History of bisexuality in the United States
1850 to 1950
The word "bisexual" was first used in its modern sense of being sexually attracted to both women and men by the American neurologist Charles Gilbert Chaddock, in his 1892 translation of Kraft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis. Prior to this, "bisexual" was usually used to mean hermaphroditic. Under any label, openly bisexual people were rare in early American life. One notable exception was the openly bisexual poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, who received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver in 1923. Furthermore, the poet Walt Whitman is usually described by biographers as either bisexual or homosexual in his feelings and attractions.
Early film, being a cutting-edge medium, also provided opportunity for bisexuality to be expressed. In 1914 the first documented appearance of bisexual characters (female and male) in an American motion picture occurred in A Florida Enchantment, by Sidney Drew. However, due to the censorship legally required by the Hays Code, the word bisexual could not be mentioned and almost no bisexual characters appeared, in American film from 1934 until 1968.
Bisexual Americans were given some visibility in the research of Alfred Kinsey (who was himself bisexual) and his colleagues in the late 1940s and early 1950s; they found that 28% of women and 46% of men had responded erotically to or were sexually active with both women and men.
Their research also found that 11.6% of white males (ages 20–35) had about equal heterosexual and homosexual experience/response throughout their adult lives, and that 7% of single females (ages 20–35) and 4% of previously married females (ages 20–35) had about equal heterosexual and homosexual experience/response for this period of their lives. As a result of this research, the earlier meanings of the word "bisexual" were largely displaced by the modern meaning of being attracted to both women and men. However, Kinsey himself disliked the use of the term bisexual to describe individuals who engage in sexual activity with both males and females, preferring to use "bisexual" in its original, biological sense as hermaphroditic, and saying, "Until it is demonstrated [that] taste in a sexual relation is dependent upon the individual containing within his [sic] anatomy both male and female structures, or male and female physiological capacities, it is unfortunate to call such individuals bisexual" (Kinsey et al., 1948, p. 657).
1950 to present
LGBT political activism became more prominent in this decade. In 1966 bisexual activist Robert A. Martin (aka Donny the Punk) founded the Student Homophile League at Columbia University and New York University. In 1967 Columbia University officially recognized this group, thus making them the first college in the United States to officially recognize a gay student group. Activism on behalf of bisexuals in particular also began to grow, especially in San Francisco. One of the earliest organizations for bisexuals, the Sexual Freedom League in San Francisco, was facilitated by Margo Rila and Frank Esposito beginning in 1967. Two years later, during a staff meeting at a San Francisco mental health facility serving LGBT people, nurse Maggi Rubenstein came out as bisexual. Due to this, bisexuals began to be included in the facility's programs for the first time.
The Stonewall Rebellion, considered the beginning of the modern LGBT rights movement, occurred at the Stonewall bar in 1969. Bar patrons, including bisexuals, stood up to the police during a raid. In commemoration of this, the next year the first LGBT pride march was held. Bisexual activist Brenda Howard is known as the "Mother of Pride" for her work in coordinating this march. Howard also originated the idea for a week-long series of events around Pride Day which became the genesis of the annual LGBT Pride celebrations that are now held around the world every June. Additionally, Howard along with bisexual activist Robert A. Martin (aka Donny the Punk) and L. Craig Schoonmaker are credited with popularizing the word "Pride" to describe these festivities. As bisexual activist Tom Limoncelli put it, "The next time someone asks you why LGBT Pride marches exist or why [LGBT] Pride Month is June tell them 'A bisexual woman named Brenda Howard thought it should be.'"
Bisexuals became more prominent in the media in the 1970s. In 1972 bisexual activist Don Fass founded the National Bisexual Liberation group in New York City, which issued The Bisexual Expression, most likely the earliest bisexual newsletter. In 1973 bisexual activist Woody Glenn was interviewed by a radio show of the National Organization for Women on WICC in Bridgeport, Connecticut. In 1974, both Newsweek and Time Magazine ran stories on "bisexual chic," bringing bisexuality to mainstream attention as never before. In 1976 the landmark book View from Another Closet: Exploring Bisexuality in Women, by Janet Mode, was published.
