Posts Tagged ‘bisexual activists’

On World AIDS Day 2014 . . . I remember

I read something about it in 1981.  A newspaper report about a mysterious rare cancer found in 41 gay men.

I’d returned to DC in August 1980 from the International Black Hills Survival Gathering outside Rapid City, SD, where we—the environmental activists, American Indian Movement leaders, ranchers, and concerned scientists, academics and clergy—were trying to stop the rape of uranium mining of the sacred Black Hills.  I’d been listening to all the tribal prophecies about the coming shift and hard times.  It was the beginning of the Reagan reign.  Republicans were invading and occupying DC.

We were fighting a tenant ownership battle in Adams-Morgan (during a prior gentrification wave) and losing our low-income, cooperatively-structured apartment homes. Yes, our building was multi-lingual, multi-cultural, and low-income.  And yes, we’d made the neighborhood too groovy.  It was a strange privileged place to be. Even though I’d seen my friend’s family pushed out as the rents rose and watched as all their  belongings were thrown out onto the curb on 18th Street, I didn’t understand race and class privilege as deeply then as I do now.

I had to get out of DC.  The grief and conflict bursting out of it was killing me.  It took another two years of paying the bills; working on multi-media educational film packets about women and work;  covering the Seneca Women’s Peace Camp effort in upstate New York; hugging the edge of the army depot where cruise missiles crouched, ready for shipping overseas.  Insane! I had to get out of DC.

In the summer of 1983, Lisa Yost and I (she later became a contributor in Bi Any Other Name) drove north to the very end of Cape Cod to live with other women writers and artists, at Freehand Women’s Writers School, which was run by lesbian poets Rita Speicher and Olga Broumas.  One of the biggest TERF (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist) leaders today, also an eco-feminist, was in our class then, but that’s a whole other story.

In 1984, I worked as a typesetter at the P’town weekly newspaper, The Advocate, and it was obvious that our obituary pages were full of the names of the town drag queens.  But, I still didn’t understand what was happening.

I took refuge in Provincetown, Massachusetts, in women’s community, in women’s spaces, in women’s arms. It was a soft landing by the sea, and mother ocean soothed me.  I finally began to  peel away my armor, lose weight, work out, and write all day long. I was having the time of my life, but it was only a looking glass world. I couldn’t handle it in the summer when the tourists invaded.

So I went back to where I was born, to Washington DC.  By the time I returned to the city, to civilization, to crazy over-heated frenzied DC, it was 1985, and I’d just met Lani Ka’ahumanu.  A phenomenal woman in my life who became my collaborator, confident and co-editor of Bi Any Other Name.  When we began working on our book, many of our leading male bisexual activists were dying of AIDS.  In the mid-1980s, Newsweek magazine was characterizing bi men (not gay men) as “the ultimate pariahs” of the AIDS epidemic.  Other news outlets labeled bi men “Typhoid Mary,” scapegoating bisexual men for the growing public health crisis.  The heartbreaking devastation of this disease had become personal.

The bi movement politicized me in so many ways.  Even while I wavered back and forth between the fierce women artists of the Cape and the mad politicians and dirty deals in the Capital, I started connecting with other bisexuals, out in California, up and down the east coast, eventually in the Midwest and the South.  I first tried to write about bisexuality in the off our backs women’s newspaper, which was published by a bunch of radical feminists in the best possible sense, except they were a little wacky and sometimes scary too.

I’d acquired a wonderful foundation in civil rights organizing as a child, and a grounding in feminist process and task accomplishments that stretched across the peace, anti-war, environmental, gay, tenants rights, and third world solidarity movements.  But it was the bi movement that brought it all together for me.  Totally made me feel at home.  Except I haven’t completely relaxed, even in the here and now.  Still, our bisexual community is a precious gift.

So for all those who we’ve lost to AIDS, those who are still dying much too young and those who are over-pharmaceuticalized and preserved alive for now, I raise my voice.  In this crazy city of my birth, my bones aching with the struggle and my blood aflame with rage against injustice, I remember.

Posted on December 4th, 2014 by Loraine Hutchins

BECAUSE Brings Bisexuals Together

Surround me with a few hundred bisexuals for a whole weekend, and I relax like I haven’t in a long time, feeling empowered and supported.  Even after all these years as an out bisexual, being with so many bi comrades who understand our unique challenges and care about our community is still a rare experience.  But if Keynoter ABilly Jones-Hennin hadn’t launched a full-on campaign to convince me to go with him, I would have missed out on this inspiring gathering of my peers.

