Howard Brown's Center for Education, Research and Advocacy hosted the Midwest LGBTQ Health Symposium Oct. 7 at the JW Marriott Chicago. The symposium featured healthcare professionals, educators, researchers and advocates speaking on the theme, "Breaking the Stigma."
Dr. Wendy Bostwick, PhD, MPH ( University of Illinois at Chicago College of Nursing Health Systems Science Department associate professor ) kicked off the LGBTQ education and research track with her lecture, "It's not a phase: Health inequities among bisexual men and women."
Bostwick said stigma has informed much of her work for a long time. She defined stigma that is specifically targeted toward bisexual people as "the process of naming differentness because they do not conform to expected social normshowever this does not include openly discussing or accepting differentness." Stigma includes naming difference, stereotyping, categorization separation and status loss/discrimination, according to Bostwick.
When talking about bisexual people, Bostwick noted that she uses the word frequently in general conversation and, at times, she uses the term "bi-plus" to refer to the larger umbrella of people who are bisexual, pansexual, ambisexual and polyamorous, among other identities. She said the stigma around bisexual people involves invisibility ( otherwise known as bi-erasure ), in which people refuse to "name it in research, in practice settings, in the larger culture and in LGBT spaces."
Bostwick explained that oftentimes bisexual people are seen as pathological and/or through the lens of sexual behavior i.e. that they engage in "risky" behavior and this is especially true for men and most especially men of color.
In terms of studying bisexual health, Bostwick said it is complex due to the wide range of behaviors, identities and other factors that encompass the bisexual community. According to data from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, 2.6 percent of adult men and 3.6 percent of adult women as well as 1.5 percent of young men and 8.4 percent of young women ( ages 14-17 ) in the United States self-identify as bisexual.
"Why does any of this matter?," asked Bostwick. "Research has shown that there are significant health inequities within the bisexual population; much more than among the gay, lesbian and heterosexual populations. These health disparities have been found consistently across social and behavioral science research over several decades. This suggests that bisexual men and women exist in a web of synergistic epidemics that interact with one another to produce negative health outcomes due to stigma, discrimination and trauma."
Bostwick said bisexual people report higher rates of psychosocial health issues like depression, anxiety, substance use, interpersonal violence and death by suicide as well as health risk behaviors such as drug and alcohol use, unprotected sex, sex work, higher number of sexual partners and pregnancy termination than gay, lesbian and heterosexual people. She also noted that bisexual people have a higher rate of chronic disease, disability and pain-related physical complaints. Bostwick provided data on smoking, heavy drinking, marijuana use and other drug use along with physical and psychological health concerns to showcase these disparities.
In addition to her current research project on racially and ethnically diverse bisexual women, she will also be doing one focusing on racially and ethnically diverse bisexual men ( both grants funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities ) since bisexual-identified people of color are even less understood than their white counterparts. Bostwick explained that they will be collecting diary date over 28-days, using measures of microaggressions, conducting qualitative interviews and assessing access to social supportive and supportive communities.
Bostwick said more empirical research is needed on bisexual people because they are still under-theorized and overlooked in queer theory. She said it is important for bisexual people to build communities and develop uniquely bisexual spaces.
"We need to understand the why in order to get to appropriate and relevant interventions," said Bostwick. "The lack of data and theory contribute to few meaningful interventions or programs associated with bi-plus health disparities, at any level."
A Q&A session followed the presentation.