In seeing the title of Philip Hensher’s Guardian.com article about the recent LGBT Pride events in London: How the straight majority still silences gay people (21 July 2017), I was looking forward to a thoughtful discourse on how the voices of people marginalised in our society because of their sexual orientation are so often unheard because of the dominance of heteronormativity.
Instead Hensher’s article attacked not just against straight people, but also others whose experience of gender and sexuality is different from the cultural ideal.
It is also full of factual inaccuracies – it was not, for example, illegal in 1990 for two men to hold hands or kiss in public, or ask each other for their phone number. If we are going to tell the uncomfortable story of oppression against people with same sex attraction in Britain, let us at least tell it accurately.
But the bitterness with which Hensher talks about ‘the rainbow coalition of sexual identities’ evicting ‘lesbians and gay men from the spaces they created’ is the aspect that hurts the most. Whilst, as a bi person, I am of course grateful for Philip’s generous understanding (!) of the issues I face, his obliteration of my identity from the queer community as well as his complete erasure of trans people from his article shows an extraordinary lack of knowledge about the history of what he calls ‘Gay Pride’.
The world’s first Pride event, the Christopher Street Liberation Day March in New York City, was organised by a bi woman, Brenda Howard, who came to be known as the ‘Mother of Pride’. She put this event on in 1970 to commemorate the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots, sparked by a police raid on a bar which had become the social focus not just for lesbians and gay men, but also for many trans people, sex workers and others who did not live their lives within sexual or gender normativity.
Howard, like so many bi and trans people, was a passionate advocate for lesbian and gay rights. She was an active member of the Gay Liberation Front, the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights, as well as ACT UP and Queer Nation. And yet because she had a male partner, Philip Hensher would have us believe that she wasn’t part of his community. Perhaps he would have rejected her just as in his article he rejects the young mixed gender dancers who snogged in front of him on the tiny dance floor of a London gay bar, dismissing their queer identity.
According to the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, “self-identified bisexuals make up the largest single population within the LGBT community” and even larger numbers of people exhibit bi behaviours or are attracted to more than one gender (over 40% of young people according to the latest YouGov survey).
Despite this, bi people continue to be marginalised within LGBT communities, not least because of attitudes like those in Philip Hensher’s article. Bi people report biphobic abuse at Pride events. Bi people have to tolerate celebrities like Christopher Biggins saying that bisexuals are “people not wanting to admit they are gay” and that we should just “pick a team”. Similar thoughts were expressed by former Tory MP Matthew Parris in recent articles in The Times.
No wonder every published study concludes that bi people suffer from worse mental health (including higher rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide) than lesbians and gay men, when their identity and role in the LGBT community is denied by those who perhaps ought to understand them best.
Despite this, I and many other bi people will continue to march alongside our lesbian, gay, and trans friends in challenging discrimination and fighting for equality and acceptance for all in our queer communities.
Edward Lord OBE is deputy chair of Pride in London’s Community Advisory Board, a board member of BiUK, and a Stonewall Role Model.