5 January 2016
New studies show that bi people are being excluded by both straight and gay peers.
Several studies conducted in the USA concluded that there is mounting evidence to suggest that Bisexuals experience double the types of discrimination as their gay and lesbian peers.
Two studies published in the December 2015 issue of the American Journal of Bisexuality confirm what bi people have been saying for some time: The discrimination they face within the LGBT community is as real as the discrimination they face outside of it. As the U.S. enters its first full year of marriage equality and the battle for transgender rights continues, these studies point to the persistent but often ignored problem of biphobia among gay men and lesbians.
In one study, Counseling Psychology Ph.D. student Tangela Roberts and two professors at the University of Massachusetts surveyed 745 bisexual people about their experiences of discrimination in various social contexts. They found that the biphobia their respondents experienced from gay men and lesbians was not equal to, but still disturbingly comparable to, what they experienced from straight people.
The survey for the study asked bisexual people to complete an Anti-Bisexual Experiences Scale (ABES), which asked, on a scale from 1 to 6, how frequently certain events have happened to them, such as being told that they were “confused” about their orientation, being “excluded from social networks,” or having it be assumed that they are more likely to cheat because they are bisexual.
As the study sadly indicated, these attitudes are common not just among straight people, but among gay men and lesbians as well. The average ABES score reported for experiences with straight people was 2.38. The average for experiences among gay men and lesbians was only slightly lower at 2.29.
At the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, postdoctoral research fellow Corey Flanders and her co-authors came to a similar conclusion. Several of the 35 young bisexual women they interviewed about mental health for their study in the Journal of Bisexuality described feeling excluded within LGBT spaces.
A large 2010 study in the American Journal of Public Health found that bisexual men and women had a higher prevalence of mood and anxiety disorders as compared to gay men, lesbians, and heterosexuals. One example: Nearly 60 percent of bisexual women had a lifetime history of mood disorder, compared to about 45 percent of lesbians and a little over 30 percent of heterosexual women.
Roberts, Flanders, and other LGBT scholars have begun to label this “double stigma” as “monosexism,” a specific form of prejudice against those who are attracted to more than one gender. As used in their research, the term functions as a catch-all for both the heterosexual stigmatization of bisexuality and the questioning of bi identity among members of other sexual minorities.
The one silver lining of Roberts’s study was that bisexual people who felt accepted by friends and family reported lower ABES scores than those who lacked a support network.
But this finding may be cold comfort to a sexual minority that remains largely closeted long after many gay men and lesbians in the U.S. have already come out. According to estimates from the Williams Institute at UCLA, bisexual people are more numerous than gay men and lesbians combined but, according to a 2013 Pew Survey, they are the most likely to be in the closet, with just 28 percent reporting that “all or most of the important people in their life” know about their orientation.
That same Pew Survey found that bisexual people were the sexual minority least likely to believe that LGBT people are socially accepted, with 28 percent saying that there was “only a little” or no acceptance of LGBT people.
Those numbers may not budge for bisexuals until coming out is a less risky course of action. Roberts’ study found that, despite the subset of people who had supportive friends and family, “participants who were out to family and friends reported greater antibisexual discrimination.”