The ongoing struggle over Section 377 has catapulted the discourse on LGBT issues into the national consciousness in India. Politicians are making all the right noises to appear pro-equality in philosophy if not in action. LGBT organizations and civil society are preparing for a showdown with the law to prevent further erosion of basic rights and freedoms of citizens. And people around the world are watching with great curiosity.
Bisexual activists that we have featured in this series of articles – Rajiv Dua, Apphia Kumar, Suri Mukherjee, and L. Ramki Ramakrishnan – have highlighted a number of factors influencing their pursuit of equality; factors that, no doubt, resonate with bisexuals worldwide. In their own words, this 10-point agenda is their clarion call to bisexuals everywhere to –
- Never underestimate the value of social transformation. Sexual orientation cannot be merely a legal issue. Legal battles are costly to mount and can be won only if progressive judges make the ruling. Public education is comparatively cheaper. Greater awareness can lead to greater public pressure on the legal and political process
- Shift the debate out of binaries. Challenge rigid notions of gay/straight and male/female, and create the opportunity and space for bisexuals to engage in that debate. Insist on discussing not just bisexual but pansexual, transsexual, and intersex orientations. All of these are in some way liminal or between polar opposite sex or genders.
- Remain bi identified to be truly appreciated. There is a tendency for those in same-sex relationships to be assumed to be gay or lesbian (and assumed to be straight if they are in an opposite-sex relationship) and, as time goes on, bisexuals in such a position can get jaded and tired of constantly having to correct assumptions. The only way to build trust is to engage over the long haul for people to see that bisexuals are not opportunists and not just there to claim their place in the category of oppressed minorities.
- Be respectful of the oppression that some people face just by virtue of looking, walking, or talking differently. Getting people to understand that invisibility is also oppressive is a deep struggle. It is easy to say that just because someone is visible that they can be the target of discrimination or violence. But being invisible means that one has to live with assumptions that people make and, sometimes, it can be difficult to confront those assumptions and speak out.
- Insist on education and sensitivity training for health care professionals, including doctors, nurses, counselors and other professionals, on bi-specific terminology, data, and psychosocial needs.
- Invest in research on desire and orientation from the bisexual perspective. Bisexuals need to engage academics and LGBT groups to generate evidence-based and scientifically rigorous research data on bisexuality. In India, for example, what little research data that exists on bisexuality dates back to the 1990s when much of the research was conducted within the context of HIV transmission. Many bisexuals in India are still relying on research done in the U.S., U.K., or Australia. Time has come for new, comprehensive research that looks at the prevalence and characteristics of bisexuality as a legitimate desire and orientation in addition to research into the health and wellness of bisexuals.
- Mobilize bisexual activists to influence the influencers. Two entities dominate the funding for sexuality and disease intervention programs: U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and The Global Fund that, in turn, are greatly influenced by AmfAR and The Global Forum on MSM & HIV. These are highly influential organizations that are providing critical services around the world. However, they have not only omitted bisexuality from their mission statements and taglines but also failed to recognize bisexuality in the sexuality spectrum as well as in the disease paradigm spectrum. Bisexuals in the U.S. and U.K. – where these organizations are headquartered – need to create pressure groups, perhaps modeled after gay men’s activism of the 1980s and ’90s, and have corresponding voices in India, and other countries served by these organizations, that can influence them to boost the understanding, visibility and funding for bi-specific programs.
- Question and transform the operationalization of anti-discrimination policies of multinational organizations that set up shop in India and other emerging markets. Investigate whether these organizations are simply hiding under the broader umbrella of “diversity” or if they have sexual orientation policies that include bi-specific protections.
- Create a global partnership between bisexuals. Progress made by bisexuals in countries far advanced in their LGBT activism can serve as a model for bisexuals in other countries. However, one can also learn a lot from the tactics used by transgender rights activists in Pakistan, from sexuality debates in Bangladesh, and the legislative battle over Section 377A in Singapore. Bisexuals need to collaborate with the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) and International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) for inclusion of bi-specific policies and interventions in their programs.
- Move from anthologies to debate and action. Anthologies that profile personal stories of bisexuals from around the world are great but now it is critical to move to specifics. Funding, visibility, and momentum have to be generated to unite this global community of bisexuals into a formidable movement that stops at nothing short of recognition, acceptance, inclusion and equality.
Dua, Kumar, Mukherjee and Ramakrishnan are just five voices in a bisexual community as complex and multifaceted as India itself. But these activists truly believe that the destinies of bisexuals worldwide are becoming intertwined. This is a pivotal moment for all LGBT people to navigate new ways of connecting with each other, avoid some of the divisive politics that has afflicted other efforts in the West, and form a unified, powerful global community.
In the next article, Bi Magazine Role of Scientific Research in Changing Attitudes Toward Sexuality in India.