From false stereotypes to 'the stares,' bisexual people face a unique bias – even in the LGBTQ community

Since she was a teen, Nicole Holmes has enthusiastically attended Pride events for the excitement of being in a crowd of people who are like her.

But when she brings along a male partner, she says she is followed by troubling looks from other LGBTQ people who assume she is "straight" based on the couple they see. 

"As someone who is a bi woman and who primarily has had dating experiences with men, it gets really bad as far as like the stares, the 'why are you here?'" Holmes, 29, said.

Holmes is not alone. Bisexual people, who make up 57% of the USA's adult LGBTQ population, face a unique form of bias – even within their own community – that can have far-reaching implications, particularly on health issues, advocates say.

Lauren Beach, a research assistant professor at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine said bisexuals face stigma from straight, gay and lesbian people and lack access to a broader "Bi+" community made up of bisexuals and people who experience attraction regardless of gender, also called pansexual.

"Biphobia is pervasive," Beach said. "Lots and lots of people in society of a variety of sexual orientations who are not bisexual report biphobic attitudes."

LGBTQ resources, like support groups, are less likely to focus on bisexual needs, according to Beach, and that can further isolate bisexual people. Compared to gays and lesbians, bisexuals are also far less likely to be out to people in their lives, according to a 2019 Pew Research Center report.

Public health worker Nicole Holmes, 29, said she's relied on summer LGBTQ festivals to celebrate her identity for most of her life. But she doesn't always feel included as a bisexual person.
Public health worker Nicole Holmes, 29, said she's relied on summer LGBTQ festivals to celebrate her identity for most of her life. But she doesn't always feel included as a bisexual person.

Bisexual men and women face pervasive stigma

Beach said one of the most harmful, false stereotypes about bisexual people is they won't "ever be fulfilled with one person," which leads their partners to think, "Am I enough, can this person be trusted?"

“People think of bisexuality in terms of, ‘You can’t trust bisexual people because they’re cheaters – you don’t want a bisexual person as a partner because they’re promiscuous," Beach said.

In a 2016 survey published by the National Institutes for Health with over 3,000 respondents, more than 1 in 5 said bisexual people are "incapable of being faithful in a relationship." Nearly 40% of respondents said they weren't sure if bisexual people were capable of being faithful.

THIS IS AMERICA: Sign up for USA TODAY’s free weekly take on the news from reporters from a range of backgrounds and experiences

Public attitude hasn't shifted much in the years since the survey, lead author and public health professor at Indiana University Brian Dodge told USA TODAY.

Compared to bisexuals, Dodge said attitudes toward gays and lesbians shifted to being "extremely positive" after the Supreme Court's 2015 decision to legalize same-sex marriage. That's because Americans started to recognize gays and lesbians could be in "a monogamous, heteronormative sort of relationship," he said.

"But with bisexuality – of course even though people can and are in those relationships – that's just not understood in the general population," Dodge said.

David Reznik, wearing a bisexual pride shirt, sits with his, partner, Gretchen York, in northwest Washington, D.C.
David Reznik, wearing a bisexual pride shirt, sits with his, partner, Gretchen York, in northwest Washington, D.C.

Widespread health disparities

Experts on bisexual health have been sounding the alarm for decades that the combination of biphobia and lack of bisexual-specific LGBTQ resources are negatively impacting the health of millions of Americans who identify with the "Bi+" community.

Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine Research found bisexual people report higher rates of poor mental health compared to straight, gay and lesbian people. And a 2019 report from the Williams Institute at UCLA found bisexual people also experience higher rates of poverty.

"People do explicitly say, 'I don't feel like I fit anywhere, I feel like I'm the only one, it makes me depressed,'" Dodge said.

For bisexual men specifically, it can also feel like there aren't any opportunities to collectively process the impacts of 'biphobia,' Reznik said.

"There is this gaping limitation as far as how much need there is for bi men to have spaces where they can be able to express themselves, have fellowship, just be around each other," he said.

Dodge said bisexual men are less likely to be open about their sexuality out of fear it will be a "real threat" to their masculinity, whereas bisexual women have more opportunities "to disclose and to open up to one another and just to know other bisexual women."

'Bi+' allyship

David Reznik, a lecturer at American University, said he's faced surprisingly mean, dismissive comments about his sexuality from friends – straight and gay alike. Over the years, people have demanded he "pick a side," as if being bisexual isn't valid, he said.

He said he remembers how one friend kept telling him to "stop this insanity of being in between, you need to just pick a side."

"I remember being very overwhelmed, very hurt by that kind of language," said Reznik, 43.

WHERE ARE THE LESBIAN BARS? Owners say they haven't died out – they're evolving into queer spaces.

#QUEERWOODWORKER: How LGBTQ and female woodworkers are carving out space in a field built for men

In 2020, Reznik and his girlfriend moved to Washington for the city's bisexual resource groups at the DC Center, an LGBTQ resource center.

As more Americans identify with the 'B' in LGBTQ, the existing "Bi+" community will only diversify and grow, said Belle Haggett Silverman, president of the Bisexual Resource Center, a national "Bi+" advocacy group.

"It's such a wonderful way to see the world and to be unleashed in your love and your care and your attraction," she said. "And it shows up so many different ways in so many different cultures. Our community really is vibrant because of that, because there are so many different ways to be Bi+."

Haggett Silverman said people who want to extend more support to "Bi+" or questioning people in their life can start by not assuming two people in a different-sex relationship are straight and not assuming two people in a same-sex relationship are gay or lesbian.

"If you're setting up a support space that's supposed to be for all LGBTQ+ people and you are uncomfortable with someone who has a partner of a different gender than them, that is going to exclude Bi+ folks," Haggett Silverman said.

Being out and proud can create safe spaces, Holmes said.

"I've had friends that have also come out as bi and have let me know that it was because of my experiences, just being open, even posting statuses on Facebook or just sharing resources because that's one thing I'm huge on," said Holmes, who said she displays six different bisexual flags at home each year during Pride.

In years past, Holmes said she would always have to order the flags online because she couldn't find any for sale at Pride events. That's quickly changing, she said.

"This is funny that this is a source of euphoria for me, but every year Target without fail runs out of bisexual stuff. Every year," Holmes said. "And I'm like, 'I love this,' but it's also like, 'Darn you, bisexuals, buying all the stuff.'" 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: LGBTQ Pride can be tough without support for bisexual people: experts