The British LGBT awards claim to be bi inclusive by promoting its largely unknown Lesbian and Bi women group. Karen Pollock explores the reasons why they have fallen short of the mark.
The LGBT Brit awards have always had a, shall we say problematic, history. Ceremonies which you pay to attend, and where allies can win awards simply for being decent human beings are not going to find favour with many within the queer community. A quick look over the categories shows its far more about corporations patting themselves on the back than rewarding people who fight day in and day out to improve the situation of LGBTQ+ people on the ground. Which is not to say that companies should not be praised for inclusive policies, but that we must be aware that the awards are what they are, aimed at a certain sector with limited reach outside that.
They have however termed themselves the British LGBT awards, and as such have a prominence especially in the media landscape. Their tendency to reward celebrities (who can no doubt afford the ticket prices to attend) increases this public profile. Therefore we cannot just ignore them or the choices they make. Since the launch of the nominations for this years awards many bisexual activists have pointed out that there is a straight ally nomination, but no opportunity to nominate for bisexual activism, organising or representation (except subsumed within the broader LGBT umbrella). I had noticed the debate going on, but largely left it to others, until I saw that the awards organisers had decided to reply with this tweet:
— British LGBT Awards (@BritLGBTAwards) September 25, 2016
Sometimes, no matter how positive you are about fighting for equality, how many changes you have seen in your lifetime, how often you have seen, personally and politically, it really does get better, you see something and your heart sinks. This was one of those times. There is so much wrong that its hard to know where to start, so let’s get one huge fact out of the way.
Bisexual men and non binary people exist, and that the LGBT awards have chosen to ignore their existence, that is not acceptable. Bi men face particular prejudices and stigma, and its best that bi men write about that, so I am going to simply highlight how the LGBT awards thought it was OK to ignore them. It’s clear that even trying to explain the existence of non binary people is going to be more energy that I am willing to expend.
What I want to focus on here is something which many organisations also fall down on, and that is the lumping together of bisexual women and lesbians. There seems to be a strange belief that bisexual women are only LGBTQ+ when they have sex and/or relationships with other women. Lets leave aside the definition of woman for a moment and ask what that says about the British LGBT awards, or anyone else’s attitude to bi women?
Bi women are not a subsection of lesbianism, nor are they amateur or part-time lesbians. It makes as much sense to categorise them with lesbians as it does with gay men. After all many bi women like/have sex with/are romantically attracted to men. (Again leaving to one side the definition of man) No one ever has services, or categories for bi women and gay men however. Which is odd because it is exactly the same reasoning which puts them in a category with lesbians.
Worryingly this is also done by sexual health services, who also seem to think bisexual women only exist as a subset of lesbians. So support organizations are set up which don’t have access to the morning after pill, don’t ask if any of their users will be having sex with people with penises. A bi woman’s identity is seen to be straight when she has sex with (cis) men, and only coming under the LGBTQ+ identity when she has sex with (cis) women. This bi erasure can have serious consequences, especially when you look at the health outcomes of bi people generally.
Bi women are not a subsection of lesbianism, nor are they amateur or part time lesbians. It makes as much sense to categorise them with lesbians as it does with gay men
When someone like the British LGBT awards lumps lesbians and bi women together like this its clear that not only do they not care about bi inclusion, but that they are only accepting of bi identities when they are in same-sex relationships. It’s especially worrying that bi women and lesbians seem to be lumped together due to some kind of biological essentialism, a belief that bi women and lesbians all have vaginas (not true) and have sex with people with vaginas (again not true). This seems to be the only way to fathom why anyone would think they belong in the same category. That idea, along with the idea that bisexual womens identities only matter in some, very narrowly policed moments, needs to end, and it needs to end now. It is not good enough to claim to represent bi people when your idea of representation actually perpetuates bi erasure. The British LGBT awards, and many others need to do better.
Follow Karen on Twitter (@CounsellingKaz)