Chair, Bisexual Organizing Project
October 14, 2014
Yesterday, October 13, the National LGBTQ Task Force issued an apology to the bisexual community. Unfortunately, the apology was almost three weeks after the offensive incident and, as apologies go, it wasn’t a very good one.
Let me be clear, the Task Force needed to make a public apology and they did. There was much rejoicing on bi social media and many positive comments posted on the Task Force’s blog in response to their apology. A few of us were not so jubilant. My issue is with the text of the apology, the amount of time it took to get the apology, and the amount pressure that had to be applied before they made this apology.
In case you haven’t been haunting certain bi activist Facebook groups or the Task Force’s blog, let’s back up and recap what happened. September 23rd is Celebrate Bisexuality Day (also known as Bisexual Awareness Day and Bi Pride Day). Celebrate Bisexuality Day started at an international LGBT conference in 1999 and has been celebrated around the world for 15 years.
This year we had the first ever Bisexual Awareness Week September 21 - 27. A media plan was put together and content to be distributed was coordinated with a number of organizations, sites and individuals. BiNet USA took it as an opportune time to schedule bisexual cultural competency trainings, including for the Task Force. On the same day as their training, on Celebrate Bisexuality Day, the Task Force posted an entry on their blog by one of their staff. It was titled “Bye Bye Bi, Hello Queer.”
The post has been taken down, but to summarize, it explained one individual’s reasons for not using the label bisexual, put forth a lot of incorrect information about the bisexual community being discriminatory to trans and genderqueer individuals, and encouraged people to stop using the world bisexual based on a biphobic and incorrect understanding of both the word bisexual and the bisexual community.
The blog post caused an uproar. There has been a growing online community who has been coordinating responses to biphobic articles. Primarily through social media; organizations and activists around the country have been coordinating responses to everything from the New York City pride parade’s bi-erasure to biphobic articles on Slate, After Ellen and other sites. Articles have been taken down, editors have issued apologies and a lot of education has happened for both the media and big LGBT organizations. In response to “Bye Bye Bi,” individuals with personal connections to Task Force employees and directors reached out. Other people tried to post in the comment section of the blog but no comments posted when they were sent.
In the community of people who are attracted to more than one gender, there is always an ongoing discussion of labels including queer, pansexual, bisexual, polysexual, omnisexual, fluid and no label at all. Call them the bi+ community. The article posted was nothing new, contained no striking insights and perpetuated stereotypes of bisexuals as only being attracted to cisgendered individuals. This stereotype is used to drive a wedge between different parts of the bi+ community as well as between bisexuals and the trans community. The bisexual community has never put forward a definition of bisexuality that denied the existence of, or bisexual’s potential attraction to, all genders. In fact, the 1990 Bisexual Manifesto clearly challenges the idea of binary gender.
So, why were people upset with the blog when we have these conversations all the time? The Task Force’s timing sucked. There is ONE day a year that we ask organizations to focus on bisexuals. ONE day that we celebrate our community. And on that day, the Task Force posted a biphobic article which spread harmful and hurtful misinformation about bisexuals.
The Task Force’s first response to the direct questions about why they had posted this was approximately: we felt it was fair to post different views of bisexuality. This is an interesting response since I have never seen anything posted on their site denying homosexuality or questioning the ways gay and lesbian people identify themselves. In response to complaints, the Task Force invited a blog response from the bi community, which was written by Aud Traher. Aud clearly spelled out the problem: “The idea that the word bisexual somehow reinforces the western gender binary, and thus is harmful to trans people like myself, is such a common way biphobia is expressed that it currently is next to ‘Photograph’ by Nickelback on my personal list of things I can’t stand to hear any more.”
However, more then a week later, the comments on the “Bye Bye Bi” blog post were still not published and the Task Force had not issued an apology. After significant prodding, the Task Force eventually said they found all the comments. Apparently, they had been stuck in a spam filter. The comments posted. Still, there was no apology or acknowledgement of any kind that they had done anything offensive.
Yesterday, Eliel Cruz posted an Op-Ed on Advocate.com calling for an apology. Finally, after almost three weeks, the Task Force posted a very brief apology on their blog. After all that time, I would expect it to be a really great apology. In my opinion, their apology is pretty weak. At its heart they said: “…we recognize that this blog offended people. For this we sincerely apologize.”
There are web pages and blog posts all over the internet about how to make a sincere apology. First and foremost, you need to acknowledge that what you did was wrong. “I’m sorry if you’re offended,” is not a sincere apology. The Task Force avoided taking direct responsibility for their specific mistakes by saying (and I paraphrase): We are sorry that this blog offended people. After three weeks, I expected a more substantive, direct, meaningful apology that clearly indicated they knew what they did wrong as well as why it was wrong. What the Task Force should have said was that they were sorry they posted a biphobic blog entry that encouraged erasure of bisexual people on Celebrate Bisexuality Day.
The other part of the apology I take issue with is this: “Our commitment as we move forward with our partners in the bisexual community is to continue to raise awareness of the realities and history of the bisexual community and bisexual people’s lives.” (Emphasis mine)
This does not sound like a promise to empower bisexuals, improve disparities or support the bi+ community. It sounds like “we’re going to keep doing what we think is right with this new awareness we have of bi+ issues.” It is, however, a start. A few years ago, we would have been ignored and counted ourselves lucky to have a private conversation with the Task Force about what happened.
I’m also uncomfortable that the original post was removed. While many people took issue with the content, and had serious problems with the timing, no one at any point disputed that the writer should have the freedom to express her feelings about the labels queer and bisexual. It reinforces my feeling that the Task Force doesn’t really understand what they did wrong.
Clearly, I’m not enthused with how the Task Force handled this situation or about the apology they wrote. It seems written in such a way to mollify the bi community, not out of an understanding of what went wrong. I can only hope that a deeper understanding will come with further engagement between the bi community and the Task Force.