Bi The Way: The Twin Cities bisexual community is organizing to fight erasure

BOP at the 2019 Twin Cities Pride Parade. Photo courtesy of the Bisexual Organizing Project

More than 11 million Americans are LGBTQ+, and over half of those people are bisexual. Yet despite making up the largest portion of the LGBTQ+ community, bisexual people, on the whole, are rarely individually recognized and celebrated in the same ways as gay and lesbian people. That’s called bi-erasure—where the existence or legitimacy of bisexuality is questioned or denied. 

Piling onto bi-erasure, the bi+ community (encompassing bisexuals, pansexuals, and other nonmonosexual identities) “face alarmingly high risks of both physical and mental illness and are more likely [than gay, lesbian, or non-LGBTQ+ people] to be the targets of sexual and intimate partner abuse,” according to GLAAD.

“Besides that erasure, there’s a lot of biphobia that has to do with the hypersexualization of bisexuals that really hurts us when we see our doctors or if someone at work knows that we’re bi,” says Leah Yoemans, board chair of the Bisexual Organizing Project (BOP), Minnesota’s nonprofit serving the bi+ community. 

Minnesota is home to just one of the seven high-profile nonprofits solely dedicated to bisexual people. And this type of resource is desperately needed.

Every 10 years, BOP publishes a bisexual community needs assessment for the state of Minnesota, and findings have been consistent from decade to decade: bisexuals crave community—both among other bisexual people and inclusion and solidarity within the LGBTQ+ community. “There isn’t a community,” Yoemans says. “BOP is necessary because people who identify as nonmonosexual—they don’t have a place to go. And BOP is that place.”

Illustration by Caitlin Brosi

Much of BOP’s current programming focuses on social events that build the desired sense of community: a monthly bi+ discussion group and monthly bi+ book club, a quarterly bi+ people of color group, a walking group, game nights, and more.

The discussion group brings together anywhere from five to 30 people every month, says Yoemans, to process parts of bisexual identities and experiences as led by a facilitator. A recent discussion group reflected together on the topics of Twin Cities Pride 2019, what it’s like to live authentically as a bisexual person, and frustrations about misunderstandings of “bisexuality” as a binaried sexuality (the true definition of bisexuality is attraction to more than one sex, gender, or gender identity).  

“We’re not a coming-out group and we’re not a support group, but I think it feels that way to a lot of people,” says Yoemans. 

BOP also tables at local conferences and festivals, participates in the Twin Cities Pride Parade, and offers a “Bi Essentials for Allies” training to ally organizations and employers looking to better support and welcome bisexual people.

The group’s flagship event is an annual conference called BECAUSE, which stands for “Bisexual Empowerment Conference, A Uniting Supportive Experience.”

BECAUSE is the largest and oldest conference for bisexual people ever to be organized. It was born out of burgeoning Twin Cities bisexual activism in the early 1990s and the desire of local bisexuals to find peer support and visibility. 

Predating the Bisexual Organizing Project, the BECAUSE conference has hosted bisexual Americans who drive and fly across the country to convene for three days in October since 1992. Attendance fluctuates from year to year but over 400 people attended in 2016. A sliding price scale helps individuals attend the conference regardless of socioeconomic circumstances. The 2019 conference will be held at St. Paul’s Wellstone Center, October 11–13.

At last year’s BECAUSE, conference-goers watched relevant films such as “Appropriate Behavior,” a film about race and sexual identity, and “Sisak,” a short film about love and attraction in India, and participated in workshops about the intersections of transgender and bisexual identities, stress management, BDSM, HIV prevention and treatment, bisexual activism, and more.   

“Attending a conference like this is often an experience that people say can change their life, because it’s usually the first time they’ve been in a room full of people who get their experience,” says BECAUSE co-chair Camille Holthaus.

Members of bisexual groups around the country like Bisexual Queer Alliance Chicago and BiNet USA consistently attend BECAUSE, as do individuals looking to start their own bisexual groups in their own cities. Holthaus says BECAUSE always hosts discussions around how to start groups, how to build groups, and how to take in-progress groups to the next level.

Along with the BECAUSE conference, Minnesota is also home to the world’s longest-running TV show on bisexuality: “Bi Cities,” where co-hosts and co-producers Dr. Marge Charmoli and Dr. Anita Kozan interview leading experts and influential members of the bisexual community via the St. Paul Neighborhood Network’s broadcast channels on a monthly basis. On air since 2002, “Bi Cities” has filmed nearly 300 shows.

The show’s mission is to increase bi visibility and educate the public about bi+ people, says Charmoli, and has recently featured guests like LGBTQ+ activist BJ Metzger, folks from local polyamorous organization MNPoly, and care coordinator Elay Jack and plastic surgeon Dr. Nicholas Kim, both of the University of Minnesota’s Health Comprehensive Gender Care.

Though Bisexual Organizing Project puts on a significant amount of programming for the bisexual community, Yoemans says that BOP doesn’t have enough funding to really do the programming they want to do.

“We really lack consistent fundraising,” she says. “The ‘B’ in the LGBT is the biggest part of the population, and there’s no funding. I think it’s just part of the invisibility.”

BOP gets by with an angel investor, who’s been a donor since BOP’s genesis, as well as small donations from members. The board is currently on the search for volunteer grant writers and fundraisers. BOP is interested in corporate partnerships but only if missions align, which presents a major challenge. 

“Instead of being dependent on big foundations whose policies may not align, I would rather have a core of really dedicated people who have the means to financially support this resource,” Holthaus says. “It doesn’t take a huge group to make a big difference in the funding of BOP, any of the bi organizations in the country, or a conference like BECAUSE.”

Former BOP board-member-at-large Shawna McNamara, a burlesque performer, has stepped up in a big way to both fund BOP and provide bisexual togetherness through her event Bi-Lesque—a burlesque and variety show by and for members of the bi+ community to increase visibility and provide a space to safely celebrate.

The inaugural event in May 2017 was titled “Bi-Lesque: Gender Anarchy” and featured trans, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, fluid, two-sprit, and variant gender-identified performers within the bi+ community. It sold out at LUSH.

“A lot of the time when we go into LGBTQ+ bars, the atmosphere is for gays and lesbians, and if you’re out as bisexual that’s not always celebrated,” says McNamara. “We code-switch. We know how to function in these communities, but we’re never fully ourselves. So we wanted a space where we could just be.”

In need of a larger venue, Bi-Lesque has relocated to Minneapolis’ Pourhouse and continues to put on an annual bisexual burlesque show to raise money for BOP programming.

The upcoming Bi-Lesque show in January 2020 will raise money for BOP’s presence at Twin Cities Pride 2020, Yoemans says. “We want to have a float instead of just walking. We want to create an even bigger presence.”

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