Despite making up 52% of the LGBTQ+ community, bisexual people often go unrecognized in modern history and media. To celebrate Bisexual Pride Day and the inclusive Bi+ Week of September 23, this feature highlights prominent bisexual influencers and events throughout history.
Even though “bisexual” is the term used throughout this article, it is important to recognize all members of the bisexual+ community and understand and how these labels differ between each other. Bisexual is sexual attraction to
two genders, typically people of the same gender and of a different gender. Pansexual is sexual attraction to all genders. Polysexual is sexual attraction to most genders. Being any of these labels does not mean the individual experiences attraction to these genders equally: homoflexible (being mostly attracted to people of the same gender) and heteroflexible (being mostly attracted to people of a different gender) also exist, but these terms are not required in one’s sexual identity. Queer, questioning, bicurious, fluid, non-monosexual, and a variety of other labels can also be included in the bi+ umbrella if the individual using those labels chooses to include themselves. It’s also important to note that “sexual” can be replaced with “romantic” in any of these cases, and that one’s sexual attraction and romantic attraction do not have to match! Regardless of which label an individual chooses to use or not use, they are still a valid member of the bisexual+ community.
Richard von Kraft-Ebing first used the term “bisexual” (1892) to describe people who have sex with same-sex and different-sex partners. While this provided a word for the identity, bisexuality was still not commonly discussed throughout the early 20th century. The Stonewall Riots (1969) were a major turning point in the LGBTQ movement as a whole. However, before Stonewall there were only two prominent events in the bisexual community: the first documented appearance of bisexual characters in a United States film (1914) and the first official recognition of a gay student group, Stephen Donaldson’s Student Homophile League at Columbia University (1967).
In working towards visibility for the LGBTQ community, bisexuals have played a prominent role in organization of media representation. Brenda Howard is known as the “Mother of Pride” for coordinating the first pride march after Stonewall (1970), and Bill Beasley organized the first Los Angeles Gay Pride March (1972) to provide a community for the large gay population in California.
This increased visibility led to the formation of multiple groups centered around issues of bisexuality. These include the Quaker Committee of Friends on Bisexuality (1972), Dr. Fritz Klein’s Bisexual Forum in New York City (1974), the first bisexual network and newsletter from the Boston Bisexual Women’s Network (1983), and BiPOL, the first bisexual political organization (1983). These organizations and the individual activists within them helped to create a true community that could promote bisexual issues on the national level. They held events like the first bisexual rights rally at the Democratic National Convention (1984), the first regional bisexual conference in Connecticut (1984), and the first BiCon UK (1984).
In the midst of the AIDS epidemic, the bisexual community faced extreme backlash from both the LGBTQ+ and heterosexual communities as they were blamed for spreading HIV to the straight population (1980s). Despite this turbulent point in history, bisexual pride surged in the 1990s: Michael Page designed and unveiled the bisexual flag (1998) and Wendy Curry, Michael Page, and Gigi Raven Wilbur created Bi Visibility Day (1999).
The 2000s has allowed for even more inclusivity within the bisexual+ community with Debra Kolodny’s first anthology for bisexual people of faith (2000) and the first Bi People of Color Summit from Angel Fabian and Penelope Williams (2003). Kyrsten Sinema also became the first openly bisexual person elected to Congress (2012), the Bisexual Resource Center declared the first Bisexual Health Awareness Month in March (2014), and BiNet USA established the first Bisexual Awareness Week during the same week as Celebrate Bisexuality Day (2014).
Bisexual people can and will continue to work towards equality as we form true communities around our shared identity. We have faced many challenges over the years, but taking a look back at our history, there’s a lot to celebrate.