A Collaborate(ive) effort toward Bi/Pan/Poly acceptance

Heidi Docter, News Writer

COVID-19 doesn’t stop the UW Oshkosh BiPanPoly Group from gathering and discussing LGBTQ+ activism in 2020, and last week’s BiPanPoly online event was made special by a visit from Victor Raymond.

Raymond, who has a Ph.D. in Sociology, was part of BiNet USA, a group of Bi advocates started in 1990. Raymond was able to visit the White House with BiNet while former President Barack Obama was in office.

Others on the panel included Alicia Obermeier, a recent graduate of UWO; Haley Olson, a current UWO student; Amney Harper, an associate professor in the Department of Professional Counseling; and Liz Cannon, senior lecturer and director of the UWO LGBTQ+ Resource Center.

The panel started the discussion by identifying themselves and discussing their sexual orientation and what it means to each of them.

“One of the reasons why I continue to identify as bisexual is because it gets discriminated against a lot,” Raymond explained. “And I think it’s important to own the radicalness of it.”

A few of the panel members said that the labels used to define their sexual orientation gave them a sense of freedom.

“I identify as bisexual, and I would say for me it really hits home because it’s an identity that I can use to just feel free to love whoever I want,” Olson said. “It means a lot to me because for a while when I was little, I always felt this way but could never put a label to it.”

Harper discussed the progression of their identity over time as they learned more about terms within the LGBTQ+ community and as their attraction changed over time.

“I started identifying first as bisexual because that was the word I knew,” Harper said. “I shifted to queer because it helped to explain a little bit more of my experience beyond just sexuality. [Then] I started using the term polysexual because I think it’s actually more accurate for how I experienced attraction.”

Speakers then started to discuss the societal challenges that the Bi/Pan/Poly community faces due to lack of understanding.

“So often people in the Bi/Pan/Poly community are seen as having more privilege compared to lesbian or gay,” Harper said. “You’re often told ‘Well, you can retreat into privilege at any point you want to.’ And yet, the research shows the opposite – the research shows that bisexual people have more negative outcomes than anyone else.”

According to some panel members, the invisibility of their sexuality that comes with dating someone of a different gender is another challenge they face.

“If [two partners] appear to be different genders, then the assumption is that they’re straight,” Raymond said. “How does someone bisexual, pansexual, polysexual – how do they get seen?”

They discussed the personal- and institutional-level activism they do to try to combat the misconceptions and negative connotations that come along with being bisexual, pansexual or polysexual.

Community building, helping others to discover and explore their own identities, leading by example and having conversations with people who are curious about their community are personal activism situations the speakers face every day.

“The smallest but the most rippling form of activism is being yourself,” Obermeier said.

On a more institutional or organizational level, some panel members have experience working in LGBTQ+ activist organizations, while others plan to continue their activism through their education.

“Ideally, I’d love to get a doctorate in some kind of LGBTQ studies, Women’s studies, and eventually be a professor,” Obermeier said. “If I have my goals aligned in that kind of way – of sharing knowledge, attaining knowledge, always be willing to learn – those are my greatest strengths in being an activist.”

Even the smallest forms of activism can have the biggest impact on helping others to understand the Bi/Pan/Poly community, some panel members said.

“Everyone that’s watching right now, whether or not they’re intending to be, they’re being an activist,” Obermeier said. “And I think that’s something already very special.”