Religious Institute Brings Visibility To Bisexuality In Faith Communities

by Marie Alford-Harkey

An interesting thing happened to me when I came out as a lesbian. Because I was in a relationship with a man at the time, there were many in the lesbian community where I lived who asserted that I wasn’t “really” a lesbian, but rather bisexual.

And they made it clear that that they were NOT okay with bisexuality as an identity.

My lesbian friends really wanted me to say that I had not enjoyed my relationship with my then-husband, that I had known practically from birth that I was attracted to women, and that all my previous relationships with men had been mistakes. None of those things was true, and so I refused. And I continued to hear some of my best friends use the word “bisexual” to refer to me as if it were a slur.

That experience served as a call to justice for me as I worked on the new guidebook from the Religious Institute, Bisexuality: Making the Invisible Visible in Faith Communities. As I heard and read the stories of bisexual people and their experiences with religion, I was deeply saddened to hear that a friend who attended an Episcopal parish that was known for its LGBT welcome had been told that “it wouldn’t go over well” to bring up the fact that he is bisexual with the parish LGBT group. I also recalled hearing a gay priest say that bisexuals needed to “pick a side,” and that he believed there was no such thing as a bisexual person.

The fact is that bisexual people are marginalized for being non-straight, and they are marginalized in the LGBT community as well.

Faith communities, many of whom have come a long way on lesbian and gay issues, and some even on transgender issues, have largely ignored the “B” in LGBT, assuming that whatever makes lesbians and gay men feel welcomed and celebrated will work for bisexual people as well. Yet, this is simply not the case.

Bisexuality: Making the Invisible Visible in Faith Communities is a call to action for faith leaders and congregations to make their faith communities “bisexually healthy” ones, where people who identify as bisexual see their experiences, gifts, and concerns reflected in worship, religious education, and congregational events.

As people of faith, we are called to heal the suffering that so many in the LGBT community have experienced from religious leaders and institutions. We are also called to celebrate the diversity and beauty of humanity. As the new guidebook says, “Bisexuality reminds us of the diversity, beauty, and wonder of creation. Moving beyond the binary of gay/lesbian vs. straight invites people into the mystery and complexity of human sexuality.”

This embrace of mystery, complexity, and diversity helps us to expand our ideas about the nature of God.

We are living in amazing times. The PCUSA just passed a resolution allowing their ministers to perform same-sex weddings, and The Rev. Cameron Partridge, a transgender Episcopal priest, just became the first transgender person to preach at Washington National Cathedral. Marriage equality is spreading state by state and more and more denominations are allowing their clergy to perform same-sex marriages.

As we continue this wonderful march toward progress, let’s make sure that all the letters in the LGBT acronym are being celebrated in our faith communities.

Photo via flickr user Peter Salanki