Governor Brown Sets Precedent for Bisexual Visibility

Photo Courtesy of Josh Goldberg, Wikimedia

Kate Brown, former secretary of state, made inaugural history after becoming the nation’s first openly bisexual governor on Feb. 18, following the resignation of Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber in the aftermath of an influence-peddling scandal involving his fiancée.

While Kitzhaber sits under investigation by the Oregon Department of Justice and the FBI, Brown is making headlines as a prominent figure for bisexual visibility.

Brown, who is a 24-year veteran of the state legislature and secretary of state’s office, has an extensive political career with the Democratic Party and is known for shooting down antigay ballots. She has also often used her platform to speak on the difficulties she faced being closeted and how she has been able to overcome those struggles by coming to terms with her sexual orientation.

She was not always a catalyst for social change, however.

In the early years of her political career, an Oregon newspaper told Brown that they would be outing her in their newspaper after she first began dating women and she was forced to go public about her sexuality.

In later interviews, she cited instances of rejection by gay friends who called her “half-queer,” and people who generally seemed to invalidate her identity and lived experiences. She also noted that upon learning about her sexuality, many of her legislative colleagues made inappropriate sexual advances.

Her experiences are common of bisexual narratives, where discussions on LGBT issues frequently fall flat on advocating for bisexual identities. Even progressive thinkers and activists within the LGBT rights movement tend to overlook bisexual struggles because of the widespread animosity that exists in queer spaces.

In addition to the number of comments made by people in Brown’s life, even her parents said that it would be easier if she were just a lesbian.

This sentiment is just one example of how bisexual erasure and biphobia are rampant in and out of LGBT communities.

While there are about 525 openly LGBT public officials in office at all levels of government, where about 20 are Republicans, according to the Gay & Lesbian National Victory Fund, bisexual identities are rarely recognized. In fact, bi-erasure, or lack of visibility and acknowledgment for bisexuals, is all too common.

People who identify as bisexual tend to be left out of many conversations concerning gender and sexual minorities, since they are often portrayed as being confused or in an in-between stage of coming to terms with their identity.

And even when mainstream media outlets acknowledge bisexual people, they have some of the worst representation. One representation is that bisexuality is synonymous with sexual promiscuity, but this is far from true for many bisexual people. Bisexuals are negatively framed as being confused or “wanting it all,” more than lesbian and gay people are, which invalidates the experiences of people in this identity group.

They too face oppression and marginalization from institutions of power upon disclosure or expression of their sexuality if they are in a same-sex or unconventional relationship.

Brown’s success is a milestone for the LGBT community, but what is especially poignant is the media attention that she and the bisexual community have received. Like first openly bisexual congresswoman, Krysten Sinema, and first openly lesbian senator, Tammy Baldwin, Brown is another pioneering American politician fighting for LGBT social and political rights. Hopefully one day this fight will be obsolete.