In 1969, a Jewish, polyamarous, bisexual woman called Brenda Howard organised the Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade to commemorate the riots at the Stonewall Inn. While Howard was not at Stonewall that night, several of her friends, many of whom were sexual workers and kinksters, were present. A year later, she helped organise another march and, thankfully for us, the tradition continues yearly around the world.
“She used to call us when she was bored waiting for paid phone sex calls to come in, and make the waiting time a productive organising opportunity and personal energy recharge instead,” wrote activists Lani Ka’ahumanu and Lorraine Hutchins about the Pride organiser in her memorial.
So how did an event, and word, popularised by Howard and another iconic bisexual activist, Donny the Punk, come to erase and even exclude bisexuality on so many occasions?
In 1993, Brenda, who was a founding chairperson of the Gay Activists Alliance, was involved in organising the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation. This was the first time ‘bisexual’ had officially been including in the name of such an event, thanks for the tireless work of fellow BiNet USA organiser Lani Ka’ahumanu. Lani was the only openly bi person invited to speak at the event, which she closed with her now infamous “It ain’t over ‘til the bisexual speaks” speech.
The fight for bisexual visibility in Pride events was not an easy one, and certainly didn’t start with the 1993 march. In the decades prior, bi activists regularly found themselves clashing with the gay and lesbian activists that many of them had organised and fought alongside in gay liberation groups and AIDS activism.
One of the most vivid examples is the years long struggle over the name of Northampton Pride in Massachusetts. In 1989, the Pride committee unanimously agreed to change the name from the Northampton Lesbian and Gay Pride March to the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Pride March. The local lesbian community was divided by this decision. While many were in favour, other saw it as watering down the event to include people who they saw as living a heterosexual lifestyle or being potentially dangerous to lesbians. This latter faction organised a national letter writing campaign to exclude “bisexual’”from the name of Pride events, and in 1991, the word was removed from the Northampton event once again.
In 1990, Micki Seigel, a bisexual woman who had served as publicity officer on the commitee the previous year, resigned after the decision to return to the original name. According to Seigel, “[bisexuals] had been working on the march for years, without official acknowledgement…. Now I am the one who is invisible.”
Check out this breakdown of events in this thread: https://twitter.com/UnicornMarch/status/1263299975812771841
This is the first Tweet in the thread.
In other areas, the fight was less vicious, but still involved a lot of work and time for the bi activists involved. “In the mid-1990s it took a few years for many bisexual and trans activists, including myself, to get the name of the San Francisco Pride celebration to include bisexual and transgender in its name. We had to fight for it through organising and sitting through innumerable meetings to make it happen. Finally, in 1995 we were successful,” says bisexual activist Matthew Le Grant.
Asked to explain.
“I was involved in bi activism in the 1980’s in Boston [MA] at the founding of the Boston Bisexual Women’s network. I was a committee member and newsletter editor. I was at the march on Washington October 1987,” explains bisexual activist Jean Kropper, “Before then bisexual wasn’t included. It wasn’t really a label that was used much. There was no support from the gay community.”
When Jean tried to join Sydney Mardi Gras as an openly bisexual women, she was asked to go into front of the board “and explain why I supported the gay community and why they should let me in”. Because of her extensive CV as an activist in America, she was accepted.
“Most bi people just said they were gay or lesbian when they joined. I was involved in theSydney Bisexual network in the 1990s. We did a series of floats in Mardi Gras. We were always put at the back of the parade and were excluded from TV coverage. They simply did not photograph our float. There was plenty of fighting for inclusion, but the answer was a resounding no.” Even today, Sydney’s Pride event is called Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.
Jean and Matthew’s stories are just two of the examples of a fight that was happening within Pride groups and committees all around the world.
Accusations of bi erasure.
“In Ottawa, Canada, in the early 1990s, a bisexual activist called Kathryn Payne took the city mayor to the Ontario Human Rights Commission to have bisexuality included in the naming / mayoral proclamation for Ottawa’s pride march. She eventually won the case,” explains the founder of the Bi+ Arts festival, Catherine Merryweather-Hoogenboom.
While Pride parades have become more inclusive, the struggle for bi inclusion has continued even in recent years. NYC Pride did not have an openly bi Grand Marshal until 2015, when the founder of FluidBiDesign, J. Christopher Neal, was invited to be one of four marshals leading the parade. The decision to include a bi Grand Marshal for the first time seems to have been a reaction to accusations of bi erasure.
“Despite the fact that Brenda Howard, the original organiser of the Pride March, was herself an openly bi-identified woman, bi-identified people have had to struggle against a fear of marginalisation and erasure to be visible and included, both inside the LGBTQ community and out. So, stepping into this opportunity was a no-brainer for me, and above all an opportunity to put out a call to action to the bi-community, we must be seen, and we must be visible,” Neal told The Advocate at the time.
A similar story repeated itself in London in 2018, when Pride in London included a bi Pride float for the first time in its 46 year history. The float was organised by a group of grass-roots bi activists as a reaction to Pride in London not including any bi groups in the parade in the previous year.
In 2021, Pride in London will once again have no bi representation as all bi groups pulled out of the event in solidarity with Rhammel Afflick, a black bi man who resigned as Director of Communications over allegations of systemic racism within the organisation. So far, Pride in London has not acknowledge the lack of bisexual representation in the upcoming parade, or attempted to work with any of the bi groups involved in the boycott.
Until all Pride events fully represent, include, and celebrate the bi community, the struggle for visibility at Pride will continue.
Is bisexual style a thing? Find out here.