Why Are Bi People Getting Sicker Than Gays And Lesbians?

Bisexuals are at higher risk for cancer, obesity, depression and STDs.

Last September, I was one of about 100 bisexual advocates and journalists invited to the White House's third annual Bisexual Community Briefing. One of the gathering's priorities was strategizing how to address the health disparities bisexuals face.

We continue to fare worse than gays, lesbians, and straight people in a number of areas, from mental health and STDs to cancer. Bisexual women in particular face higher risks of breast cancer, heart disease and obesity than heterosexual women.

At the end of the briefing, though, I felt hopeful: Finally the bi community was gaining visibility and support.

Then Donald Trump got elected.

As we near the end of another Bisexual Health Awareness month, it's hard to imagine the Trump administration will invite us back to the White House this year. So it's more important than ever for the bi community to fight for our health.

"There’s a term researchers have used called ‘double discrimination’ that’s specific to bi individuals,” explains LGBT health researcher Michael Johnson. “Bisexuals may have worse health outcomes because they experience discrimination from both their heterosexual community and within the gay and lesbian community.”

Migraine and headache, health problems.

Several recent studies indicate gay people are only slightly less biased against bisexuals than straight people are.

Double discrimination likely impacts the mental health struggles experienced by many bi teenagers: HRC's 2012 survey of LGBT young people found that only 5% of bisexual youth reported being "very happy," compared to 8% of lesbian and gay youth and 21% of non-LGBT youth. Bisexual teens were also less likely than lesbian and gay teens to report having supportive adults they could turn to if they were sad.

"We know that strong social support among family, and feelings of connectedness through things like community centers help promote resiliency among LGBT people," Johnson explains. "Recent studies have shown that these protective factors are much less prevalent for the bi community than they are for gays and lesbians."

"It's hard to separate out all the complexities," he adds, "but studies indicate that stress from internalized biphobia, and perceived and actual stigma, can lead to negative mental health outcomes, poor health behaviors, and negative physical health outcomes."

That stigma fuels substance abuse, smoking, depression and anxiety, unsafe sex, obesity, self-harm and suicide attempts, as well as lower rates of cancer and STD screenings.

An additional complication is that bi men and women experience stigma differently: Bi men are often told they must actually be gay, that their bisexuality is some kind of stepping stone on the path to their true orientation, instead of a destination in itself. When women experience biphobia, though, it tends to be the opposite: They're made to feel they're not queer enough, and are often rejected by lesbians who fear they'll leave them for a man.

But according to Amy Andre, co-author of Bisexual Health, both stereotypes stem from the the same root cause: Misogyny.

Gays and lesbians alike are guilty of assuming bi men and women are both just on a path toward being exclusively with male partners, she explains. "And, basically, that’s a bunch of patriarchal nonsense."

Andre also disputes the idea that it's safer for women to come out as bisexual, citing reports that bisexual women are nearly twice as likely as straight women to experience domestic partner abuse, and three times as likely to be raped. "[The statistics] tell us that's all just lip service," she says.

Although bi men and women may experience biphobia differently, Andre emphasizes that the end result is the same: When our identities are invalidated or erased, our health suffers.

One major challenge to resolving this disparity is a lack of funding for research: Even though the "B"s represent more than half of the LGB community in the U.S, and 25% of transgender Americans identify as bisexual, just 0.3% of grants for LGBT issues go specifically toward the bisexual community.

In 2014, that worked out to about $293,000.

"There are a lot of things I want to research when it comes to bi women that I can’t do, or that I'll have to do on my own time because I can't find funding for it," Johnson says. "The lack of funding most definitely impacts our ability to work on this."

Another challenge is lack of visibility: Thirty-nine percent of bisexual men and 33% of bisexual women say they've never come out to their doctor, compared with just 13% of gay men and 10% of lesbians. It's difficult for healthcare providers to address the needs of bisexuals if they aren't aware that they're treating us. We have to change that that by coming out to our medical providers and educating them about bi health issues.

Students in medical and nursing schools must receive training on bisexuality as legitimate orientation, and on the unique health risks experienced by our community. And public education campaigns, Johnson suggests, would help reduce some of the cultural stressors and stigma contributing to these negative health outcomes.

Many LGBT health and community centers have already begun actively supporting bisexual health by implementing meaningful zero-tolerance policies for biphobia, adding a "bisexual" checkbox to intake forms, and offering bi-specific support groups.

“This is fixable," says Andre. "We need a lot of support from our allies, and a lot of support from bisexuals who are healthy and well, but I have seen the tides changing already so much in the last decade, and I think that's only going to continue."

"We got this," she adds, "It's just a matter of time.”

For more information on bi health and wellness, visit the Bi Resource Center

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