Chicago’s bisexual community gains visibility as UIC launches Bi-Quest
The university’s first bi-focused group seeks to create connections within and advocate for Chicago’s often overlooked bisexual community.
Chicago, IL — The title alone of a recently released article in the New York Times Magazine, “The Scientific Quest to Prove Bisexuality Exists,” raised debate and concern within the bi and wider LGBTQ communities, with many seeing the necessity to “prove” the existence of bisexuality as simply another instance of bi erasure. The University of Illinois-Chicago, on the other hand, is fighting biphobia by promoting bi visibility and community building — this semester the university (recently named one of the top 25 LGBTQ-friendly schools in the nation) launched its first official group specifically targeting the bi community and the issues it faces.
“Bi-Quest strives to empower, validate and support the bisexual and questioning/queer community,” Marcos “Marc” Flores, President and Founder of Bi-Quest, told ChicagoPride.com. “Our mission is to make sure that bisexuals feel comfortable and safe in the heterosexual AND homosexual spaces that are part of Chicago. The entire group is student led and formed.”
According to the group’s faculty sponsor, UIC did have a group of bisexual women who held several meetings about 10 years ago, but Bi-Quest is a new venture for the university and its Gender and Sexuality Center. Bi-Quest is the only group at UIC that addresses topics concerning “bisexuals, pansexuals, omnisexuals, fluid, queer, questioning, ally and curious folks.” Flores, a student of applied psychology, stresses that the group is incredibly inclusive — their members span ethnic and racial backgrounds, represent a multitude of gender expressions and several are actually straight.
Bi-Quest came to be after UIC’s Gender and Sexuality Center held a Bisexual Dinner in Boystown back in September of 2011. According to Flores, the only people at the luncheon who identified as bisexual were the faculty leader Liz Thompson and Flores himself — the other attendees were all bi allies (“or very hungry,” Flores joked).
“Liz must have seen something in me because ever since that luncheon I have been a huge bisexual advocate and organizer for the university and other university students in Chicago,” Flores said.
Bi-Quest officially launched this semester, two and a half years after that fateful luncheon. In addition to holding “bi-monthly” meetings on Wednesdays at 1 p.m. at UIC’s Gender and Sexuality Center, the group also releases a newsletter detailing discussion topics and points from previous meetings, upcoming events and community resources. Nearly all members are currently UIC students, but Bi-Quest also has about 20 online only members who receive and respond to the newsletter.
The fledgling group, which Flores said is mostly made up of UIC’s junior and senior class at this time, is still growing and defining itself. Flores brought on Daina Almario-Kopp, a senior in the undergrad Gender and Women’s Studies at UIC and Fashion Design at Columbia, to tackle the group’s public affairs. Almario-Kopp is a longtime advocate for both bi and trans rights, having spent most of her time in New York and Berlin prior to moving to Chicago in 1990, and brings with her a wealth of knowledge about advocacy and community building.
When she lived in New York, Almario-Kopp was a member of GLYNY (Gay and Lesbian Youth of New York) — was one of the country’s first Gay and Lesbian youth groups before the B(isexual) and T(ransgender) were even added — and while in Berlin, Kopp was a member of a bisexual women’s book group. After moving to Chicago, Almario-Kopp continued to participate in the bisexual community, but saw a contrast with what she’d previously encountered in the east and overseas.
“It’s odd, considering that when I lived in New York City and Berlin I never experienced biphobia there,” Almario-Kopp, Bi-Quest’s Vice President, told ChicagoPride.com. “In those cities, it was simply a non-issue – nobody cared. And that was back in the ’80s!”
Here in Chicago, bi groups and resources are a little more sporadic. Alamario-Kopp just ended her position as Research and Education Chairperson for the BQAC (Bisexual Queer Alliance Chicago), a group founded by the legendary Dr. Michael Oboza, who wrote bi-related articles for Gay Chicago when it was in print. TheCenter on Halsted hosts two bisexual events — a Bisexual Discussion Group on the first and third Tuesday of the month from 7 to 9 p.m. and a Bisexual Movie Night on the second and fourth Monday of the month, same time. Lastly, the newly reopened Gerber/Hart Library (now at 6500 N Clark) also hosts a Bi-Trans-Queer Book Discussion Group on the third Friday of the month (their next meeting, on April 18, is on “The Scientists: a Family Romance” by Marco Roth).
In comparison to the Windy City’s multitude of resources targeting the G(ay) and L(esbian) members of the LGBT acronym, those targeting the B(isexual) community are few and far between. A prime example just occurred: March was Bisexual Health Awareness Month and Bi-Quest requested someone from UIC to attend a meeting and talk about issues related to bisexual health. The university admitted that they didn’t have anything specifically targeted for bisexuals — or gays, lesbians or trans* folk for that matter.
