Dust off your pink, purple and blue blue flags because it is Pride season again. Bi Pride, that is!
Local organization amBi, along with the City of West Hollywood, Human Rights Campaign LA, and ACLU of Southern California, is hosting the first annual Bi Pride Celebration on Saturday, Sept. 22 at 1:30 p.m. The event will start with a rally at the West Hollywood Park Auditorium, continue with a Bi Visibility Walk through the heart of WeHo and conclude with a party back at the auditorium.
“While a small number of cities have issued proclamations recognizing Bi Visibility Day, this is a historic celebration as the first full-fledged Bi Pride celebration hosted by any U.S. city,” amBi President Ian Lawrence-Tourinho said. The Pride L.A. spoke with Lawrence-Tourinho about the importance of the Bi Pride celebration and bisexual visibility/representation overall.
The Pride L.A.: In one sentence, what is Bi Pride?
Ian: Bi Pride is an occasion for bi people and friends to celebrate our community, increase our visibility, take a stand against biphobia and bi erasure and have fun while doing it.
What does amBi hope to accomplish with the celebration?
Bi people deserve a chance to feel proud of the diversity and beauty of our community. We deserve a chance to be centered, to have our needs and concerns addressed, to feel welcome. amBi had to work hard for years to make more bi people feel comfortable at L.A. LGBT Pride. Just a few years ago, we used to get booed by lesbians and gays when we’d march in the parade. They’d yell biphobic things like “pick a side!”, “stop lying!”, “bullsh#t!” and a bunch of other stuff you probably can’t print. That doesn’t happen anymore because we have big numbers and we make sure we’re having fun. Our subliminal message is always a self-assured “you wish you were part of our group.” We make sure we don’t ask people for their acceptance anymore – no more protest signs and such. We’re here, we’re happy, we’re a large, dynamic, and beautiful community. But we’re always just one contingent out of more than a hundred. Not everyone notices. And no one group has a right to say they represent The Bi Community, they only represent themselves. The Bi Pride is a chance for people to participate who may or may not be part of amBi. This event done in partnership with the City of West Hollywood. Bi activists have been working for years to try to make the City more inclusive. They have a Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board and, more recently, a Trans Advisory Board that looks out for the needs and concerns of those communities in the city. As usually happens with these things, the bi community seems to come last. Bi people don’t necessarily feel comfortable and welcome in West Hollywood. Too often, we get heckled in the bars – even when we go out on LGBT Pride weekend. With Bi Pride, amBi wants to signal that bi people belong here too and that we have a right to show up in West Hollywood as our full selves. I’d like to thank the Lesbian & Gay Advisory Board for their part in making this whole celebration possible. We’re also grateful to HRC LA and the ACLU of Southern California for their support of the event and for helping get the word out.
Who is the celebration intended for?
The celebration is, of course, for bi people, our friends and allies. But it’s also for those who don’t know us yet. Every person who sees the Bi Visibility Walk will have to make a bit more space in their mental landscape for bi people. This celebration is also a chance for people who are unfamiliar with our community to get to know us a bit better by attending and, in future years, by exhibiting.
Why is Bi visibility so important?
