Mar. 16, 2007 – Three public-interest groups have identified yet another disparity in the US healthcare system: a lack of services, research and education for bisexual people.
According to a report released this week by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute, healthcare providers and government agencies have largely ignored the healthcare needs of bisexuals.
The authors of the 133-page report say it is the first of its kind to research and underline the need for better bisexual health care. The report was co-published by the Boston-based Fenway Institute, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) health organization, and BiNet USA, a network of bisexual activists.
While groups have long fought to diminish discrimination against the general LGBT population in the healthcare system, this new study focuses on healthcare barriers and needs specific to people who have sexual relationships with members of more than one gender.
One of the biggest barriers, according to researchers, is "biphobia," by which healthcare providers discriminate against or hold misconceptions about bisexuals. Another problem is "bi-invisibility" â€“ a failure to acknowledge the existence of bisexuals. Groups say a more "bi-friendly culture" is necessary to ensure healthcare providers give appropriate sexual-health information and services, and to encourage more people to share their sexual orientation with providers.
In the forward to the report, activist and former BiNet USA president Luigi Ferrer points out the problems resulting from the lack of public-health data for bisexuals. He said basic questions remain unanswered about the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV among bisexuals, and the risk of disease for bisexual men versus bisexual women.
Ferrer, himself a bisexual who contracted HIV in 1979, added that bisexual perspectives are often excluded from the public discourse on health care, or grouped into lesbian and gay healthcare programs that fail to address the specific needs of bisexuals.
The report also calls attention to the need for health services for bisexuals that respond to hate crimes, domestic violence, mental health issues and the specific needs of bi youth, seniors and people of color.
"Focusing on bisexual health," wrote the reportâ€™s authors, "can help improve the quality of life of bisexuals by having more factual information about how bisexuality intersects with health concerns, and by promoting education about the experiences and needs of bisexuals in healthcare settings."
About 1.8 percent of males and 2.8 percent females identify as bisexual, according to 2002 data from National Center for Health Statistics, part of the US Department of Health and Human Services. The same research found that about 12.9 percent of females and 5.6 percent of males said they had at least some attraction to both sexes. But defining the population, according to the Task Force report, is complex, especially considering there are people who do not identify as bisexual, but have sexual relationships with more than one gender, as well as those identifying as bisexual who have not had any same-sex sexual experiences.