Left Out

Why Bisexuals Feel Ignored and Insulted at LGBT Pride

Many bisexual people at Pride have to combat the assumption that they are, in fact, heterosexual just because they show up at the festivities with a partner of another sex.

Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast

Bisexual people would still belong at Pride even if they only amounted to 1 percent of the LGBT community.

And yet, even though bisexual people actually “comprise a slight majority” of the LGBT population—according to an estimate from the Williams Institute—many still feel uncomfortable attending a celebration that ostensibly includes them.

“As a bisexual woman who has never been in a relationship with another woman, it’s always hard fighting off the erasure of my sexuality,” Hannah, who asked to be identified by her first name, told The Daily Beast about her experiences at Pride.

“When I attend Pride parades with my significant other,” she continued, “I feel as though we get constant glares and rude under-the-breath comments because we ‘look’ as if we are two heterosexual people in a place we don’t belong.”

Hannah is far from alone: Forty-three percent of bisexual women in a 2016 survey conducted by the dating app Her said they felt uncomfortable at Pride, as Broadly first reported.

The particularly strong stigma around bisexual men doesn’t make it any easier for them to attend Pride, either; in fact, studies suggest that bisexual men are considerably less likely to be comfortable being out than bisexual women, who are, in turn, less likely to be out than gay men or lesbians (PDF).

Like Hannah, many bisexual people at Pride have to combat the assumption that they are, in fact, heterosexual just because they show up at the festivities with a partner of another sex.

Every time, without fail, that I go to a gay club, a networking mixer, or really anywhere where there’s queer people, I feel judged for not being ‘queer enough.’

According to 2013 Pew Research Center data, about 84 percent of bisexual adults who are in “committed relationships” are with “opposite-sex partners.” Within a broader LGBT community that too often guesses someone’s sexual orientation based on who they happen to be with at the moment, that statistic means many bisexual people get read as “straight”—or, at least, something less than fully queer.

“Every time, without fail, that I go to a gay club, a networking mixer, or really anywhere where there’s queer people, I feel judged for not being ‘queer enough,’” Kim Ryberg, a bisexual woman married to a man, told The Daily Beast. “And this is especially true at Pride.”

Ryberg added that she’ll hear comments at parades or bars like, “Oh, you can’t be be bi! You came here with a man!” from people who clearly need to consult the dictionary definition of “bisexuality.”

Others have to deal with the myth that all bisexual people are just “on the way” to coming out as gay or lesbian—a version of the age-old stereotype that bisexuality is not in and of itself a valid sexual orientation but rather a “phase.”

Haylie Sumner-Lindberg, a bisexual woman, told The Daily Beast that when she went to Pride she “didn’t expect… the large amount of women I met who asked me if I was straight.”

“When I explained to them that I’m bi, I got almost knowing looks and nods, as if they were saying, ‘Oh yeah, we’ve all been there before,’” she said. “Or maybe they thought I was a straight girl posing as queer to take part in the festivities.”

Meanwhile, the evidence is only getting clearer that bisexual people constitute about half of the entire LGBT community.

A June 2018 poll from BuzzFeed News and Whitman Insight Strategies found that 46 percent of LGBTQ Americans are bisexual as compared to 32 percent who are gay and 16 percent who are lesbian. (Five percent identified as queer, or described their sexual orientation in another way.)

If a new YouGov poll is any indication, there are even more people whose desires and attraction follow a bisexual pattern than there are people who would explicitly claim the label “bisexual.”

That June 2018 YouGov data shows that 20 percent of Americans now identify as something other than “completely heterosexual” or “completely homosexual.” That would amount to about 65 million people—a population approaching the size of California and Texas combined.

Yet, despite this overwhelming numerical strength, some bisexual people who attend Pride are still surprised to see anyone else like them there.

Morgan Caudill, a bisexual woman who has been to two Prides in Detroit and nearby Ferndale, told The Daily Beast that she was “really surprised by just how many bisexual flags there were everywhere,” adding that she “only expected to see maybe a handful.”

I guess since our media and everything else lacks bisexual representation. I just kind of assumed there wasn’t much of it in our community.

She had no idea that there are, in fact, about as many bisexual people in the country as there are gay men and lesbians combined until a friend told her that fact at Pride.

“I guess since our media and everything else lacks bisexual representation,” she said, “I just kind of assumed there wasn’t much of it in our community.”

Jayne B. Shea, a bisexual advocate who works as a vendor at Pride festivals in the Pacific Northwest, told The Daily Beast that she has seen “bi visibility increase over the years,” watching from her booth as the bisexual pride colors—blue, pink, and purple—make more and more frequent appearances in the crowds.

“But I still get some of the same reactions that I did my first few years,” Shea added—reactions like “Thank you for being here” and ‘This is so important” and “We need more visibility.” Some, according to Shea, come up to the booth “in tears.”

This hunger for representation from what is, in fact, a statistical majority of the LGBT community speaks to the fact that bisexual people face discrimination both from within that community and from the world at large. Pride, the one place that is supposed to be a safe haven for people of all sexual orientations is all too often a place where they must battle the same misconceptions that they encounter among heterosexual people.

But as Shea and others have witnessed firsthand, Pride conditions may be improving for bisexual attendees.

Emily Winchester, who previously attended Brighton Pride in the U.K. and now goes to London Pride with her girlfriend, told The Daily Beast that she felt like she “wasn’t gay enough” when she first started going—and that she felt like people were seeing her as “some young straight girl,” although she chalked some of that sensation up to her own nervousness. Now, she says, her experiences are “largely positive.”

Andy, in Wisconsin, told The Daily Beast that his experiences have been “generally positive” across a handful of cities—and that he has even heard “enthusiastic shouting [and] cheering” when a bisexual organization marches in the Parade.

“I have also seen a significant increase in the number of bi and pan pride flags at Pride events, where they were nearly nonexistent even five years ago when I first became involved,” Andy added.

Normandie, a bisexual woman, told The Daily Beast that this is “the first year [she has] seen any meaningful bi representation at Pride,” attributing that change to the online connections that bisexual people have made with each other “over the past five to six years.”

“We are seeing more in-person representation as a result of all of us finding each other virtually and discovering the similarities and differences within our experiences,” she said.

Nicole Kristal, founder of #StillBisexual, a bisexual advocacy organization, is one of many advocates whose online work has helped fuel that in-person change.

Kristal told The Daily Beast that years ago at Los Angeles Pride, she heard “the applause stop and even a few boos” when a bisexual contingent marched by the crowd. Ever since then, though, she has seen the atmosphere at Pride shift in favor of bisexual inclusion thanks largely to the hard work of local advocates.

“But is Pride a place where Bi+ people can go and be confident they will receive support?” she said. “No, we’re not there yet.”