Bisexuals were also important contributors to the larger LGBT rights movement. In 1972, Bill Beasley, a bisexual activist in the civil rights movement as well as the LGBT movement, was the core organizer of the first Los Angeles Gay Pride March. He was also active with the Gay Liberation Front. In 1975, activist Carol Queen came out as bisexual and organized GAYouth in Eugene, Ore. In 1977 Alan Rockway, a psychologist and bisexual activist, co-authored America's first successful gay rights ordinance put to public vote, in Dade County, Florida. Anita Bryant campaigned against the ordinance, and Rockway began a boycott of Florida orange juice, which she advertised, in response. The San Francisco Bisexual Center also helped sponsor a press conference with lesbian activists Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, and pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock, in opposition to Bryant. Bisexual activist Alexei Guren founded the Gay Teen Task Force in Miami, Fla., in response to Bryant's campaign. The Florida Citrus Commission canceled her contract as a direct response to this pressure. Also in 1977, Dr. Marvin Colter founded ARETE, a support and social group for bisexuals in Visalia, Calif., which marched in Los Angeles Gay Pride and had a newsletter. In 1979 A. Billy S. Jones, a bisexual founding member of the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays, helped organize the first black gay delegation to meet with President Jimmy Carter's White House staff. Jones was also a core organizer of the 1979 March On Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights, and “Third world conference: When will the ignorance end?,” the first national conference for gay and lesbian people of color.
The bisexual movement had its own successes as well. Most notably, in 1972 a Quaker group, the Committee of Friends on Bisexuality, issued the “Ithaca Statement on Bisexuality” supporting bisexuals. The Statement, which may have been "the first public declaration of the bisexual movement" and "was certainly the first statement on bisexuality issued by an American religious assembly," appeared in the Quaker Friends Journal and The Advocate in 1972.
In 1976 Harriet Levi and Maggi Rubenstein founded the San Francisco Bisexual Center. It was the longest surviving bisexual community center, offering counseling and support services to Bay Area bisexuals, as well as publishing a newsletter, The Bi Monthly, from 1976 to 1984. In 1978, bisexual activist Dr. Fritz Klein introduced the Klein Sexual Orientation Grid in his book The bisexual option: A concept of one-hundred percent intimacy, in which he examined the incidence and nature of bisexuality, the attitudes of bisexual persons, and the rewards of bisexuality. Bisexual activism also began to spread beyond the coasts, as from 1978 until 1979, several Midwestern bisexual groups were created, such as One To Five (founded by Scott Bartell and Gary Lingen for Minneapolis/St.Paul, Minn), BI Women Welcome in Minneapolis, The BI Married Men's Group in the Detroit suburbs, and BI Ways in Chicago.
In the 1980s AIDS began to affect the LGBT community, and bisexual people took an important role in combating it. In 1981 bisexual activists David Lourea and Cynthia Slater presented safer-sex education in bathhouses and BDSM clubs in San Francisco. Also in 1981, bisexual activist Alexei Guren, on the founding board of the Health Crisis Network (now CareResource) in Miami, Fla., began outreach and advocacy for Latino married men who have sex with men. In 1984, bisexual activist David Lourea finally persuaded the San Francisco Department of Public Health to recognize bisexual men in their official AIDS statistics (the weekly “New AIDS cases and mortality statistics” report), after two years of campaigning. Health departments throughout the United States began to recognize bisexual men because of this, whereas before they had mostly only recognized gay men. Bisexual activists also fought for the recognition of women in the AIDS epidemic. From 1984 until 1986, bisexual activist Veneita Porter, of the Prostitute’s Union of Massachusetts and COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics), advocated for women, transgender people, and injection drug users with AIDS. In 1985, HIV-Positive bisexual activist Cynthia Slater organized the first Women’s HIV/AIDS Information Switchboard. This sort of activism was particularly important for bisexuals as they were often blamed for spreading AIDS to their heterosexual partners. For example, in 1987, Newsweek portrayed bisexual men as “the ultimate pariahs” of the AIDS epidemic, and bisexual activist and person with AIDS Alan Rockway of BiPOL was quoted speaking against the stereotype. An October 1989 Cosmopolitan magazine article that stereotyped bisexual men as dishonest spreaders of AIDS led to a letter-writing campaign by the New York Area Bisexual Network (NYABN). Cosmopolitan has printed no articles defaming bisexuals since the campaign.
