LGBTQ-affirming environments are ineffective in protecting bisexual students from already higher rates of alcohol abuse, according to a new study from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.
Researchers found that while binge drinking by their heterosexual and homosexual peers decreased as school support for LGBTQ students increased, bisexual students were left unaffected, suggesting that their needs aren’t being adequately addressed by policies and programs.
“Bisexuals often experience discrimination or bias from gays and lesbians and the heterosexual community,” said the study’s lead author Robert Coulter. “I think that affirming bisexuals needs to be present in policies and programming in all of the school’s efforts involving sexual orientation.”
Misinformed perspectives about bisexuality precipitate harmful attitudes toward bisexual students from their peers and even from faculty, said Reyna Aguilar, the director of Educational and Referral Organization for Sexuality at SF State.
“If you’re bisexual, there’s this idea that you just can’t make up your mind,” Aguilar said. “Or, you’re selfish and you want everybody. Or, there’s a lot of slut shaming for bisexuals, because if you’re attracted to multiple genders, you just must be having sex with everybody.”
Aguilar said the school could do a better job of combating bias by making sure resources are up-to-date and requiring sensitivity training for faculty. Resources at SF State include funding for workshops, conferences, reading materials, and information about off-campus counseling for marginalized sexual identities.
“If you’re feeling like you’re not being represented in these communities, then why would you go to them to begin with,” said Lindy Velasco, assistant director of the Queer and Trans Resource Center. “So it’s our responsibility to provide them with those types of resources, so folks know that they’re welcome here and it’s not just a space for gay and lesbian students.”
SF State senior and math major Rachel Tallon said she hasn’t felt any form of discrimination at school, but added that not many people at school know she identifies as bisexual.
“I haven’t really noticed anything on campus, I’m not really one to go to any of the school clubs or organizations,” Tallon said. “I mean, I’m a college student – I drink, but I don’t abuse it or binge drink.”
While Tallon hasn’t engaged with any LGBTQ organizations on campus, her experiences with the Student Health Services have left her with a positive impression of the staff who are aware of her identity.
“I think it can be a supportive environment, overall I haven’t really noticed anything,” Tallon said. “But I do know what I’ve experienced in the health center and they seem pretty easygoing. They don’t make it hard to talk about it.”
Michael Ritter, programs coordinator at the Health Promotion and Wellness Center, while surprised by the study’s findings, agreed that the group is often misunderstood and doesn’t always feel supported by the LGBTQ resources on campus.
“I do know that on our campus, bisexual students have been in leadership positions in the Queer Alliance and EROS,” said Ritter.
The study analyzed data from over 50,000 high school students and eight states. Coulter cautions that since the study only looked at high school students and didn’t control for gender or race, more research needs to be done to understand the scope of the issue.