Myths and misconceptions: Nevada County panel address issues surrounding bisexuality
Bisexual panel Tuesday
PFLAG Nevada County presents a panel of bisexual people who will share their stories and answer questions at 7 p.m. Sept. 22 at Unitarian Universalist Community of the Mountains, located at 246 South Church St. in Grass Valley. A support group will meet at 6 p.m. prior to the presentation and people of all orientations and ages are welcome at both events. For more information, visit http://pflagnevco.com.
In an effort to educate and foster understanding regarding a portion of the population that is often marginalized and misunderstood, on Tuesday night PFLAG Nevada County is presenting a panel of eight bisexual individuals ranging in age from early 20s to mid-70s.
The panel will begin its presentation at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Unitarian Universalist Community of the Mountains in Grass Valley. A support group will meet at 6 p.m. prior to the presentation and people of all orientations and ages are welcome at both events.
“Lately we’ve begun to hear more about transgender issues with Caitlyn Jenner’s story, but there is still very little information out there on bisexuality,” said PFLAG Nevada County vice president Pat Rose. “This is a group that has been discriminated against, bullied and looked down upon. The bisexual population is often not wanted by homosexual or heterosexual groups. People like to joke and say, ‘Get off the fence.’ Well, it’s not about that.”
Joseph Robinson and Dorothy Espelage, both educational psychologists in the College of Education at the University of Illinois, published a 2011 study that revealed “striking differences among the various groups of sexual minority youth.”
Based on anonymous online surveys of more than 13,000 middle and high school students in Dane County, Wis., the study found that a startling 44 percent of bisexual young people reported thinking about suicide during the past 30 days — deeming them “especially high risk” — and more than 21 percent reported making at least one suicide attempt during the prior year.
“Many people grew up with hurtful messages — so-called ‘family values’ can come at a price,” said Rose. “It can be devastating when you come into conflict with the people who mean the most to you.”
More than 80 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth experience bullying, which can include physical threats, verbal abuse and online sexual harassment or cyber bullying, said Marsha Lanier, MSW, a Nevada County social worker who will be on tonight’s panel. In addition, Lanier said that one in three LGBT youth report being abused by a family member because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
“Why would I want to speak about something so personal and sensitive as sexual orientation, a subject which necessarily touches on desire and intimacy, to a public group?” Lanier asked. “Because silence can be deadly. In the face of this dangerous discrimination, I dare not remain silent. I choose to be courageous and speak my truth. I identify as bisexual and I’m not ashamed. I speak out because this is not a phase. It’s my life.”
Lanier was raised in the South, born to deeply religious, conservative parents. She attended a religious school, where sex education was forbidden. It wasn’t until she moved away to a larger city that she “found out some men liked men and women liked women but it was spoken of in hushed tones with great condemnation. It was made clear that these people were ‘sinners,’ ‘a cause of disease,’ and were an ‘aberration,’” she said.
“It took moving to California for me to feel safe enough to come out as bi,” Lanier continued. “I had a good experience and received a lot of support from friends across the spectrum. But many bisexuals do not have such a welcoming community. They may be told by lesbian or gay people to ‘get off the fence,’ ‘pick a team’ or that ‘this is just a phase.’ Their straight peers may assume they are promiscuous or claim that bisexuality doesn’t exist. Many people who identify as bi face stigma and misunderstanding from all sides.”
For these reasons, both Rose and Lanier say it’s important to speak out, challenge assumptions and correct false myths.
“No matter who you are, it’s important to open your eyes and re-evaluate what messages you may have gotten earlier in your life,” said Rose.
Some of the newest and best research reveals that sexual orientation is on a spectrum rather than being unilateral, and gender identity is much more fluid than a culturally constructed binary, asserted Lanier. For this reason, she emphasizes that it can be important to examine long-held beliefs of what is considered “normal,” to ensure all Nevada County residents seeking support are included and served well.
“It’s important to challenge the status quo since it’s not working for so many of us — most straight people take for granted the privilege they have in a world which grants them ‘default” status,’” added Lanier. “You don’t have to defend your sexual orientation if you’re straight. No one is going to tell you that your heterosexuality is ‘just a phase.’ No one will question your right to get married, to visit your partner in the hospital, to inherit. Unexamined privilege leads to a belief that some people are more equal than others. But our country was founded on the notion that equality is for all. So I speak out because I’m worth celebrating. We are worth celebrating. The LGBT community brings something unique to the table. We belong here. Our voices are important. We matter.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email Cory@theunion.com.
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