The bisexual movement enjoyed some important firsts during the 1980s. The Boston Bisexual Women's Network, the oldest existing bisexual women's group, was founded in 1983 and began publishing their bi-monthly newsletter, BI Women. It is the longest-existing bisexual newsletter in the US. Also in 1983, BiPOL, the first and oldest bisexual political organization, was founded in San Francisco by bisexual activists Autumn Courtney, Lani Ka'ahumanu, Arlene Krantz, David Lourea, Bill Mack, Alan Rockway, and Maggi Rubenstein. In 1984, BiPOL sponsored the first bisexual rights rally, outside the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco. The rally featured nine speakers from civil rights groups allied with the bisexual movement. Also in 1984, the First East Coast Conference on Bisexuality (which was also the first regional bisexual conference in the US) was held at the Storrs School of Social Work at the University of Connecticut, with about 150 people participating. Participants in the conference then founded the East Coast Bisexual Network in 1985, which later was renamed the Bisexual Resource Center (BRC) in 1993. In 1987, the East Coast Bisexual Network established the first Bisexual History Archives with bisexual activist Robyn Ochs’ initial collection; archivist Clare Morton hosted researchers. Also in 1987, the Bay Area Bisexual Network, the oldest and largest bisexual group in the San Francisco Bay Area, was founded by Lani Ka'ahumanu, Ann Justi and Maggi Rubenstein.
In 1988, Gary North published the first national bisexual newsletter, called Bisexuality: News, Views, and Networking. In 1989, openly bisexual veteran Cliff Arnesen became the first veteran to testify about bisexual, lesbian, and gay issues and the first openly non-heterosexual veteran to testify on Capitol Hill about veterans' issues in general. He testified before the U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
Bisexual people also continued to be active in the larger LGBT movement. In 1986 BiPOL's Autumn Courtney was elected co-chair of San Francisco's Lesbian Gay Freedom Day Pride Parade Committee; she was the first openly bisexual person to hold this sort of position in the United States. In 1987 a group of 75 bisexuals marched in the 1987 March On Washington For Gay and Lesbian Rights, which was the first nationwide bisexual gathering. The article "The Bisexual Movement: Are We Visible Yet?" appeared in the official Civil Disobedience Handbook for the March. The North American Bisexual Network, the first national bisexual organization, was first thought of at this gathering, though not founded until three years later (see below.) NABN would later change its name to BiNet USA. Also in 1987, Barney Frank became the first U.S. congressman to come out as gay of his own volition; he was inspired in part by the death of Stewart McKinney, a closeted bisexual Republican representative from Connecticut. Frank told The Washington Post that after McKinney's death there was, "An unfortunate debate about 'Was he or wasn't he? Didn't he or did he?' I said to myself, I don't want that to happen to me." 
The oldest national bisexuality organization in the United States, BiNet USA, was founded in 1990. It was originally called the North American Multicultural Bisexual Network (NAMBN), and had its first meeting at the first National Bisexual Conference in America. This first conference was held in San Francisco, and sponsored by BiPOL. Bisexual health was one of eight workshop tracks at the conference, and the “NAMES Project” quilt was displayed with bisexual quilt pieces. Over 450 people attended from 20 states and 5 countries, and the mayor of San Francisco sent a proclamation "commending the bisexual rights community for its leadership in the cause of social justice," and declaring June 23, 1990 Bisexual Pride Day. The conference also inspired attendees from Dallas to create the first bisexual group in Texas, called BiNet Dallas.
