Kate Brown, Oregon’s current governor, has already made a mark in history; she’s one of the few openly bisexual women in public office in the US (others include JoCasta Zamarripa, Kyrsten Sinema, andMary González, who is pansexual). This week, she worked for another kind of visibility when she came out as a survivor of domestic violence during a debate with her Republican opponent, Dr. Bud Pierce. Brown’s open declaration is important in part because bisexual-identified women suffer disproportionately from domestic and intimate partner violence; in 2015 the Williams Institute found that 56.9% of bi women reported experiencing intimate partner violence in their lifetimes compared to 32.3% of heterosexual women and 40.4% of lesbians. Oregon bisexual activist Lynette McFadzen told LGBTQ Nation “We believe we will see more people coming out, seeking support, finding their bi community, and literally saving their own lives because of Gov. Brown sharing her story.”
Brown’s discussion of her experiences also matters because she used it to refute the ignorant, victim-blaming and harmful claims of Dr. Pierce that “A woman that has a great education and training and a great job is not susceptible to this kind of abuse by men, women or anyone,” a dangerous assumption that contributes to domestic violence going unnoticed and overlooked. Brown responded that “I’m honestly not even sure where to start. I grew up in a middle class family. I went to law school… This is not just about [having access to] power. This is about making sure women are not discriminated against because of their gender, because of their race, and because of their sexual orientation.”
Brown’s point is underscored by the high-profile case of Amber Heard’s abuse at the hands of her husband Johnny Depp earlier this year; despite the immense privileges Heard has access to, she was still emotionally and physically abused, as well as being smeared in the press and subject to specifically biphobic character assassination, which is unfortunately commonplace and which can serve to justify and normalize the abuse of bisexual women.
The gossip website Hollywood Life alleges that jealousy over her former romantic attachments was the cause: The A-list actor was uncomfortable with his estranged wife’s “lesbian friends.” The site claims, “Amber’s bisexual past was reportedly a big problem.” If you didn’t catch the sneaky suggestion of infidelity, the National Enquirer is happy to clear it up any confusion: “Johnny was surrounded by women who kept him fretting about his bisexual bride’s lesbian past!” According to the mag, the “other women” in question included photographer Tasya Van Ree, to whom Heard was formerly engaged, and model/actress Cara Delevingne.
The year so far has been characterized by highs and lows for the bisexual community; the coming out of numerous public figures like Amandla Stenberg, Mara Wilson, Bella Thorne, Rebecca Sugar, Stephanie Beatriz, Lord Ivar Mountbatten of the British Royal Family, and even Wonder Woman. A survey just this week found that the number of people in the UK identifying as bisexual rose 45% in three years. The White House held its first-ever open bisexual community briefing this year. However, as is the case for so many vulnerable and marginalized groups, like trans women, visibility doesn’t mean that problems go away — in some cases, hypervisibility can increase danger. And unfortunately, it doesn’t mean stigma is over, either; a controversial story in the YA lit community this month showed us that, with trade publication Voya Magazine warning readers that YA novel Run includes “many references to Bo [one of the main characters] being bisexual and an abundance of bad language, so it is recommended for mature junior and senior high readers” — even though Bo doesn’t have sex in the book and heterosexual characters do, making the content warning specifically about her sexual orientation.
Kate Brown’s brave explanation illustrates the tension of the current point in history; she’s gained access to legislative power and made history as the first openly bisexual governor in the US, but is still subject to at least some of the same violence that the bisexual community as a whole faces. Brown also faces election this November, when she’ll fight to stay in office where she can attempt to address the fact that “more than half of Oregon women and girls experience domestic or sexual violence during their lifetime.”