She and her Bi-identified partner Emily have been personally effected by the fight for marriage equality in California because as she reports they were among the many same sex couples who took advantage of the "Prauge Spring" in February of 2004 and got married only to have their marriage invalidated in August of that year. They are now among the countless Bi-identified LGBT people who are working alongside the rest of Our Community and Our Allies to Stop Prop 8 which would again invalidate same-sex marriage in California.
“Words matter. Names matter.”
These sentences set the stage for a powerful and eloquent statement by Deputy City Attorney Therese Stewart as she argued before the California Supreme Court for the right of all people to marry the person they choose.
I couldn’t agree more. Words shape our thoughts and give form to reality. They are the vehicles through which we engage in the profound and magical act of communication.
Words do matter. Which is why, as a bisexual woman, I find the current celebrations on behalf of “gay and lesbian couples” profoundly painful. Each time I hear that phrase, I feel physically stabbed.
My partner and I are both bi. As a same-sex couple, we’re subject to the same injustice and legal complexity and potential violence as any lesbian or gay couple. Our excitement in 2004 was just as palpable as we stood in line for our marriage license at San Francisco City Hall, and our relationship was just as diminished by the state’s subsequent annulments. We are just as threatened by Prop 8, the ballot measure this November that would define marriage as between one man and one woman.
The language of California law had left us out of the right to marry until the victory on May 15th. But the language of LGBTQI organizations and the media has robbed us of this moment’s joy. I can’t get my heart to stop hurting.
What’s shocking is that this non-inclusive language isn’t entirely random. Because some focus group data found that “gay and lesbian” was more palatable to undecided moderates than “same-sex,” there has been a strategic decision by key lesbian and gay leaders to use it through November. The goal is to win the fight against the ballot measure and secure marriage equality once and for all in California.
We could argue about whether the ends justify the means. We could argue about why the language is being used so broadly rather than just with the straight voters we’re trying to persuade. What’s not open for discussion is why no bisexual leaders were in on the conversation. No one asked us whether we were willing to make this sacrifice. We didn’t even get the courtesy of an acknowledgment that this strategy would take a toll on us. No one prepared us to have our hearts broken over and over for months.
Words matter. Not just some of them, and not just some of the time. Just as marriage is not the same as domestic partnership, bringing the entire queer community along is not the same as throwing some of us under the bus.
Names matter. I have chosen to name myself “bisexual” as a political stand for all people whose attractions span beyond one gender. Even as I acknowledge the word’s limitations, I also understand its rich history and its role in determining our real allies.
During last year’s fight over the non-inclusive ENDA, the queer community came together in extraordinary fashion and true solidarity with transgender and gender-nonconforming people. Organizations and individuals across the spectrum expressed justifiable outrage that some of us were being left by the side of the road, with only vague promises of getting picked up at an undetermined later date.
During this season of celebration, where is the outrage on bisexuals’ behalf? My gay and lesbian colleagues didn’t even notice that fundraising emails from nonprofits fighting the ballot measure kept talking about “gay and lesbian” couples. Why didn’t they get angry for me? If people I consider good friends and allies don’t even have my back, who will?
At the time of the ENDA fight, I suspected that if bisexuals were the ones left to wait at the side of the road, we would never have received the same outpouring of support. Sadly, I couldn’t even imagine it. Even more sadly, it turns out I was right. Rigoberta Menchu Tum once said that any erasing of differences is an act of violence. And because words matter, I’ll name this pervasive “G&L scandal” for what it is—violence.
Shocked to hear that word applied here? Think I’m overreaching? Climb inside my heart these days. You’ll feel just how deeply words matter.
Last night (July 3rd 2008) was the first in a series of town hall meetings for the Equality for All campaign (the coalition fighting Prop 8 in California). My partner Emily and I, along with bisexual activist Lani Ka'ahumanu, put together a handout ("Words Still Matter: How the Marriage Equality Movement is Leaving Bisexuals Out" pdf flyer), press packets, and a silent protest we called "unVEILing injustice"
Emily, I, and several other bisexuals and allies walked into the standing-room-only crowd at the San Francisco LGBT Center wearing white veils to symbolize how bisexuals have been rendered invisible in the marriage equality movement. We even brought a cake, which read, "Having our cake and eating it, too -- Bisexuals exist!"
I'm delighted to report that the very first words from Kate Kendell (Executive Director of NCLR) -- before anything at all about Prop 8 or the campaign -- was an extended and heartfelt apology to bisexuals for leaving us out, and a sincere promise to use inclusive language in all communications going forward (as well as an invitation to contact them if they slip again).
The proof will be in the pudding, of course, but I couldn't have been happier with the outcome at this stage. I'm confident that marriage equality efforts in California will begin to include all of us.
Special thanks to Kate not only for working so hard to win legal protections for LGBT people, but for stepping up to the difficult task of saying publicly, "I'm so sorry. We'll do better."
To donate to the campaign to defeat Prop 8, go to www.equalityforall.com.