The bisexual movement also became more accepted as part of established institutions. In 1990, Susan Carlton offered the first academic course on bisexuality in America at UC Berkeley, and in 1991, psychologists Sari Dworkin and Ron Fox became the founding co-chairs of the Task Force on Bisexual Issues of Division 44, the gay and lesbian group in the American Psychological Association. In 1997, bisexual activist and psychologist Pat Ashbrook pioneered a national model for LGBT support groups within the Veterans Administration hospital system.
Bisexual literature became more prominent in the 1990s. In 1991, the Bay Area Bisexual Network began publishing the first national bisexual quarterly magazine, Anything That Moves: Beyond The Myths Of Bisexuality, founded by Karla Rossi, who was the managing editor of the editorial collective until 1993. 1991 also saw the publication of one of the seminal books in the history of the modern bisexual rights movement, Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out, an anthology edited by Loraine Hutchins and Lani Ka'ahumanu. After this anthology was forced to compete (and lost) in the Lambda Literary Awards under the category Lesbian Anthology, and in 2005, Directed by Desire: Collected Poems a posthumous collection of the bisexual Jamaican American writer June Jordan's work had to compete (and won) in the category "Lesbian Poetry", BiNet USA led the bisexual community in a multi-year campaign eventually resulting in the addition of a Bisexual category, starting with the 2006 Awards. In 1995, Harvard Shakespeare professor Marjorie Garber made the academic case for bisexuality with her book Vice Versa: Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life, in which she argued that most people would be bisexual if not for "repression, religion, repugnance, denial, laziness, shyness, lack of opportunity, premature specialization, a failure of imagination, or a life already full to the brim with erotic experiences, albeit with only one person, or only one gender." In 1997, bisexual activist Dr. Fritz Klein founded the Journal of Bisexuality, the first academic, quarterly journal on bisexuality. However, other media proved more mixed in terms of representing bisexuals. In 1990, a film with a relationship between two bisexual women, called Henry and June, became the first film to receive the NC-17 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). But in 1993, bisexual activist Sheela Lambert wrote, produced, and hosted the first television series by and for bisexuals, called Bisexual Network. It aired for 13 weeks on NYC Public Access Cable.
Regional organizations in the bisexual movement also began to have more impact. In 1992 the Bisexual Connection (Minnesota) sponsored the First Annual Midwest Regional Bisexual Conference, called "BECAUSE (Bisexual Empowerment Conference: A Uniting, Supportive Experience)." That year Minnesota changed its State Civil Rights Law to grant the most comprehensive civil rights protections for bisexual, lesbian, gay, and transgender people in the country. Minnesota's bisexual community had united with lesbian, gay, and transgender groups to lobby for this statute. Also in 1992, the South Florida Bisexual Network (founded in 1989) and the Florida International University's Stonewall Students Union co-sponsored the First Annual Southeast Regional Bisexual Conference. Thirty-five people from at least four southeastern states attended. In 1993 the First Annual Northwest Regional Conference was sponsored by BiNet USA, the Seattle Bisexual Women's Network, and the Seattle Bisexual Men's Union. It was held in Seattle, and fifty-five people representing Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Montana, and British Columbia attended.
An important event in the LGBT rights movement in this decade was the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation. As a result of lobbying by BiPOL (San Francisco), openly bisexual people held key leadership roles in local and regional organizing for the March, and for the first time bisexuals were included in the title of the March. Also, openly bisexual activist and author Lani Ka'ahumanu spoke at the rally, and over 1,000 people marched with the bisexual group. Coinciding with the March, BiNet USA, the Bisexual Resource Center (BRC), and the Washington, DC-based Alliance of Multicultural Bisexuals (AMBi) sponsored the Second National Conference Celebrating Bisexuality in Washington, DC. Over than 600 people attended from the US and Europe, making it at the time the largest Bisexual Conference ever held.
