The Philly Bi Visibility Day Rally and Health Fair will take place Sept. 23 at the Board Game Art Park at 15th Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard.
This year’s rally, the second annual, runs from 2-4 p.m. Mayor Jim Kenney and others will speak; representatives from eight local LGBT organizations will be on hand as well. The event is free. There is also an after-party at Tabu, 200 S. 12th St.
Steven A. Johnston, who founded Philly Bi Visibility in September 2016, has big goals for the event.
“I hope to accomplish one thing,” he said; “providing a space for bisexual people within the city that welcomes all people and provides resources without cost.”
It promises to be a full afternoon. In addition to Kenney, State Rep. Brian Sims and Director of LGBT Affairs Amber Hikes Affairs will speak. Representatives from AIDS Fund Philly, Bebashi, COLOURS, Mazzoni Center, the Penn Medicine Program for LGBT Health, Philadelphia FIGHT and William Way LGBT Community Center also will attend.
That’s quite a lineup for an event that only held its first public event last fall. At the time, Johnston explained, he’d recently come out as bisexual. In his search for supportive organizations, he found that they were either scattered around the region or currently dormant.
Undeterred, Johnston decided to do something about that. With international Bi Visibility Day approaching, he suggested to a friend that they celebrate the day themselves, but quickly changed his mind and announced it on social media. He also contacted the city’s Office of LGBT Affairs, which helped him secure a location and a microphone.
Despite the last-minute arrangements, Johnston was optimistic. “If 10 people came, I was going to be happy,” he said.
Part of Johnston’s original impetus was personal, but he had more in mind than simply meeting fellow bisexuals. “I wanted something specifically for bisexual people, and I wanted to bring something outside of the Gayborhood so it was a little more visible,” he said.
Board Game Park turned out to be an ideal location: convenient to public transportation, close to the Reading Terminal and directly across from City Hall. In other words, it could conceivably attract the attention of passersby who would never venture into the Gayborhood.
For Johnston, that public presence was important. “I viewed Bi Visibility Day as being visible and not just to the community, but to everyone else,” he said.
The first Bi Visibility Day rally ended up drawing a decent crowd; Johnston estimates that roughly 60 people showed up. Their reaction, overwhelmingly positive, prompted him to think ahead and consider how he could improve the event.
“I am an ambitious person and thought, Let’s just do it bigger,” he said.
But Johnston wanted to do more than increase the turnout or duration of the rally. He wanted a genuine grassroots event, geared towards bisexuals and without the commercial distractions of larger public get-togethers.
“The second motivating factor, I think, was the national response to Prides in the summer, where people are paying money and it’s just corporate and all this stuff,” he said. “And I was like, ‘We’re not going to do that. I’m going to have a community event for the community, by the community.’”
The best way to accomplish that, Johnston felt, was to make local LGBT health and social-services organizations easily accessible to attendees. “If you go to our Pride, these groups are there, but you have to wade through all this other stuff,” he said.
The importance of that can’t be discounted, according to Terri Clark, prevention-services coordinator at Action Wellness. “For LGBT-health organizations to reach out to bi folks can be a first step in validating and bringing visibility to the fact that bi folks do exist,” she said.
For Clark, who will represent Action Wellness, it’s a matter of professional and personal concern. She isn’t just a sexuality educator, she’s also bisexual. Consequently, she’s aware of the many challenges confronting bisexuals.
“We know from research that has been done across the lifespan that bisexual people of all ages experience more health disparities than their gay, lesbian or hetero peers,” Clark said.
Moreover, she explained, bisexuals are misunderstood by both the general public and people who would seem to be natural allies. “Bi folks are often invisible, rejected, invalidated and stigmatized in the heterosexual communities and the gay and lesbian communities,” she said.
Although the Philly Bi Visibility Rally won’t have food vendors or corporate sponsors, it is putting bisexuals directly in touch with important resources.
As Johnston said, “I want to convey to bisexuals that there is a place for them, they are valid, loved and valued.”
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