Beyond Labels: Celebrating Bisexual Visibility in Asia
Beyond Labels: Celebrating Bisexual Visibility in Asia
Celebrate Bisexuality Day, also known as Bi Visibility Day and Bisexual Pride Day, aims to honour and champion the achievements of individuals who identify as and raise awareness about the bisexual community. To recognise this day, we are highlighting how its aims are relevant in Asia and want to provide readers with advice to better serve bisexual employees in Asian workplaces. A greater understanding of the challenges that are unique to bisexual individuals will allow organisations to improve and advance their LGBT+ inclusion efforts and tailor them to the bisexual community more effectively.
The History of Bi Visibility Day
The origins of a dedicated celebration for the bisexual community date to the early 1990s in the United States, with the first official celebration of Bi Visibility Day on September 23rd held in 1999. Having a separate celebration to LGBT+ Pride for the bisexual community put the spotlight on issues that they uniquely face. LGBT+ Pride and inclusion initiatives often spotlight the lesbian, gay and transgender community more than the bisexual community, which sparked the idea of creating a dedicated celebration day.
The same can be said for workplace LGBT+ inclusion initiatives, with many focused on anti-discrimination and inclusion of those in same-sex partnerships. While this has benefitted bisexual individuals, a more holistic inclusion strategy with initiatives such as awareness training, fostering general inclusive day-to-day workplace culture and consciously increasing visibility can highly benefit bisexual employees. The Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) report Bisexual Visibility in the Workplace found that Bisexual employees were the least likely to report their sexual orientation at work, compared to their gay and lesbian counterparts. With the report also detailing the prevalence of jokes about bisexuality, it is no surprise that the figure for disclosure is the lowest group.
Why Do Visibility and Inclusion Matter?
Those who identify as bisexual may not be the largest group in the LGBT+ community but represent a sizeable part of the LGBT+ population that organisations and wider society cannot ignore. Although Bi Visibility started in North America, it is now recognised globally and research shows that this is a community that needs to be catered for in Asia too.
Prevalence in Asia
Some relevant findings from IPSOS’ LGBT+ Pride 2021 Global Survey include:
From their survey, 4% of the global population identify as bisexual
9% of survey respondents in India identify as bisexual
2% of survey respondents in China identify as bisexual
1% of survey respondents in Japan identify as bisexual
Younger generations are more likely to identify as bisexual, with 4% of millennials and 9% of Gen Zers identifying with this term
Although the report did not present figures across Asia, the statistics in the markets surveyed demonstrate the need for this community to be recognised in LGBT+ inclusion initiatives in Asia.
Bisexuality and Mental Health
Asia specific research also shows the prevalence of mental health challenges in the Bisexual community, with a psychological study in Hong Kong finding that bisexual individuals are at greater risk of mental health challenges, compared to the lesbian, gay and heterosexual populations sampled.
Stigma and Erasure
Sexual and gender minorities (SGM) and gender-diverse identities face discrimination across the world. Research states that in Asia, where most nations and states have legal regulations and prohibitions for LGBT+ identities, bisexual people often become a minority of their own within a minority. Coupled with centuries of bias against LGBT+ identities, cultural nuances and legal issues, bisexual persons continue to suffer in silence, hide their stories and in many cases, face the risk of identity erasure.
Stories from some of our bisexual colleagues and friends highlight that they often choose not to disclose their identity as they tend to be seen as experimenting with others or mocked at for ‘enjoying the best of both worlds’. One anonymous interviewee described the difficulty of navigating a workplace culture that only recognises homosexual and heterosexual binaries, as well as regularly experiencing the microagression of being asked to quantify their attraction to different genders.
Organisations in Asia are making strides in advancing their LGBT+ inclusion strategies but these findings are a great reminder that these policies must cater to the B in LGBT+, as well as that the best inclusion strategies are those which include tailoring towards the bisexual community and champion bi visibility. The unique issues this community face requires a bespoke approach for inclusion that is not limited to general LGBT+ pride initiatives, to combat the stereotypes, stigma and challenges bisexual people face in Asia.
What Should Organisations and Individuals Be Doing?
See Bi People as Individuals
Think of the intersectional identities of bisexual individuals. Their sexual identity is just one dimension of their multidimensional identity.
Be a Visible Ally
Remember that a person’s current partner does not define the spectrum of their sexual or romantic attraction. Avoid assuming a person’s identity based on the gender identity of their current partner.
Confront stereotypes and discriminatory language at the workplace. Actively combat bi-erasure by reminding your co-workers
Actively Celebrate Bi People and Share Their Stories
At events which promote LGBT+ people and storytelling, actively try to include bBisexual representation and participation at events, panels and other initiatives
Avoid Heteronormative Assumptions
Avoid assuming someone’s sexual orientation based on the gender of their current partner
Enforce ‘Beyond the Binary’ Thinking
Understanding that sexual orientation is a spectrum goes hand in hand with understanding the spectrum of gender.
Educate employees about the spectrum of gender, sexual orientation and champion ‘beyond the binary’ thinking
Take a Localised Approach
Understand the issues bisexual employees face that are specific to the market they work in. Different cultures may have different prevalence of bisexual people, different stereotypes and different stigmas that bisexual employees may face. Knowing the cultural context will help workplaces better understand the types of discrimination or erasure bisexual employees face at their workplace
Be mindful of the marriage equality laws in the market you are working in when speaking to co-workers about marriage.
Engage bisexual identities in localised organisational policy making decisions to pave way for participation.
Enforce Confidentiality and Create a Safe Space
Understand the sensitivity of ‘coming out’ at the workplace and respect and promote confidentiality whenever possible.
Our own research on LGBT+ Mental Health in the Workplace in Asia details the intersection of inclusive work policies and their impact on mental health, with one bisexual employee from India stating, “A corporate office that supports Pride initiatives and helps people feel safe at work, I think that really made a difference for me... After I came out to my line manager, I started to feel comfortable. I began to exceed expectations and received two promotions. The pressure of hiding was gone and I could focus on my productivity.”
This reinforces the importance of Pride initiatives that truly include bisexual individuals and the benefits that can come from employees being able to freely express themselves at work.
Biphobia, bi-erasure and discrimination against bisexual people are issues that we must confront in Asia. It is positive that many organisations are advancing in their LGBT+ inclusion journeys and that many more organisations are starting theirs. However, the importance of fostering inclusive environments for bisexual individuals cannot be understated.
Organisations have a duty to create safe spaces for their bisexual employees to feel heard, safe and comfortable to express themselves how they want. The different challenges they face must be recognised by organisations and moving forward, we hope to see more organisations actively celebrate and cater for the bisexual community, who clearly represent a significant portion of the workforce in Asia.
Authors: Dimuthu de Silva, Director of DE&I and Tash Sutcliffe, Programme Manager, Marketing & Communications