The 2017 Stonewall school report on the experiences of LGBT+ students at school in Britain puts forward a mixed picture of what it’s like to be an LGBT+ student. The good news is that since 2012, there has been a decrease in Homophobic, Biphobic and Transphobic (HBT) bullying and the frequency of discriminatory language. Further, there has been a rise in teaching about LGBT+ issues, and more schools and colleges are taking a stand against HBT bullying and language.
However, while the amount of suicide attempts remains largely the same, it is concerning that deliberate self-harm among cisgender LGB pupils seems to be on the increase. In addition, the report highlights several issues specific to bisexuality. This article begins by outlining some terms of reference before focusing on some of the concerns raised in the report. It also provides some advice around what you can do in your school or workplace to start to tackle these problems.
Isn’t the term ‘bisexuality’ trans-exclusionary?
Although the prefix ‘bi’ traditionally suggests ‘two’ and therefore implies just two genders, a bisexual is usually defined as ‘someone attracted to people of more than one gender.’ As such, this definition does not restrict the number of genders a person could be attracted to, and Robyn Och’s definition is widely accepted: attraction to ‘same and other genders.’ Some people prefer the term ‘pansexual,’ which means ‘someone attracted to people of all genders.’ There is definite overlap between ‘bisexual’ and ‘pansexual,’ and many identify as both. For more on LGBT+ definitions, Rainbow Teaching has a useful glossary.
What issues are there specifically facing bi/pansexuals?
- Bi/panphobia – Bi/pansexual people can find it hard to discover a welcome space in LGB communities, since bi/panphobia can lead to discrimination from both sides. For example, the 2017 Stonewall school report revealed that more than a third of pupils ‘frequently’ or ‘often’ hear negative comments or biphobic language about bi people, for example that bi people are ‘greedy’ or ‘just going through a phase.’ This is not helped by media representations of bi/pan people, which often present them as hypersexualised. Other stereotypes include bi/pan people being ‘promiscuous, unfaithful, disease spreaders,’ when in fact, bi/pansexuals may be ‘celibate, monogamous, cheating, or in polyamorous relationships (Polyamory is having more than one relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved),’ just as is the case with relationships involving other sexualities.
- Bi/pansexual invisibility - The 2017 Stonewall school report further uncovered that ‘Three in four LGBT pupils have never learnt about or discussed bisexuality at school. At 77% the figure on trans and gender identity is almost identical.’ Although there has been a rise in teaching about LGBT+ issues, it seems to be weighted more towards the L and G in LGBT+. Furthermore, LGBT+ pupils are more likely to ‘know of openly gay or lesbian members of staff than of staff who are openly bi or trans.’ Additionally, there are less openly bi/pan characters in the media.
- Reduced support available for bi/pansexuals – the report also highlighted that ‘Bi pupils are less likely than lesbian and gay pupils to have an adult at home they can talk to about being LGBT+ (37 per cent compared to 46 per cent).’ Linked with this, when compared with either heterosexuals or lesbians and gay men, bi/pansexual people report poorer mental health, higher levels of anxiety and depression, more current adverse events and a higher frequency of financial problems.
How can you help in your school or workplace?
- Educate yourself and learn more about bisexuality. Some useful resources include the bisexuality report, Stonewall’s health briefing on bisexuality, getting bi in a gay/straight world, and both directions.
- Review lesson resources to ensure they are properly inclusive - ensure LGBT+ issues are addressed in your subject curriculum, and include bi/pan posters in relevant displays. Examples of bisexual people who can be explored in the classroom include Frida Kahlo, a Mexican painter (Art), Eileen Gray, an Irish furniture designer and architect (Design and Technology), Alec Guinness, an English actor (Drama), Simone de Beauvoir, a French writer, philosopher, activist and social theorist (French), John Maynard Keynes, a British economist (Maths), Dusty Springfield, an English singer and record producer (Music) and Nicola Adams, a British boxer (PE). You can find posters for displays relating to these people from Schools Out here.
- Ensure bisexuality is included in school policies around diversity and that it is positively promoted in the same way as gay and lesbian issues are. You might like to celebrate Bi Visibility Day in your school, for example, which is held annually on 23 September. Some posters for Bi Visibility Day from Stonewall can be found here.
- Hold an assembly covering bisexuality and heteronormativity. If budget allows, your school might like to invite Marcus Morgan, a bi activist and educator available to hire for talks and events. Check out some videos for a flavour.
- Inclusive and age-appropriate RSE and statutory PSHE can also help to raise awareness of bisexuality. This could be by ensuring that bisexual role models are included as well as those for lesbian, gay and transgender identities, as well as by looking at biphobic language and stereotypes and how these can be tackled.
- Tackle bi/panphobic comments in the classroom and around school.
- If you identify as bi/pansexual, you might like to consider becoming a bi workplace role model. Stonewall have a Bi Workplace Role Models Programme and will be releasing future dates in 2018.
See Rainbow Teaching for more tips for ‘getting bi’ in schools.
Since Stonewall’s school report in 2012, there have been many positive changes, but more needs to be done to support bi/pan pupils.
Change starts with YOU!
By ATL staff Jayne Whistance