Bi people make up at least half of the LGBT community by identity. If you count by behavior or attraction, we’re even more. But because you can’t readily see that someone is bi, people assume we are gay or straight depending on the gender of the person we are dating. Bisexuality doesn’t even cross people’s minds. Most people in our culture see their sexuality as defined by a rigid gender binary and bi people don’t fit that mold. It confuses people. Most can’t even conceptualize bisexuality because that all-important dividing line between sexes is missing – it makes some people downright angry and fuels biphobia. Monosexuals (folks who are only attracted to one sex) question if we exist because they literally cannot conceptualize bisexuality. People don’t see bisexuality when it’s right before their eyes. With the emphasis on identity labels that has grown in popularity with social media, people and the media seem to require a formal declaration of bisexuality to take someone’s bi identity seriously. And that declaration must be repeated over and over. It’s an absurdly high threshold that other sexualities and identities are not held to. Earlier this year Janelle Monae said she was bi, but at some point she said she saw the word pansexual and felt that word described her too. The way the media took it, the word too meant she disavowed bi identity and had moved on. Meanwhile, pansexuality really isn’t all that different an identity. People just love to erase bisexuality whenever they’re given a chance. Bi Erasure is the opposite of Bi Visibility. It leads people to dismiss and erase bi history, our contributions, but most importantly our present. Did you know Freddie Mercury was bi? Did you know that Sappho of Lesbos who gave us the words “Sapphic” and “Lesbian” was bi? Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, famous trans pioneers who were at Stonewall? Yes, also bi. And yet the common attitude in LGBT circles is that bi people don’t exist, haven’t contributed to the fight for LGBT rights and other such blatant untruths. Visibility is important because erasure hurts. It hurts on an individual level by leaving bi people feeling isolated and alone. It hurts on a systemic level because organizations, cities, and society at large sidelines us and our needs, acts in ways that are hostile to bi people. Just to put some numbers to this, bi in-visiblity and the myth that our community doesn’t need the same services and considerations has some startling results. Did you know that a study of LGBT grants found that in 2016 outside organizations contributed over $22 million to trans-specific funding, over $4 million to Lesbian-specific funding, over $9 million to gay male-specific funding, but all of $300 (yes, three-hundred dollars) to bi-specific funding! That’s shocking. Particularly when you dig a bit and find out that bi people have worse health disparities (higher depression, anxiety, suicide, poverty, etc, than gays and lesbians). Bi Visibility is important so we can finally be treated like people who aren’t invisible.
What would you say to people who are closeted or questioning?
If you are closeted because it is unsafe for you or your livelihood, that’s legitimate. If you have the ability, please try to get yourself into environments where you can at least be out to a few people. Being able to live openly isn’t just about taking a stand against discrimination, it’s also about our own mental health. Having to compartmentalize core parts of ourselves, tell white lies, avoid conversations, change pronouns when referring to our loved ones. All that hurts. It leaves us feeling alienated and is a cause of significant stress which affects our overall mental and physical health. Find community! Find people who accept your sexuality and understand you. That’s what amBi is here for.
If you can’t find community in person, you can now find community online via social media.
To those who are questioning, I’d say give yourself permission to be yourself. A good part of the fear you’re feeling is stigma. It’s understandable. Find an environment that is safe and comfortable for you to explore and learn about yourself. Personally, I’d suggest doing so in a space that isn’t all about sex. Make friends. Be in environments where there is no stigma to being yourself, where people accept that not everyone has the same sexual orientation. Whatever sexual orientation you may or may not have is just one component of what makes you as a person. But letting that part of you exist – without shame – is literally a path to being a more complete and happy person.
What can patrons/guests of the celebration expect?
This event is intended to be fun. You get to create a ruckus down the main drag of West Hollywood, laugh, meet people, make all the noise you want. You get to party and socialize and experience a big room full of bi people. Afterwards we all get to take over the bars of WeHo. This is the first event of this kind. You get to be part of history. When this becomes a tradition that has spread to other places, you get to say you were at the very first one!
What other events/outreach does amBi do to help the LGBTQ+ community?
Our outreach helps make LGBTQ+ spaces welcoming and safe and accessible for the majority of people under that acronym. When you exclude bi people, don’t specifically invite them in, they aren’t getting your LGBTQ+ health services, HIV prevention, etc. Let’s always keep in mind that there are essentially next to no bi-specific programs or services put on by anyone (other than those put together by bi people themselves) anywhere in world but a lot of programming for the LGBTQ+ community overall and outreach for all the other individual letters in that acronym. That’s not to say those communities don’t need and deserve more, it’s just that right now my community has next to zero. So amBi is focused on the least-served half of the LGBTQ+. amBi now has chapters in seven cities and participates in Pride on two continents. As I mentioned, bi people being and feeling welcome at LGBT Pride is anything but a given. We hold chats and support groups in most of those cities as well. That helps make LGBT Centers and such spaces welcoming environments for bi people – who can then be reached by the other programs those places offer. We hold all kinds of events from movie nights, holiday parties, brunches, hikes, you name it. amBi is still growing and is, by design, a launchpad of sorts. It’s a place for bi people to become grounded and strong in their identity. I look forward to the day when the needs of our community are being addressed and we can shift our focus to helping the LGBTQ+ community at large.
Admission to the event is free. Free parking is available at the West Hollywood Park Structure, adjacent to the West Hollywood Library, located at 625 N. San Vicente Boulevard on a first-come-first-served basis. For more information regarding the Bi Pride Celebration, visit the Facebook event page at www.facebook.com/events/2249184838646053.