Several important surveys concerning bisexuality were conducted around this time. In 1993, Ron Fox authored the first large scale research study on bisexual identity, and established and maintained a comprehensive bibliography on bi research. Also in 1993, The Janus Report on Sexual Behavior showed that 5 percent of men and 3 percent of women considered themselves bisexual. In 1995 BiNet USA Bisexual Youth Initiative, Fayetteville, N.C., developed and mailed a national survey to LGBT youth programs. The survey was published and sent back to agencies, offering assistance to improve services to bisexual youth.
The concept of bisexual pride became more widespread in the late 1990s. At an LGBT PrideFest in Connecticut in 1997, Evelyn Mantilla came out as America's first openly bisexual state official. The next year, the Bisexual Pride flag was designed by Michael Page (it was unveiled on Dec 5th, 1998 ), and in 1999, the first Celebrate Bisexuality Day was organized by Michael Page, Gigi Raven Wilbur, and Wendy Curry. It is now observed every September 23.
Bisexual people had notable accomplishments in the LGBT rights movement at this time. In 2001, the American Psychological Association (APA)’s “Guidelines on psychotherapy with lesbian, gay and bisexual clients” stated “homosexuality and bisexuality are not a mental illness"; bisexual activist Ron Fox served on the task force that produced the guidelines. In 2002, Pete Chvany, Luigi Ferrer, James Green, Loraine Hutchins and Monica McLemore presented at the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex Health Summit, held in Boulder, Colorado, marking the first time bisexual people, transgender people, and intersex people were recognized as co-equal partners on the national level rather than gay and lesbian “allies” or tokens. Also in 2002, bisexual activist Robyn Ochs delivered the first bi-focused keynote during the National Association of Lesbian and Gay Addiction Professionals. In 2003, the Union for Reform Judaism retroactively applied its pro-rights policy on gays and lesbians to the bisexual and transgender communities, issuing a resolution titled, "SUPPORT FOR THE INCLUSION AND ACCEPTANCE OF THE TRANSGENDER AND BISEXUAL COMMUNITIES."  In 2005, bisexual scholars and activists mobilized with The Task Force, GLAAD and BiNet USA to meet with New York Times science section editor and researcher Brian Dodge to respond to misinformation the paper had published on a study about bisexual men. The study, entitled Sexual Arousal Patterns of Bisexual Men, by the controversial researcher J. Michael Bailey, allegedly "proved" that bisexual men did not exist. With little critical examination, various media celebrities and outlets jumped on the band-wagon and claimed to have "solved" the "problem of bisexuality" by declaring it to be non-existent, at least in men. Further studies, including improved follow-up research lead by Michael Bailey, proved this to be false. Also in 2005, the Queens Chapter of PFLAG announced the creation of the "Brenda Howard Memorial Award". This was the first time a major American LGBT organization named an award after an openly bisexual person. On October 11, 2009 in Washington, D.C., the National Equality March was held, calling for equal protection for bisexual, lesbian, gay, and transgender people in all matters governed by civil law in all states and districts. There was a specific bisexual, pansexual and queer-identified contingent that was organized as a part of the March. Several bisexual groups came together and marched, including BiNet USA, New York Area Bisexual Network, DC Bi Women and BiMA DC. There were also four out bisexual speakers at the National Equality March rally: Michael Huffington, Lady Gaga, Chloe Noble, and Penelope Williams.
