Early bi activists recall their roots
In the struggle for acceptance, gays and lesbians have had it fairly easy compared to bisexuals whose sexuality, even today, is often questioned and among other things thought of as a phase, a person being greedy, or just an excuse for promiscuity.
“Bisexuality was just seen as you want to have your cake and eat it too,” said Alexei Guren, a bisexual activist and co-founder of BiNet USA. “You want both. You want to have the privilege of heterosexuality as well as your same sex attraction.”
Guren said he eventually came out as a gay man and lived in a reverse closet in order to fit in. But his attraction to the opposite sex never went away.
“I came out as gay because back then there really wasn’t something as a bisexual identity, and I’m Latino,” he said. “You only heard about it in terms of celebrities. It wasn’t really an identity. It was something trendy.”
And then he fell in love — with a woman.
“I was publicly known as a gay men and was a gay activist and secretly dated women and lived a double life,” he said. “I came out at the age of 22 because I fell in love with a woman and wanted to get married. I think when I came out, people saw that as I was confused. I had sort of lost my way.”
But Guren wasn’t confused — he was just bisexual.
Many bisexuals have struggled with those same feelings of never truly fitting in.
And so that’s how and why BiNet USA was founded. The organization began in 1990 when a group of bi activists came together to form the first National Bisexual Conference. It’s mission: increasing bisexual visibility, uniting the bisexual community and creating change in bisexual policy.
But even now with same-sex marriage the law of the land and LGBT rights moving at the speed of light in the U.S. the bisexual community is often times left behind or simply lumped together with gays and lesbians. Data sometimes can be scarce, but that is slowly changing with more bi specific studies being produced. Still the amount of money being used to fund bi specific programs is minuscule compared to the lesbian, gay and transgender community.
Wendy Curry, a former president of BiNet, said there was a desperate need for an organization for the bisexual community.
“In 1984, when I graduated from high school, there were zero books on it,” she said. “We had David Bowie. You couldn’t name other individual bisexual voices. You were completely isolated. There was no way to talk or text any other person in the world. Nothing said you aren’t a complete freak and the only one in the universe like it.”
Victor Jason Raymond, an early BiNet member, said the organization was able to bring together bi activists to make a change.
“It’s not like there was any real bisexual activism, and with the creation of the East Coast Bisexual Network and the American Institute of Bisexuality, we let people know bisexuality isn’t just a stage,” he said. “We’re here, and we’re queer. Get used to it.”
Guren said his early role with BiNet was to increase the visibility of the organization. Before BiNet, bisexual activism happened mostly on the local level through a patchwork of small support groups across the country.
“[I worked] with groups like the [National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and] tried to do outreach with these national organizations in terms of educating them on inclusivity,” he said. “Internally, it was also the fact that there were a lot of these little bi support groups and activist groups that were all over the country and realizing that we in the bi community were largely communicating to one another through technology.”
And then came the Internet, which changed everything.
Curry said she remembers a listserv being one of the first online projects the group had undertaken.
“Only 200 people knew how find us before,” she said. “There are millions of people worldwide, and we could only reach 200. Now with the media, people can find where they belong on the sexual continuum.”
Guren said that bisexuals had difficulty meeting other bisexuals whereas gays and lesbians, even back then, had lots of options. He said while the gay movement’s connections were made in the physical world, most of BiNet’s connections were electronic. Sometimes he’ll go years with just speaking to a fellow advocate online before meeting them in person.
“We didn’t really have bars or a lot of large social-type environments so I actually started a technology initiative with BiNet,” he said. “We would get folks to donate either computers or computer equipment so if a group or activist didn’t have something, we could get them the equipment and get them plugged in.”
He said it was how bisexual people were able to communicate throughout the nation.
But it was BiNet’s partnerships and connections with other groups that were a key element to BiNet’s success, said Guren.
