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Ruthstrom said she and her allies have been lobbying major LGBT-rights groups to be fully inclusive of the bisexual community’s issues. “They’re missing an opportunity to engage,” she said, citing research indicating that bisexuals make up about half of the total LGBT population.
Gary Gates, a demographer at the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute, estimated in 2011 that about 1.8 percent of the adult population, or a little more than 4 million Americans, identifies as bisexual – slightly more than the number identifying as gay or lesbian.
However, Ruthstrom said a majority of bisexuals remain wary of disclosing their sexual orientation, except perhaps to a few close acquaintances, and suffer high rates of depression. A study released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention two years ago said bisexual women reported a far higher rate of rape, violence and stalking by an intimate partner than either lesbians or heterosexual women.
A vice president of one of the largest LGBT-rights groups, Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign, said bisexuals may in some respects face greater challenges than gays and lesbians.
Article continues below“To the extent that they’re out, they may well be more so the victims of scorn because they get it from both gay and straight people,” Sainz said. “Gays want them to make a choice, and straights consider them gay, so in many ways they face increased amounts of stigma and discrimination.”
The Human Rights Campaign’s legal director, Sarah Warbelow, who is bisexual, said one of the biggest challenges for the bi community is a lack of public understanding of their social lives.
“On one hand, there’s assumption that bi people are never happy in any relationship and need to have multiple partners,” she said. “On the other hand, you’ve got people who say it’s not real – it’s an in-between existence until you figure out who you really are when you grow up.”