New groundbreaking report on bisexual health addresses critical health needs, dispels myths, answers frequently asked questions
Roberta Sklar, Director of Communications
Report from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute, BiNet USA and the Fenway Institute at Fenway Community Health, released in conjunction with
National LGBT Health Awareness Week
“This report was born out of the grassroots efforts of countless bisexual activists, organizers, health care professionals, researchers and educators, who for more than 35 years have struggled to bring about greater visibility, understanding and inclusion of bisexuality. The bisexual perspective is sorely missing from public health discourse.” — Luigi Ferrer, BiNet USA
“Bisexual people have suffered the blows of discrimination far too long. It is absolutely overdue that we open the door of the 21st century and address the realities of the lives of bisexual people. Bi invisibility and biphobia have a profound effect on the health of bisexual people. It goes without saying that a population forced to keep its behavior and identity secret is less likely to receive vital, lifesaving information about HIV/STI prevention.” — Matt Foreman, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
WASHINGTON, March 13 — The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute, in collaboration with the Fenway Institute at Fenway Community Health in Boston, Mass., and BiNet USA, today released a groundbreaking report titled Bisexual Health: An Introduction and Model Practices for HIV/STI Prevention Programming.
Government-sponsored research clearly confirms the existence of a significant bisexual population in the United States. According to a recent analysis of data from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth, which was sponsored by the Center for Disease Control, 1.8 percent of men and 2.8 percent of women ages 18 to 44 identify as bisexual. Additionally, 12.9 percent of women and 5.9 percent of men ages 18 to 44 said they were attracted to both sexes. Nonetheless, the health care needs of bisexuals, as well as men who have sex with men and women (MSMW) and women who have sex with men and women (WSMW) but do not identify as bisexual, have been largely ignored and under represented in academic and professional literature. This report fills this pressing and unacceptable void.
In the report’s first chapter, co-author and sex educator Amy André answers key questions, including “What is bisexuality?” and “How many people in the U.S. identify as bisexual or are attracted to both men and women?” Intersections of race, ethnicity and bisexuality are also explored, including the sensationalized and purported “down low” phenomenon. An explanation of the impact of biphobia and bi invisibility on health is followed by a brief review of available academic literature on issues affecting the health of bisexuals, with a focus on HIV/STI prevention. For example, research shows that many bisexuals have negative experiences with health care providers, whether because they are afraid to come out as bisexual to their providers, or because their providers give them improper or incomplete information on HIV/STI prevention.
“Bisexual people have suffered the blows of discrimination far too long. It is absolutely overdue that we open the door of the 21st century and address the realities of the lives of bisexual people. Bi invisibility and biphobia have a profound effect on the health of bisexual people. It goes without saying that a population forced to keep its behavior and identity a secret is less likely to receive vital, lifesaving information about HIV/STI prevention,” said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
The report also addresses the need for HIV/STI prevention programs that are inclusive of bisexual people through a chapter about the groundbreaking work of Marshall Miller and Julie Ebin at the BiHealth Program at Fenway Community Health. Model theories, policies and practices that health care providers and activists can replicate at HIV/STI prevention programs nationwide include:
- The difference between behavior and identity — A foundation of the BiHealth program is the key concept that identity and behavior are fundamentally different. Identity refers to the words people use to describe themselves, such as heterosexual, gay, lesbian or bisexual. Behavior, on the other hand, refers to what people actually do sexually, with whom they have sex and whether they put themselves at risk for HIV and STIs. There is no such thing as “bisexual behavior” because bisexuality is an identity, not a behavior.
- Safer-sex brochure distribution — The BiHealth program developed two safer-sex brochures to reach those who identify as bisexual and those who do not. One brochure mentions bisexuality directly while the other educates about safer sex with people of all genders.
- Bisexual and Bi-curious Men’s Group — Bisexual/bi-curious men’s support groups appeal to men not reached by programs specifically branded for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. The report provides detailed information about what types of men attended the Bisexual and Bi-curious Men’s Group at Fenway, the structure and format of the group and how to start one in your local community, including how to select a location, choose facilitators and advertise.
- Safer-sex educator team — The report details how to start a safer-sex educator team, based on BiHealth’s cost effective, high-result, “increasingly intensive intervention” model, which engages those most at risk.
This report concludes with recommendations for creating a more bi-friendly culture, particularly in the provision of HIV/STI prevention services, including:
- Providers of HIV/STI prevention programs and services, counselors and therapists should create programs and outreach materials that specifically target men who have sex with men and women (MSMW) and women who have sex with men and women (WSMW).
- Researchers and journalists should avoid sensationalizing stories and research and should include bisexual people’s perspectives.
- Departments of public health, foundations and other funding agencies should fund programs like Fenway’s BiHealth and recruit bisexuals to participate in advisory groups and to provide input on and/or write and review grant applications.
- Bisexual people, MSMW/WSMW and concerned allies should participate in bisexual organizations and advocate for bisexuals in other groups.
“This report was born out of the grassroots efforts of countless bisexual activists, organizers, health care professionals, researchers and educators, who for more than 35 years have struggled to bring about greater visibility, understanding and inclusion of bisexuality. The bisexual perspective is sorely missing from public health discourse,” said Luigi Ferrer of BiNet USA.
The Task Force would like to recognize and thank the advisory committee for this report, whose guidance, contributions and expertise were vital to its completion and production: Pete Chvany, Ph.D.; Loraine Hutchins, Ph.D., Co-chair; Lani Ka’ahumanu, Co-chair; Denise Penn, M.S.W.; and Ramki Ramakrishnan, Ph.D.
The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.
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