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Bi Rights & Turning Tides:

Spreading the true good news

by Linda Howard

When I first sat down to write this article, the words that followed were very different. At first, they were the words of frustration, the anger of the oppressed, the sorrow of the wronged, the howl of the unjustly accused. And although all those feelings are not just understandable but justifiable, I am proud that the text that follows now is different. The words that follow now are a message of hope and strength.

The past

Earlier this year, a coalition of Religious Right political lobby groups, including the Christian Coalition, the Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, and nine others, unveiled a national ad campaign that proclaimed that homosexuals not only could, but should, change.

These ads purported to seek an "open debate" on homosexuality. In reality, they sought no such thing, for how open can any debate be that is initiated with misconceptions, half-truths and stereotypes? Instead, the Religious Right labeled homosexuality a mental illness, even though the American Psychiatric Association declared homosexuals sane back in 1973, joined in this prognosis by the American Psychological Association. The Right alleged that homosexuals were by and large dysfunctional -- prone to "gender narcissism" and borderline personalities, more likely to smoke and use drugs, most likely to catch AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases. They blamed homosexuality on emotionally absent fathers (for gay men) and childhood sexual abuse (for lesbians). And they said that they all lacked moral religious guidance, that they chose to be queer because they had a "God-shaped hole" in their hearts.

In response, the Human Rights Campaign launched a counter-initiative in the form of a copycat ad. Starring a Minnesota lesbian and her parents, the ad appealed to the same audience the Right had targeted -- generally middle- to upper-class, white, heartland Americans. It refuted the Right's arguments on the grounds that homosexuality was genetic, like ethnicity, and that everyone deserved equal rights. Unfortunately, for many queer activists, the HRC ad was so similar it seemed more like parody -- "We bike. We cross-country ski. We're Republicans." -- and the "everyone" it mentioned seemed to be primarily "everyone who can pass for straight".

Neither side, it should be noted, mentioned bisexuals or transsexuals. And with good reason.

The present

The problem with the nature-nurture argument regarding sexual orientation is that it ignores the complexity that is human sexuality. We are not binary machines in which something is either a 0 or a 1, end of discussion. Between nature, the genetic factors of same-sex attraction, and nurture, the environmental factors involved, lies one small but incredibly important word: choice.

The problem with the Religious Right's stance is that its leaders are trying to force everyone to live by their own particular moral code. Considering that studies have found a direct correlation between anti-queer propaganda and anti-queer violence, their overall stance is not dissimilar to that of the Crusades -- convert or die.

The problem with the HRC's ad and any solely genetics-based argument is that is basically comes down to, we're queer because we can't help it.

The solution, of course, is to look somewhere in-between, to look in the places others are avoiding. And as one bi activist wryly noted, "Bisexuality is the answer to the question no one is asking."

The question: Is it possible for sexual orientation to be a matter of individual moral and ethical choice, rather than the sole dictate of a genetic or fundamentalist Christian religious code?

Because therein lies the truth: Everyone has the right, the freedom, to love whomever they choose. They have the right to make their own moral choices. Bisexuals, and all of our fellow queers -- gays, lesbians, transfolk, drag queens and kings -- are the walking, breathing proof of that. As are heterosexuals.

We all have these rights, protected under law as far back as the Declaration of Independence, which mandated that we all have the rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness".

The future

This is why these words are a message of hope. Despite Matthew Shepard's tragic death, and all the other deaths that have preceded it, and those that probably lie ahead. Despite the Right's new set of television ads that call homosexuality a "bad choice" and compare it to drug use.

"We have every right to be in the world exactly as we are -- remember we are fierce, remember we are strong, remember we are courageous, and must be outrageously ourselves."

-- Lani Ka'ahumanu

Despite everything, the tide is turning. I can hear it as I write these words.

It turns in the number of major, mainstream gay and lesbian organizations who were not just willing but ecstatic to add their support to the ad stapled into the center of this magazine. This is a ground-breaking moment for the bisexual movement, to be able to unite so much of our community in a positive response to the Right's campaign of intolerance, and to be the leaders in this initiative, rather than just the signers in someone else's action.

It turns in the thousands of people who showed up in Manhattan during evening rush hour for a memorial to Matthew Shepard, who braved police batons and arrest to make sure his death would not be forgotten; and in the thousands more who attended a vigil in Washington, D.C. on the same topic; and in each and every individual person who went to a vigil for Shepard anywhere, so that the grieving process could begin, and so our sorrow and pain could not be overlooked or ignored.

It turns with every letter written to a Congressperson, governor, mayor, or council member, supporting the right of all of us to exist in peace regardless of our race, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability, or any other factor.

It turns whenever someone stands up and interrupts hate-based speech, meeting ignorance with education, stereotypes with reality, fiction with facts.

It turns whenever we remember that we are all one people, brothers and sisters all, and that our differences only serve to enhance the whole. And because we are one, we must stand up for freedom, justice, and equality for all people. And it turns every time any of us stands up and comes out as bisexual, for the more we speak out, the more visible we become, the less any of us have to fear. As former BiNet USA editor Gerard Palmieri observed, "It is incumbent upon us, all of us, regardless of how we self-identify, to lead ourselves, to love ourselves, to challenge ourselves, to be out, to speak out and to serve as the re-definition of gender, sexuality, and family values."

"The personal is political," veteran bi activist Lani Ka'ahumanu told me when I sought her advice. "We have every right to be in the world exactly as we are -- remember we are fierce, remember we are strong, remember we are courageous, and must be outrageously ourselves."

And that is why this is a message of hope, because we all have the ability, the love and the determination to keep turning the tide; to speak up, to speak out, and defend our freedom until all of us -- bi, gay, lesbian, transgendered, intersexed, and heterosexual -- have the right to be outrageously ourselves.

Linda Howard is out as a loud, polyamorous, bisexual editrix, and still considers that last label much more dubious than all the others.

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