-2015
- Amy Andre, a bisexual consultant with SAMSA wrote about it: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amy-andre/obama-bisexual-leaders_b_3819857.html