As the world commemorates the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOTB) this week, Pretoria LGBTQ group OUT is highlighting the scourge of biphobia, which it says is often overlooked on this important day.
IDAHOTB has been observed annually since 2005 every 17 May and is an opportunity to bring awareness to the prejudice faced by the world’s LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) community. The date is significant; it marks the decision to remove homosexuality from the International Classification of Diseases of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 1990.
First known as the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia was added to the day’s name in 2009, and most recently, in 2015, Biphobia was also included in the commemorations. While all prejudice and hate against sexual minorities and gender diverse people is equally abhorrent, this year, OUT is focusing on the issue of bipohobia.
OUT’s 2016 Love Not Hate report on hate crimes against LGBT people in South Africa, found that 12.3% of this community self-identify as bisexual, but this is likely to be a considerable under representation of bisexuality. In fact, US research suggests that bisexual people are actually the largest single segment of the LGBTQ+ community (52%).
“Despite this, the ‘B’ in LGBTQ+ is often forgotten about,” says OUT Health Manager Johan Meyer. “Studies show that bisexual people are among the most marginalised members of this community. While there is little data from South Africa, international research indicates that bisexual people report higher levels of physical and mental health disparities, sexual and domestic violence, and poverty than gays and lesbians.”
Meyer explains that this is thought to largely be due to bisexual discrimination, social isolation and anti-bisexual bias, including what’s known as “bisexual erasure or invisibility”. Bisexual identity is dismissed as a phase, a kind of hypersexuality or an inability to conform to either heterosexuality or homosexuality. Bisexual people are often seen as suspicious, confused, untrustworthy or simply unwilling to come out as gay.
There’s also the common belief that bisexual people all seek to have simultaneous relationships with both male and female partners. While this may well be the case for some (just like many heterosexual people have multiple partners or have consensual poly-relationships) bisexual individuals are equally capable of being in monogamous relationships if they choose to do so.
All of these misconceptions and associated stigma can lead bisexual people to fear being open about their identity and can ultimately significantly impact on their mental health and well-being. A recent UK report, for example, found that bisexual individuals are the least likely to be out in the workplace, and numerous studies have indicated that bisexual people have considerably higher rates of suicidal thoughts and attempts compared to straight and gay and lesbian people.
“It’s important for bisexual individuals to understand that their identity is a legitimate and equal one. Sexuality and gender identities are diverse and not as binary as many of us like to believe,” says Meyer.
“As we mark IDAHOTB 2018, it is time that South Africans acknowledge and affirm this complex reality of human nature. The damage that denial, stigma and discrimination have on LGBTQ+ people impacts on individuals, families and communities. It is unacceptable and must end,” he adds.
Members of the LGBTQ+ community can source counselling and support services through OUT’s TEN81 Centre. For more information, please visit www.1081.co.za or call 012 430 3272. Also contact the AmBi group on Facebook, which offers a growing social community platform for bisexual South Africans.