ABilly Jones-Hennin and Dr. Loraine Hutchins taking a break at BECAUSE in Minneapolis. (June 2014)

The last time I attended BECAUSE (Bisexual Empowerment Conference: A Uniting, Supportive Experience) was soon after the 1991 publication of “Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out,” the bi anthology Lani Ka’ahumanu and I co-edited, which includes ABilly’s coming out story.  The love, respect and understanding I received at BECAUSE, both then and this year, were profoundly encouraging.  The stigma that’s all too often projected onto bisexuals takes a disheartening toll.  This is all the more reason why the Bisexual Organizing Project’s annual gathering is such a treasure.

BECAUSE 2014 was held on June 6-9, at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.  The conference featured presentations on media representations of bisexuality; health care; the state of the bi movement, intersecting identities; bi visibility; sexual violence; aging; bi arts and literature; and the publishing industry.  There were workshops, panels, plenary sessions, a theater performance, various social activities, even a bi items gift shop.  I met young filmmakers, playwrights, bloggers, rappers, student activists, elder caregivers, parents, teachers, scientists, artists, secretaries, and cashiers—all kinds of bi and bi-friendly human beings.

ABilly is among the elder vanguard of the LGBT movement in the United States, and he had much wisdom to share in his keynote address.  He is someone who can organize a bathroom line at a crowded movie theater, a line of non-violent resisters at a demonstration, or a rope line at the White House with equal aplomb.  Originally from Antigua, West Indies, this month he will celebrate a 36-year, same-gender-loving relationship with his bi partner, Christopher Hennin.

Among his many accomplishments, my longtime friend co-founded Gay Married Men (GAMMA), the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays (NCBLG), and several other gay and human service organizations.  In the late 70s, he helped mobilize the first national March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights, convened the first conference of Third World Lesbians and Gays at Howard University, and led the first African-American gay delegation to the White House.  His recent essay about himself and his father will be published this fall in “RECOGNIZE,” a new anthology on bi men.

ABilly flashback

The merry twinkle in ABilly’s eyes first caught my attention at the Washington DC Runaway House when he walked into our tiny basement office in Dupont Circle to interview for a youth counselor position in the mid-70s.  His experience as a devoted father and a compassionate human rights activist were just what our young clients needed. He eventually became director of the program.  Since that time, we’ve been serving our communities and instigating political action together for almost 40 years, inspiring and mentoring each other along the way.

This year, I was honored to introduce ABilly to the conference attendees, most of whom were meeting him for the first time. Who better to epitomize BECAUSE values? This 72-year-old great granddad exemplifies loyalty and caring, inspiring many by his brave and steadfast love for his partner and their blended, inter-connected family. He’s a quietly persistent instigator who sticks up for seniors, homeless people, prisoners, refugees and workers. ABilly’s big arms embrace us all. He makes everyone feel like family.  Just because.

With Haddayr Copley-Woods, a great photographer and one of the energetic conference volunteers.
Posted on June 18th, 2014 by Loraine Hutchins

Bisexuals were visible and vocal at invitation-only White House meeting

Washington DC  —  9.23.13

If you knew bisexuals experience rape, partner violence, and stalking more than any other segment of our sexual orientations, would you keep silent?  If you were offered a national platform to give voice to their stories, could these sad statistics be revealed without perpetuating the many hateful stereotypes about bisexuals? 

I asked myself these questions as I prepared to join a contingent of 33 bisexual activists from around the country who were invited to speak with key members of the Obama Administration on September 23, 2013, known for almost 15 years as “Celebrate Bisexuality Day.”  This was a significant opportunity on an auspicious day!

Ellyn Ruthstrom, President, Bisexual Resource Center, and Faith Cheltenham, President, BiNet USA, mobilized 33 bi activists to meet with Obama Administration officials.

For the first time ever, bi leaders were going to be very visible and their voices would be heard by public officials who make policies that affect us all.

With about one month to prepare, we divided into small, issue-focused groups and got to work preparing talking points on policy issues. My group’s mission was to cover domestic and intimate partner violence experienced by bisexuals.  Others spoke on bullying and hate crimes, health, HIV/AIDS, employment and more. It was challenging to break the silence on domestic violence, while protecting the survivors’ anonymity and respecting their dignity.

