What did you do this past weekend? This seemingly simple question can bring panic and frustration for many bisexual women of color in the workplace and at learning institutions.
Although we all work at different types of jobs; be it as a librarian, farm worker, health care provider, retail cashier, bus driver, or a scientist we all spend 8 to 10 hours days at “ Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” repealed spaces; spaces where silence, neglect and isolation towards bisexuals are still part of the normative culture. Though many of these spaces claim to be LGBT welcoming or equal opportunity employers, we bisexual women of color often can not share with our co-workers, supervisors, or classmates about our bi community volunteer work, the online and offline support groups we lead, the genders of our partner(s), or the bi community event we went to this past weekend. This culture of silence adds to our depression, triggers our PTSD, impacts our workplace and school work performance and often lead us to suicidal thoughts and attempts.
In the Center for American Progress Workplace Discrimination Series, Faith Cheltenham, President of BiNetUSA who is also a black bisexual woman shared: “It is unfair that so many bisexual women like me have to choose between being visible and being safe at work. It’s unjust that so many LGBTQ people have to choose between being employed and being open in their identity.”
Robyn Ochs, bisexual activist and public speaker said: “Another factor directly affecting bisexuals’ experiences of oppression is the invisibility of our particular minority population. We have to deal with the constant visibility of those of our identity categories that are visually identifiable (by the fact of sitting in a wheelchair, or because of the hue of our skin). These characteristics do not give us the option of “passing” as a member of the dominant group in order to avoid discrimination. We experience identities that are not readily apparent, such as sexual orientation or religion, differently. While not constantly identifiable, which may in certain contexts protect us from discrimination, we suffer the disadvantage of not being able to identify others like ourselves, resulting in feelings of isolation and an underestimation of our large numbers by both members of our own group and members of the dominant group. In addition, the “privilege” of passing also carries as its counterweight the onus of needing to repeatedly announce ourselves in order to avoid being misidentified, as well as feelings of guilt or discomfort when we are silent. We carry the weight of constantly having to make the decision of how and when to come out and at what cost.”
Bisexual women of color often can not get new jobs or change schools due to structural racism, sexism, cis sexism, biphobia, transphobia, poverty, immigration legal status, pension plans, disability, or lack of opportunities, yet we are not alone. We have safe Bisexual People of Color organizations* that offer online and in-person spaces that value bisexual women of color and where we can share our stories and receive support.
Bisexual People of Color organizations
- Alpha Zeta Gamma Sorority (Maryland, USA)
- Bisexual Women of Color – BIWOC ( Massachusetts, USA & Abroad)
- Bis of Colour (UK)
- BiUSTV (New York, USA)
- Center for Culture Sexuality and Spirituality (USA)
- Dojensgara (Sweden)
- Fluid by Design (New York, USA)
- LivingBi (Formerly BiWifeLife) (USA)
- Movimento de Bissexuais (Brazil)
- S.i.S.T.A.H. (New York, USA)
As Bisexual Awareness Week 2015 comes to a close we want to bear witness to that the fact that many of us must be privately bisexual especially at work or school, at least for now, while we work together for a bi safer tomorrow.
For more information regarding issues bisexuals face in the workplace please see below:
- Celebrate Bisexuality Day – What Bi Visibility Means in the Workplace by Dr. Lauren Beach, J.D.
- 6 Coming out tips for Bisexuals Work & Friends [VIDEO] by Alex Anders
- MAP Understanding Issues facing Bisexual Americans by Movement Advancement Project
- BISEXUAL PEOPLE. IN THE WORKPLACE. Practical advice for employers by Brent Chamberlain
[Image Credit: 1. Who is out at Work? retrieved from www.bivisibilityday.com , 2. Image of Boston BIWOC community members and Robyn Ochs at Boston Pride 2014.]
Gwendolyn Fougy Henry, EdM, MSLIS, is the Founder and Director of Bisexual Women of Color – BIWOC, a community organization that provides emotional support, resources and community to bisexual trans and cis women and gender non-binary people of color in Boston, MA. USA and abroad. www.biwoc.org Gwendolyn is also the Co-Founder of Bisexual Librarians Networking Group (BiLNG), a professional support group for bisexuals in the library and information science field.
Updated: September 28th, 2015
My amazing friend Gwendolyn.