Saturday, 17 May 2014

My speech for the Manchester IDAHOBIT vigil today


Why ram in the B, people ask. It is controversial, even with the international IDAHOBIT committee.

In Australia today there's a film festival to mark IDAHOBIT. In their publicity they have said it is an LGBT event, challenging homophobia and transphobia and a celebration of lesbian, gay and transgender life.

Colleagues from the equivalents of BiPhoria down under have challenged this, not surprisingly. Is the B in that LGBT just there to make up the numbers?

And they were told: biphobia is just a subset of homophobia, it doesn't need mentioning.

I understand how people come to say that - it has long been the accepted idea of bisexuality. Half gay, half the oppression. Growing up and coming out into queer culture 20 or so years ago it was the received wisdom that I received too.

We didn't know better because bi voices had not reached that critical mass. And that connects to the wider world issues that IDAHOBIT draws to our attention, because then we similarly just couldnt know what was happening for queers in other nations.

And just as we have started thanks to the internets to learn of how things may be good or bad abroad, we have come to understand a lot more of life here in the UK too, and to have research on bi life rather than just the odd bit of anecdote.

Because when we started to learn from one another, it all got a bit more frightening.

Across Europe, 50% of lesbians and gay men are out at work. Fifty percent. That's great! Except... when we think of the maths adding up to 100. That means 50% aren't, often because they don't feel it would be safe or wise.

But then: only 27% of bi women are out at work
And 14% of bi men.

86% of the men in my community keeping themselves in the closet because of prejudice in the workplace, even in countries like ours where the law offers some kind of protection.

Just yesterday I got an email to BiPhoria from someone who had sought support at their LGBT staff network, "employee at national law firm... Weird how lgbt groups, like mine at my work can make me feel less included than not having one at all." Because biphobia comes from inside the gay community too.

Three years ago a report on queer people's health found one in five bi women rated their health as fair or worse than that. For gay and straight women it was one in ten.

When it came to their mental health, four per cent of straight women reported a long term illness. 12% of lesbians. But 21% of bi women.

And the statistics on women who experience rape, physical violence and stalking: straight 35%, lesbian 44%, bi 61%.

Not that 35% is a number any of us can be happy with.

Double the violent abuse. Five times the levels of mental health struggles.

So biphobia, it's not just a milder version of homophobia. A Manchester Labour councillor told me a year or so ago, bisexuals aren't part of LGBT because they don't experience oppression. The facts just don't bear that belief out.

And yet, this isn't that the world is getting worse. It is, in places, as the voting in Eurovision last weekend showed sometimes it can feel like the world is becoming more polarised for or against us. We have to stop and remember 20, 30, 40 years ago it didn't seem as polarised because it was even more one-sided. Slowly the tide of history is flowing our way even if sometimes it ebbs and flows

So, thank you for inviting me, it's a slightly scary privilege to speak alongside some of the colleagues I am here with today, and thank you for standing with us in the ongoing fight with homophobia, biphobia and transphobia


  1. TY. Every year on this day, I feel kicked in the head. Since trans people are now being included on this day more and more, it really is just us, the majority of the LGBT world excluded. Of course we all know, without our statistics, it would be harder to get billions to support gay rights.

  2. Absolutely John - and to be somewhat cynical about it, tackling issues for LG people but leaving the rest of the LGBT+ communities largely unaddressed, but then gathering your data on needs from that wider community, makes sure there is still lots of need proved.