Significant reports about bisexuals were also released in this decade. In 2002, a survey in the United States by National Center for Health Statistics found that 1.8 percent of men ages 18–44 considered themselves bisexual, 2.3 percent homosexual, and 3.9 percent as "something else". The same study found that 2.8 percent of women ages 18–44 considered themselves bisexual, 1.3 percent homosexual, and 3.8 percent as "something else". A 2007 report said that 14.4% of young US women identified themselves as bisexual/lesbian, with 5.6% of the men identifying as gay or bisexual. Also in 2007, an article in the 'Health' section of The New York Times stated that "1.5 percent of American women and 1.7 percent of American men identify themselves [as] bisexual."
In 2008 Kate Brown was elected as the Oregon Secretary of State, becoming America's first openly bisexual statewide officeholder. Furthermore, as Oregon does not have a lieutenant governor, Brown was first in line to succeed to the office of Governor of Oregon if the governor became unable to perform the duties of the office.
In 2011, one of the demands of 2009's National Equality March was met as the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy was ended, allowing bisexuals, lesbians, and gay men in the U.S. military to be open about their sexuality.
More important reports on bisexual people were released in this decade. In 2011, San Francisco’s Human Rights Commission released a report on bisexual visibility, titled “Bisexual Invisibility: Impacts and Regulations.” This was the first time any governmental body released such a report. The report showed, among other things, that self-identified bisexuals made up the largest single population within the LGBT community in the United States. In each study included in the report, more women identified as bisexual than lesbian, though fewer men identified as bisexual than gay. Also in 2011, a longitudinal study of sexual minority women (lesbian, bisexual, and unlabeled) found that over 10 years, “more women adopted bisexual/unlabeled identities than relinquished them.” Of those who began the study identifying as bisexual, 92% identified as bisexual or unlabeled 10 years later, and 61% of those who began as unlabeled identified as bisexual or unlabeled 10 years later.
In September 2012 Berkeley, California became the first city in America to officially proclaim a day recognizing bisexuals. The Berkeley City Council unanimously and without discussion declared Sept. 23 as Bisexual Pride and Bi Visibility Day. In 2013 on Bisexual Pride and Bi Visibility Day, the White House held a closed-door meeting with about 30 bisexual advocates so they could meet with government officials and discuss issues of specific importance to the bisexual community; this was the first bi-specific event ever hosted by any White House.
The most prominent success for bisexual people in this decade came in November 2012 when Kyrsten Sinema was elected to the House of Representatives, becoming the first openly bisexual member of Congress in American history.
Notable American bisexuals
Gregg Araki is an independent filmmaker. He is involved in New Queer Cinema. Araki self-identified as gay until 1997, when he entered a relationship with actress Kathleen Robertson, whom he directed in Nowhere.
Clive Davis is a record producer and music industry executive. He has won five Grammy Awards and is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a non-performer. From 1967 to 1973, Davis was the president of Columbia Records. He came out as bisexual in 2013.
Jack Gantos is an American author of children's books renowned for his fictional character Joey Pigza, a boy with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Gantos has won several literary awards, including the Newbery Honor, the Newbery Medal, the Printz Honor, and the Sibert Honor from the American Library Association.
Angelina Jolie, an Academy Award-winning actress, came out as bisexual in 2003. When asked if she was bisexual, Jolie responded, "Of course. If I fell in love with a woman tomorrow, would I feel that it's okay to want to kiss and touch her? If I fell in love with her? Absolutely! Yes!"
Robyn Ochs helped found the Boston Bisexual Network in 1983, and the Bisexual Resource Center in 1985. She is also the editor of the Bisexual Resource Guide and the coeditor of the anthology Getting Bi: Voices of Bisexuals Around the World.
Kyle Schickner is a film producer, writer, director, actor, and bisexual rights activist. He is the founder of FenceSitter Films, a production company devoted to entertainment for sexual minorities, women, and ethnic minorities. While in college, inspired by hearing a talk given by bisexual rights activist Lani Ka'ahumanu, he formed BIAS (Bisexuals Achieving Solidarity), the first college bisexual rights group in the United States.
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