As he’s done since 2009, President Obama hosted an LGBT Pride Month reception at the White House. No matter how impressive the crowd or upscale the venue, five hundred sweaty, fancy-dressed people standing around in uncomfortable shoes is just not my cuppa tea. But that doesn’t interfere with my vicarious joy of watching friends and colleagues relish the ceremonial high drama of this special event. Being invited to the White House is a very big deal, whether for a state dinner, a reception or a meeting, and this year’s reception included the largest bisexual contingent ever.
At the 2012 White House Pride reception, bisexuals were represented by a married couple, Emily Drennen and LindaSusan Ulrich, from San Francisco with their eight-week-old foster son; two current BiNet USA board members, Chiquita Violette and Morgan Goode; Midwestern bi organizer, Lauren Beach; Westchester County NY bi discussion group leader, Estraven; and two longtime southern California bi activists from the board of the American Institute of Bisexuality; Denise Penn and Regina Reinhardt. You can read more about this great group of bi activists in Amy Andre’s Huffington Post piece, “Bi Activists in the White House.”
Bi the odds …
President Obama and his administration deserve much credit for making us welcome and included, but how long have bisexuals been in the White House, in various capacities, and what cultural and political meanings do we make of this, or not? Or more importantly, how long have bisexuals been welcome there as out bi people? Is this the first administration to welcome bis to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave? If, by ‘bisexual’ we simply mean people who have desired and/or made love with more than one gender, then there have undoubtedly, just by the odds, been bisexuals in the White House since forever. As for those openly identifying as bi, one of the key organizers of the very first national march on Washington for lesbian/gay rights, ABilly S. Jones-Hennin (see us 33 years older on my ‘About’ page) visited the Carter White House in 1979 as part of the first ever African-American LGB delegation to meet with White House staff.
And back in the 1940s some people thought First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt loved women as well as men. There was a White House guest room reserved for Lorena Hickok, Mrs. Roosevelt’s close friend, and some say, her lover. And as for Abraham Lincoln, and others whose multiply-gendered affections have been speculated about, I’ll leave that to your own research.
Bis Suffer Disproportionately
But you wouldn’t know any of this from the demographic studies that supposedly map sexual orientation percentages in the general population. In fact, bisexuals are often more hidden and uncounted than gays; especially since we are often read as “gay” when involved with one of our own, and as “heterosexual” if paired with a partner of another gender. Our relationships do not define us, but they do get used as part of the way we are made invisible.
According to the recent Bisexual Invisibility Report, “self-identified bisexuals make up the largest single population within the LGBT community in the United States.” Yet as the report’s title asserts, we are an invisible majority. LindaSusan Ulrich wrote this magnificent report last year and it’s already been translated into Spanish and served as a model for human rights commissions in other cities around the world. According to the report, “Bisexuals experience high rates of being ignored, discriminated against and demonized or rendered invisible by both the heterosexual world and the lesbian and gay communities.” Even more alarming, we have higher rates of suicidality, alcoholism and drug addiction, depression, and poverty, compared to both straights and gays. (Yes, really. See the report’s citations if you don’t believe me.)
Having L, G and B and T people welcome at the White House is a major turning point in history, and we would do well to recognize its significance. It is particularly heart-warming and soul-satisfying for bisexual people who are often, as the report documents, feared, misunderstood, discounted and despised. So let the celebrations continue! May they be matched, however, by concrete changes that institutionalize equality at every level of our society and government. I’m a dubious but ever hopeful DC native who’s spent over 50 years “marching on Washington” and opened my home to others coming here for mobilizations on social justice and human rights.
As Obama said during his first campaign, he needs us to hold him accountable to fulfill his promises for our dreams of equality. If last week’s event does that, or helps even in a tiny way, then it will have been worth it. As for how many bisexuals, visible or not, have been welcome in the White House over time—I leave that up to future historians to document and for us all to contemplate. I have a feeling our stories are only beginning to be discovered and told.
Tags: bi activism, bi rights and liberation, Bi's and marriage equality, bi's and same-sex marriage, biseual identity, bisexual activists, Bisexual Invisibility Report, fluid, LGBT Pride bi issues, pan, presidential administrations, Pride Month, sexuality, White House