What's in a name? Remember back in the day, when all the LGBT organizations were named "Gay This" and "Gay That," and lesbians pounded their fierce fists on the table and rightfully demanded lesbian inclusion in the names of the orgs, and, in most cases, won? That kicked ass!
But then many of our orgs, now named "Gay and Lesbian This" and "Lesbian and Gay That," stopped updating their names to reflect our diversity. What's that about? This article is a call to the community to start pounding our fierce fists.
For years, LGBT demographic researchers, from Witeck-Combs Communications to the Williams Institute, have been reporting that 50 percent of those who identify as either gay, lesbian, or bi, identify as bi. That means that bi-identified people make up half the LGB population. On top of that, these studies have shown that (a.) most bi-identified people are women, (b.) bisexual women outnumber lesbians two to one, and (c.) women make up half the LGB population.
Before we analyze those stats, and what they mean for gay-named organizations, let's take a look at the bigger issue. Specifically, this: If you're the average Joe Gay-Man or Jane Lesbian - or even Jamie Bisexual - you may be thinking, "Bisexuals? Where? I don't see 'em." And the reason I think you might be thinking this is because these are the kinds of things Joe, Jane, and Jamie say to me when I talk about these studies in my lectures at universities and conferences across the US. But we bi folks truly are everywhere. The phenomenon Joe, Jane, and Jamie are experiencing is what the bi community often refers to as "bi invisibility."
Think of it this way: how would you know someone was bi just by looking at them? You wouldn't. Which is why you might think you don't see them. But, by the same token, how do you know someone is straight or gay just by looking at them? Gay-dar aside, you don't. So, bisexuals aren't the only ones who are invisible. Monosexuals are, too. Even if you see two people of the same sex holding hands while walking down the street, you might know that they're a couple, but you don't know that they're gay; I hold hands with my spouse all the time.
In fact, none of us knows how anyone identifies unless and until someone asks them. And that's just what demographers have done, which is how we now know that 50 percent of LGB identify as B, and that most of the people in that B group are women.
What do these stats have to do with LGBT organizations? Well, most of the LGBT organizations in the US have the word "gay" in their name. (Many also have the word "lesbian".) But almost none have the word "bi" (or "trans" - which deserves a whole article of its own). Considering that bisexuals make up half the LGB population, that's a whole lot of people - and a whole lot of women - being theoretically excluded from those organizations.
This exclusion is usually in name only, because the majority of these orgs explicitly include bisexuals in their mission statement. But when you consider that the mission statement of an organization is usually buried somewhere on its website's "About Us" page - compared to the name, which is the very thing that it's called, in the press, in the community, etc. - it's easy to see that organizations may be missing out on up to half of their potential LGB members, supporters, donors, and clients (if they're a service org).
Even if the organization includes lesbians in its name, the organization might still be missing an opportunity to reach out to women, because, again, most women who identify as either lesbian or bi identify as bi.
Ask yourself the following questions: At the LGBT organization where you volunteer/ work/ donate, what percentage of board members are women? What percent of LGB members are bi? What percentage of clients are women? What percent of the LGB clients are bi? Is it 50 percent? And does your organization have "bisexual" in its name?
You might be wondering if an organization needs to explicitly name a group in its name in order to include that group. But what if the situation were reversed and the vast majority of LGBT organizations only had the word "bisexual" in the title, with no mention of gays, lesbians, or transgender people? How inclusive would those organizations feel to the G, L, and T folks in our community? Probably not very. Would you join an organization that included LGBT people in its mission statement - and was called the National Bisexual Association? Maybe. But maybe not.
Names are powerful things, and so are numbers. As a bi activist, I hear from bisexuals every day who feel excluded from the larger LGBT community. And I hear from LGBT organizations wondering why they don't have more bi folks walking in their doors. Here's an opportunity for both groups to take the first step, and consider: What's in a name?
Bi actor Alan Cumming at a GLAAD event