“They are actually looking into creating something for us, which is great, but it goes to show you that a center that is designed to promote healthy student behavior is still not ready to talk about bisexual specific health,” Flores said. “Bi-Quest as a group, however, has created a new short brochure and has had discussions on bi-related health tips like ‘how to combat bi-phobia’ for this wonderful bi friendly month.”
So, why is there such a lack of resources and advocacy groups for the bi community? The question hinges on a long history of oppression faced by bisexual folks within the both the alternative gay sphere and the mainstream straight one. Both Flores and Almario-Kopp agree that a lot of stigmatization surrounds bisexuality, which has lead many bisexuals to stay in the closet, fearful to come out due to the biphobia rampant around them.
Many gay men sexualize bisexual-identified men for a perceived masculinity (supposedly derived from a desire to sleep with women) while lesbians will be wary of a bi girl who they may assume is sleeping with women either out of boredom or a desire to pique the interest of heterosexual men. Visa versa, straight men tend to sexualize bi women, while much of the straight (and, for that matter, gay) world see bisexuaity as a stopping point for men on their way to going full blown gay. These are just a taste of the harmful stereotypes that have lead to bi erasure, the problem of bi folks being ignored and assumed to be either gay or straight, and an ignorance about not only bisexuality, but sexuality itself.
“The stereotype that bisexuals are promiscuous is false because bisexuality is a feeling and does not necessarily imply action. One can feel attracted to either males or females or both — or trans folks, etc — but that does not mean that one is ‘doing’ any of these individuals,” Almario-Kopp points out, using both her mother (a straight woman who hasn’t kissed a man since the mid-80s) and her high school self (mostly celibate despite an attraction to both men and women) as examples. “Sexuality isn’t black and white, it is a spectrum, as has been demonstrated since Kinsey’s research, through the Klein Sexual Orientation Grid, and other researchers.”
One of the things Flores emphasizes in Bi-Quest is its inclusivity. Also nodding to the Kinsey’s scale (which place an individual’s sexual behavior and attraction on a scale of 0 — exclusively heterosexual — to 6 — exclusively homosexual), he points out that most folks fall within the 1-2 or 4-5 range, with very few identifying as 3’s (bisexuals equally attracted to men and women). A lot of the time 1’s and 5’s and even 2’s and 4’s identify as either gay or straight, meaning that a lot of potentially bi folk get lost in the shuffle and few remain to speak up for the rest.
“We end up ‘losing’ people who don’t identify as bisexual because although they may have some bisexual behavior, they are predominantly gay or straight,” Flores explained. “This is also why Bi-Quest added the QU(estioning) or QU(eer) part of our name — we wanted to incorporate those people who may be bisexual in nature but do not want to take up that label. If they do take it eventually that is up to them but that is a decision they have to make on their own, we are only here to help them on their QUEST to that decision.”
Another problem of bi visibility stems from the fact that bisexuality simply isn’t that easy to identify. This leads the general public to assume and impose labels on bi folks without their approval. For example, Almario-Kopp is married with a daughter, so often presumed to be straight by the wider world, while Flores is currently in a relationship with a man (despite usually being primarily sexually attracted to men while more emotionally attracted to women) and is often assumed to be gay when the two are seen out together. As the years pass, however, this seems to be changing.
“Increasingly, it seems to be the older generation who still holds on to a black and white, polarized view of sexual orientation.,” Almario-Kopp said. “The younger generation — in their teens and 20s –seem to be avoiding labels and being more accepting of bisexuals.”
Fueled by the voices of this younger generation, Bi-Quest seeks to not only raise discussion and awareness of bisexuality, but to reach out and advocate as well. At the moment, the group has two definite upcoming events. In mid to late May they are holding a bisexual beach event for all Bi-Quest members and allies. Bi-Quest is also collaborating with the Pride group at UIC who hosts the Mass-Queer-Raid, a masquerade ball that takes place after the university’s “lavender graduation” on May 2. The Lav Grad, as it is known, is a special graduation ceremony for LGBTQA students and staff — 2014 will be its eighth year.
“I have found that Bi-Quest is similar to other LGBT groups in that we share the same passion and commitment to empower people and help them develop into better human beings,” Flores said. “We understand that bisexuality is only a part of your identity and that it should be nourished and understood like the rest of what makes you unique.”
“What I think sets us apart is that we like to make brochures and share information with people and organizations,” he continued. “In many cases we are asked to supply this information and ideas for other groups and clubs hosting events. For example, we were asked to be a part of a ‘Safe Zone’ video that would be shared to teach others about how to be a bisexual ally. Advocacy is a big part of our organization.”
Bi-Quest is still building an internet presence, but should be included on UIC’s site for the Gender and Sexuality Center after its upcoming revamping (http://gopride.com/Za42).
Until then, anyone seeking more information about Bi-Quest or wanting to join the group can contact Marc Flores directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.