Organisations are often baffled regarding how to support bisexual service users. Stephanie Farnsworth looks at how they can improve.
Many organisations fail to recognise that bisexual people may be accessing their services and sadly this includes LGBTQ+ organisations. As a result of the pervasiveness of bi erasure in society, a lot of organisations wouldn’t even know where to start to improve their services or even be aware of what it means to be bisexual. This desperately needs to change and there are many simple policies and procedures that can be implemented to remedy the situation.
As a result of the pervasiveness of bi erasure in society, a lot of organisations wouldn’t even know where to start to improve their services or even be aware of what it means to be bisexual.
1. Have material or literature relating to being bisexual
This is particularly urgently needed within LGBTQ+ organisations but also within health care settings such as care homes or GP surgeries. Many places will now display at least a leaflet with the rainbow flag on. A bisexual person’s fears may be eased slightly about whether the organisation actually is inclusive by this but it won’t completely dispel them. The rainbow flag is now strongly associated purely with gay rights, in part due to the rampant biphobia and transphobia that remains within the LGBTQ+ community. Specifically having a leaflet that has the bisexual (or transgender) flag would tell service users that their specific identities and needs had been considered.
The rainbow flag is now strongly associated purely with gay rights, in part due to the rampant biphobia and transphobia that remains within the LGBTQ+ community.
2. Don’t just say “gay and bisexual…”
LGBTQ+ organisations are more guilty of this, particularly as they should be aware of the issues that they are addressing. It isn’t enough to just lump bisexual people after gay people. Do your research. There aren’t a lot of studies on bisexual people and the issues they face because of persistent biphobia but there are some. If you’re doing a presentation or workshop on LGB hate crimes for instance, then get information relating directly to bisexual people and how they may face different issues to lesbian and gay people. The fact is, you will probably be surprised at the staggering statistics of abuse that bisexual people face particularly if they are trans, disabled and/or people of colour.
3. Talk about more than sex
The sexualisation and fetishisation of bisexual people is everywhere in society but bisexual people and our bodies do not exist for you. Don’t ask inappropriate questions about a person’s sex life. If you are a health care practitioner trying to gather a relevant sexual history then challenge your own privileges and narrow assumptions first to be able to approach the conversation in an honest and open way.
Furthermore, bisexual people’s lives don’t solely resolve around relationships and/or sex. There are far more issues that can have an impact, such as poverty, biphobia and being more likely to experience a mental health issue. Bisexual people can also be Muslim, people of colour, intersex, transgender, disabled, neurodivergent, deaf and working class. People can have more than just one label or facet to their identity. Talking only of our sex lives not only reduces our identities but it misses key issues that we face that we may need support with.
The sexualisation and fetishisation of bisexual people is everywhere in society but bisexual people and our bodies do not exist for you.
4. Offer appropriate training to staff
Training in equality and diversity issues isn’t uncommon in today’s world. What is uncommon is training of a sufficiently high standard. The training is absolutely worthless (and potentially harmful) however, if it is passing on false messages to service users. Make sure any training you offer is comprehensive and accurate. Approach LGBTQ+ organisations who are often willing to help with delivering training. Bisexual organisations are often best because sadly, biphobia exists even in the best LGBTQ+ groups.
5. Ensure confidentiality
This is vital for trust. Bisexual people are far less likely to be out (particularly when it comes to their doctors) and so if organisations/service providers want to be able to engage with any bisexual person who comes to them then they must guarantee confidentiality.
6. Don’t assume any bi person is ‘out’
Coming out is always difficult and I don’t know a single LGBTQ+ person who hasn’t had to come out multiple times and this is an issue bisexual people face regularly. Many people assume that bisexuality does not exist and so one must be gay or straight. I know of people who have got so tired with arguing with family members they have just let them assume they are gay as it makes life far easier. Bisexual people get tired of constantly having to explain our identities and so it isn’t always possible or safe to be out to everyone.
7. Create a safe space
Creating a safe space, practically speaking, is probably the hardest practice to implement due to the fact that we cannot control what people say. There are certain protections that should be put in place but at the end of the day, somebody could turn up to a group and start shouting biphobic slurs. It happens. What matters is the actions before and after that the organisation takes.
First of all, organisations should ensure that everyone is aware of acceptable language and to make sure that they are aware that many diverse identities could be present. People may still be bigoted but they’re more likely to do it by trolling anonymously online than shout it in front of everyone when they know that they will be removed from that space. If possible, produce an agreement/contract for all users to sign to say that they will not engage in harmful language. This immediately makes them accountable and responsible for their language but also ensures that if they break such terms then it’s a smooth procedure to have them removed from that setting.
If something does go wrong, don’t side with biphobic abusers. Saying that a forum will allow free speech ignores the unequal privileges within said discussions and conflicts. A bisexual person, for instance, may be far more intimidated when confronting biphobia than the abuser (hence why biphobia is abuse) but it also ignores the fact that bisexual people have the right to exist free from being the target of slurs and having own lives and identities debated. Organisers have a duty of care to anybody who accesses their services and they must uphold that responsibility equally; they cannot prioritise biphobic, monosexist service users over bisexual users who have done nothing other than exist.
Apologies are also important. To hear an organiser understand the concerns of bisexual people and apologise for any behaviour that has been harmful does mean a lot.
Saying that a forum will allow free speech ignores the unequal privileges within said discussions and conflicts.
Bisexual people have been silenced throughout history and often, people are more likely to believe that unicorns exist rather than bisexual people. We know what our needs are and how to improve services. We have voices, we just need people to start listening to them.
Bisexual people have been silenced throughout history and often, people are more likely to believe that unicorns exist rather than bisexual people.
This is a simple and basic list of ideas for making services more inclusive and can be implemented effectively and quickly. LGBTQ+ cannot just be used as an umbrella term and be expected to be sufficient. There are a wide range of identities that must be taken into account and respected. Having inclusive services for bisexual people is rare but they clearly don’t have to be.
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