Poverty is one of the main issues facing bisexual people. Yet it is a problem that is seriously overlooked.
Bisexual people are the ‘invisible majority’ of the LGBT+ community.
Despite being the largest group under the rainbow flag by some measures, our needs and our marginalisation are often ignored.
Abuse from both the gay and straight communities – so-called double discrimination – is a major contributor to this, and has a profound effect on our lives and wellbeing.
“Bi people still face significant challenges including invisibility, exclusion, biphobia and a lack of support from friends, family and colleagues”, a spokesperson for Stonewall, a British LGBT+ charity, told me.
When it comes to poverty rates, in the United States, bisexual men are most likely to report a household income that falls below the poverty line, according to a recent study by the Center for American Progress. Almost a quarter of American bisexual men are poor, compared with 12 percent of gay men and 6 percent of straight men.
The numbers were similar for bisexual women, with 21 percent reporting living in poverty, compared with 14 percent of straight women. Lesbians, on the other hand, were the least likely to be poor (the study did not break respondents down according to non-binary identities and/or people of colour).
Although statistics from other countries are less readily available, a 2013 study by the University of Essex found that gay men and bisexual men and women in the UK are more likely to be poor than their heterosexual peers. Bisexual women experienced the greatest material disadvantage.
Young bisexual people are also at a greater risk of experiencing bullying, and are less ambitious about going to university. They are as likely as heterosexuals to be single parents, but more prone to struggling financially.
These findings create a picture of a community that is struggling in almost every area of life, from family and relationships to education and housing. But it is not surprising that people who are fighting against debilitating social factors, without support, are struggling financially, and in the workplace and home.
The prejudice and social marginalisation faced by bisexual people affects their bottom line.
As bisexual activist, Heron Greenesmith, points out, the lack of family support (which again, is an area where bisexual youths are more vulnerable than their gay/lesbian peers) is a significant contributing factor. This intersects with bisexual people being less likely to graduate from high school in the United States, and shockingly high rates of homelessness.
Networks and resources, created to help gay and lesbian individuals, are not always equipped to deal with the specific issues bisexual people face. This means many don’t reach out to schemes that are supposed to help the whole LGBT+ community.
“In all the places I worked that had these networks, they were almost always white and completely lesbian and gay only”, Jacq Applebee, the founder of Bis of Colour, an advocacy group for bisexual people from ethnic minorities, said. “The experiences of a white gay man and that of a black bisexual femme are very different”.
Poverty rates for bisexual people, who experience multiple types of oppression, may be even higher.
“The double-whammy of racism [and other discrimination] and biphobia at work and in the outside world can often feel hopeless”, Applebee said.
More recognition of the multiple ways in which bisexual people are discriminated against will go a long way in addressing our problems.
But it will work only if LGBT+ organisations are also dedicated to committing money, time, and resources, to address the underlying marginalisation that exacerbates our likelihood of living in poverty.
Lois Shearing is a writer and bisexual activist. Any views expressed in this article are the author’s own. (First published by Thomson Reuters Foundation).