“We created a partnership with NGLTF making them understand who we were and what we’re all about. Because of our relationship with the Task Force, we’ve been involved in pretty much every gay movement over the last few years, Guren said. While Curry added: “We were working with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force to reach the larger LGBT organizations. We got Celebrate Bisexuality Day, Sept. 23, and that has taken off.”
BiNet has participated in many pride parades and the members have been active throughout the nation at various queer conferences, marches and meetings, even at the White House.
Raymond said he’s glad to see how far BiNet has come, but he’d like for it be recognized across the nation.
“Getting visibility on the national stage politically is part of BiNet’s accomplishments,” he said. “What I find to be troublesome that I always wondered about is that why is it that the gay and lesbian communities are so silent about bisexuality, about affirming it, about accepting it, about recognizing it.”
He said despite having bisexual governors and elected representatives, actors and actresses and large organizations, he feels that gay and lesbian organizations don’t include them as being allies.
“That’s why we need organizations like BiNet USA, to say ‘Hey look. We’re here, and if you’re going to talk about being inclusive of everybody under the LGBTQ umbrella, then what are you going to do about me,” Raymond said.
One important goal of BiNet is combatting bisexual erasure, which GLAAD defines as “a pervasive problem in which the existence or legitimacy of bisexuality (either in general or in regard to an individual) is questioned or denied outright.” One example of this is when a same-sex couple is identified as a gay or lesbian couple without regard to the actual sexual orientation of each individual.
Raymond said that he wants to see bisexual advocates work with advocates of various other identities to make it a movement on the levels of the HRC or the LGBT Task Force.
“[The HRC and LGBT Task Force] are large organizations that have multimillion dollar budgets and purport to recognize and be inclusive of bisexual and transgender rights,” he said. “In the future, BiNet and other bisexuality organizations will emerge as more visible and recognized organizations for the initial.”
He’s cautiously optimistic about the future.
“Bisexuals in their activist have to go up hill both ways,” he said, “not just overcoming misconceptions and active discrimination from the straight community, but also the lesbian and gay community.”
“You are who you are and being bi and being out often means that you had no acceptance in the straight community and very little in the lesbian and gay,” he said. “Most of our movement in the U.S. was just about getting a place at the table and legitimacy. We aren’t flakey and just going to jump back into the closet the minute things get tough which is often the worry.”
Curry said that BiNet has been around for 30 years so the organization and bisexuality should be more recognized.
“If we were able to settle that,” she said. “There are so many things for us to tackle: the ability to come out into family safely, the ability to rent an apartment with your partner, to be able to work in your job and have pictures of loved ones.”
Guren said the goal of BiNet has always been to create open space and dialogue for the bisexual community.
With a blog, website, Facebook group, Twitter and multiple alliances, BiNet has been continuing to reach for its goal, still using technology as its primary medium.
Curry said BiNet is important for many people who want their loved ones, friends and family to understand who they are and where they’re coming from.
Guren said the group has accomplished a lot.
“There are small accomplishments,” he said.“But they’re huge when you have a president say gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual, and we’re included in those words.”
He said the group has accomplished a lot by being there and continuing to be there as a national representation and by constantly striving to show the world the face of bisexuality and the fact that bisexual people are like everybody else.
“We’re your neighbors,” he said. “We’re your children, and I think each generation of BiNet USA board members comes in with things they’d like to accomplish, and they keep moving the bar, and I think that’s a great thing.”
BiNet has made it possible for hundreds of people who are constantly being told they don’t exist to receive validation.
“We are powerful, strong and resilient,” Raymond said.
Visit BinNetUSA.org for more information.
BiNet Mission Statement: As an umbrella organization and voice for bisexual people, BiNet USA will facilitate the development of a cohesive network of bisexual communities, promote bisexual visibility, and collect and distribute educational information regarding bisexuality. To accomplish these goals, BiNet USA will provide a national network for bisexual organizations and individuals across the United States, and encourage participation and organizing on local and national levels.