Over the weekend, The Bilerico Project published a fascinating interview with Ellyn Ruthstrom, a seasoned bi activist who became the first and only paid staff member at the Bisexual Resource Center in 2011. Unfortunately, BRC’s current lack of funding prevents Ruthstrom from continuing to earn a salary, but she is still deeply involved in the organization and bi activism in general. In the interview, she explains the challenges bi organizations have faced as they’ve worked to strengthen the movement:
There’s a part of me that wishes the few larger bi organizations—BRC, BiNetUSA, [the American Institute of Bisexuality] AIB, [the Bisexual Organizing Project] BOP—would work together more to combine our resources and be able to have staff, but I also recognize that the different groups do different things and it’s ok to have multiple groups.
Until we can find more consistent and substantial funding sources, we won’t be able to sustain staff. The BRC has built up over time a core group of donors for our work, but we need more people who are able to make a solid yearly commitment in order for us to have enough income to hire someone on a more permanent basis.
…What I love about the bi community is how diverse we are and the many different ways we live. Unfortunately, that diversity sometimes makes it more difficult to pull people together under one umbrella. Plus, you cannot underestimate the power of biphobia in our culture that keeps people from wanting to openly connect and support our organizations.
I’ve heard people say that the lack of bisexual visibility that exists right now is the fault of bisexual activists for not trying hard enough. After all, there are more bisexuals than gays or lesbians; if bi organizations were as well-organized as gay and lesbian organizations, couldn’t they be leaders of the LGBT movement? Maybe. But it isn’t that simple. Funders for LGBTQ Issues has reported that, in 2009 and 2010, bisexual-specific organizations and programs received no grant support. Though much of the LGBT movement relies on grant dollars to provide community services and advance the rights of queer people, the bisexual community has been largely shut out of this mode of support. So while many LGBT organizations have grown from grassroots start-ups to well-funded, well-organized nonprofits over the last twenty years, bi organizations are still relying on volunteer support and modest individual donations, just as they were in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Considering these statistics, is it really any wonder we’re still struggling to advance basic bi visibility in the media? The whole LGBT movement is greatly underfunded, to be sure, and I can’t think of an organization that doesn’t deserve more funding. But when you look at the numbers and see that grant support in the lesbian and gay communities is increasing but the support for the bisexual community remains at zero, it makes you wonder why this segment of the community is lagging so far behind. I have a hard time believing it’s because bi activists aren’t hustling as hard for the support as their gay and lesbian colleagues. So what is it, then? Is Ruthstrom right that biphobia prevents potential donors from wanting to openly support bisexual organizations? Are there just too many organizations duplicating efforts? It’s possible that a lot of people who might want to support bi organizations just aren’t aware of which ones are out there, but that’s a catch-22—in order for these groups to better market themselves, they need the funding.
Whatever the problem is, it needs to be addressed quickly. Otherwise the bi movement will continue to fall behind the rest of the LGBT movement, and the need for greater bisexual support and visibility will continue to be an afterthought.
Want to help advance bisexual visibility? Get involved in one of the many bi organizations that desperately need support. Donate to one of those organizations. Tell your friends why supporting bi groups matters so much. Only once social justice-minded people start to take bisexual organizations as seriously as they take broader LGBT-focused ones will the media begin to care about advancing visi(bi)lity.