Amy Andre

From the Lawn to the House, Bi Activist Makes History Again

Filed By Amy Andre | June 27, 2011 9:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics, The Movement
Tags: Barack Obama, bisexual activism, Hawaii, Lani Ka'ahumanu, White House

In 1993, bi activist Lani Ka'ahumanu (editor of the award-winning anthology Bi Any Other Name and co-founder of BiNet USA) made history by speaking at, and helping to organize, the National Lesbian, Gay, and Bi March on Washington. Her talk was titled, "It Ain't Over 'Til the Bisexual Speaks." And, indeed, it wasn't. Ka'ahumanu was the last speaker of the day.

Lani Ka'ahumanu.jpgNearly two decades later, during which she served on the board of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, helped edit their ground-breaking publication Bisexual Health: An Introduction, and served on the board of the Journal of Bisexuality - Ka'ahumanu is returning to DC. But this time, she won't be on the Mall shouting into a microphone. She'll be in the White House shaking hands with the President of the United States.

Ka'ahumanu has been invited by President Obama to attend the LGBT Pride Reception on June 29. I recently had the pleasure of asking her how that happened. She explained, "[Long-time bi activist] Robyn Ochs was contacted by White House Deputy Director Brian Bond, who used to be the Executive Director of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, and asked for names of bisexuals [to consider inviting to the Reception]. She submitted [my name, as well as others]" and the rest is history in the making.

Like President Obama, Ka'ahumanu is mixed-race and has ties to Hawaii. She'll be bringing her heritage and their common background to the forefront when she meets him. This is her first time being invited to and being in the White House. Here, I spoke with Ka'ahumanu about what she expects for Wednesday's event.

Amy Andre: What are you most looking forward to?

Lani Ka'ahumanu: I'm looking forward to seeing old friends and meeting President Obama and hopefully Michelle Obama. I'll be wearing two leis. One is a traditional maile lei. Maile leaves are believed to protect the wearer, bestow good luck, and possess healing powers, and are commonly worn for special occasions. I have clearing to wear them, but I haven't asked yet if I can place the second lei on [President Obama] when he walks past the receiving line shaking hands before he speaks. I'll ask when I get there.

My mom went to Kamehameha High School, [which is the rival high school to the one that President Obama went to, Punahou]. To go to Kamehameha, you have to have Hawaiian blood lines. Punahou is a private school. Maybe discussing this little fact will give me 10 or 20 seconds more with him!

Andre: If you get to talk to President Obama, what else are you planning to say to him?

Ka'ahumanu: What do you say in 30 seconds?! Obama and I are both hapa, a word in Hawaiian that means mixed blood, or mixed heritage. We both look like our fathers, [but] I pass [as white, and] he doesn't. So many assumptions are made about who we are. In many circles, people are suspicious because we cross borders/boundaries. There are so many similarities to being bisexual. I had "BISEXUAL HAPA" buttons made. This is another quick message connecting how we as bisexuals, like hapa folks, are outside a given either/or paradigm. I'm hoping to stretch my 30 seconds to 50 or even a minute when I place the lei on him. To make a sound bite out of all that is my test. Whatever I say, though, my parting words will be "Support Native Hawaiian Sovereignty. Mahalo, and aloha nui."

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It's so funny that you posted this today - I spoke with Adrienne Williams, another bi invitee to the Pride reception, for later today!

This is actually very encouraging. As a fellow bisexual (okay, technically a pansexual polyamorous fetish-fashion exhibitionist voyeur) I'm very excited by the prospects of Lani Ka'ahumanu's invitation! This is a great honour for the bisexual community and for someone of Lani's distinction to receive this long awaited political recognition.


Have I misunderstood the interview, or is she intending to use the opportunity from being a representative of bisexual people to remind Obama that he doesn't have Hawi'ian blood, at the same time as pressing for sovereignty for those with such heritage?

Ok. I understand that cause. The armed subjugation of the friendly, peaceful, and rapidly modernising Hawai'ian nation was the most aggravate imperialism, and there are few opportunities to raise the ongoing result in the White House, but I do hope there are others there to mention bisexuality too.

And that's from me as technically bisexual, although practically lesbian, to date.

Amy, could you send me her e-mail address please? I know she was talking to Alex about becoming a Bilerico contributor, but I can't continue the conversation since I don't know her contact information.

Someone from the White House phones a long-time activists and asks for suggestions of names to invite. Hmmm. and I wonder who they asked for trans names, and whether that person suggested anyone not transgender by identity, and if so, whether any such person got invited. 'Cause, if they did, they don't seem to have been interviewed, yet, here, or anywhere else.

10 Downing Street, the building of the UK Prime Minister, did the same sort of thing last week. Only first they put in a filter that everyone had to be connected with sport as the theme of the year (since London hosts the Olympics next year), which was not exactly going to include many people of trans experience, given that we get excluded by law from eligibility for single-sex teams in most sports, so the sports themselves don't bear any responsibility.