Like the old gospel song says, we need to make “a way out of no way” to help all people feel valued and respected; to be safely visible while being bisexual.

After immersing ourselves in piles of research reports and assessing the state of domestic violence advocacy in this country, we realized that we needed to bring those hidden, invisible bisexual survivor voices directly into that Old Executive Office Building conference room. So we read brief excerpts from their stories.

When one battered woman from Chicago went looking for a safe place to live, she had not one, but two doors slammed in her face instead—because she was bisexual:

The shelter staff told me I didn’t belong there, that they only served women abused by male partners. They referred me to a new gay community anti-battering project. That group also turned me away, saying that I was bisexual, not gay, so they couldn’t help me…What I felt too angry and defeated to say back then was, ‘why can’t services be designed with bisexuals in mind?’ If we design services sensitive to bisexuals, they end up being responsive to both heterosexual and gay people, don’t they?”

A young woman from Texas told us that when she was 13 her sexual abuser labeled her a bisexual as a way to control and molest her before she understood what it meant.  I instantly felt shamed.”

We emphasized the disturbing and appalling statistics from the CDC’s 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey on victimization by sexual orientation:  61% for bisexual women as compared to 44% for lesbians and 35% for heterosexual women.  The violence stats for men were 37% for bisexuals compared to 26% for gay men and 29% for heterosexual men.

As an adult, an intimate partner used her bi orientation to manipulate and control her.  “…negative stereotypes about bisexuality helped spark his abuse of me, the trauma, complete isolation, and total dependence upon him at that time.” 

Our last anecdote came from an older Maryland woman who married young and had several children. “My husband knew about my bi orientation before we married. It was not an issue,” she told us. “…soon after our marriage, he began to psychologically abuse me… I resolved to finish college so that I could have the self-sufficiency to leave him. In my senior year, he launched a custody battle; using my bi orientation to imply I was an unfit mother…I survived this trip through hell, but still have the scars. It feels much safer to pass as heterosexual.  Even today, a bisexual orientation can still be used as a weapon.”

Why do many bisexuals opt to remain invisible?  We distributed a Massachusetts social service group’s brochure that reads, “Does Your Partner Blame It on Your Bisexuality?”  We covered the findings of a Seattle group’s[i] research: “shelters are simply not accessible; lesbian and bisexual women experience pernicious problems in their stays, and for almost every confidential shelter… gender-variant people and bisexual and gay men are explicitly ineligible for services.”

We emphasized the disturbing and appalling statistics from the CDC’s 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey on victimization by sexual orientation:  61% for bisexual women as compared to 44% for lesbians and 35% for heterosexual women.  The violence stats for men were 37% for bisexuals compared to 26% for gay men and 29% for heterosexual men.

At the White House roundtable, I wanted to implore our government and our society to do the impossible: create/defend/empower humane solutions to domestic violence…to not stigmatize or ignore bisexual victims…to not blame depression, suicide, addiction, and workplace problems on people just for BEING bisexual.  

Bisexuals were well-represented at the White House roundtable by our group of intrepid bi advocates.

Last month’s meeting was both a challenge and an honor to speak with high-level government officials on behalf of bisexual women and men.  As a long-time Washingtonian and bisexual advocate, I totally understand the irony of lobbying for better treatment from the federal government, yet not holding our collective breath; of learning to celebrate bisexual pride in the midst of sorrow; of crafting anthems of resistance and insistence despite our fears. 

Like the old gospel song says, we need  to make  “a way out of no way” to help all people feel valued and respected; to be safely visible while being bisexual.

Special thanks to the members of our bi roundtable team on Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence: Heron Greenesmith, Gary North, Chiquita Violette, Morgan Goode and Lindasusan Ulrich.

[i] From Connie Burke’s 2008 speech to an ABA group on LGBT domestic violence issues.

Posted on October 7th, 2013 by Loraine Hutchins

Bisexuals in the (White) House…?!

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.

L-R: Regina Reinhardt, Morgan Goode, Emily Drennen, LindaSusan Ulrich holding RJ, Lauren Beach, Chiquita Violette, Estraven, Denise Penn

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.”

Continue reading Bisexuals in the (White) House…?!

Posted on June 20th, 2012 by Loraine Hutchins

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