Bisexual Health Matters at Indiana University – Locally and Globally

Over recent decades, public health practitioners have struggled for recognition and visibility of the unique health concerns of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has responded to a recent report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) with urgent calls for innovative research to understand and improve health among diverse groups of LGBTI, which NIH is increasingly describing as sexual and gender minority (SGM) individuals and communities. Bisexual individuals are a particularly at-risk and understudied sub-population. Most previous social and behavioral science health research has collapsed lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals into a monolithic category of “LGB” – masking important intra-group differences. In those studies that have examined bisexual individuals as separate and distinct from exclusively homosexual and heterosexual individuals, bisexual men and women have consistently been found to report the highest rates of depression, anxiety, alcohol and substance use, violence and victimization, bullying, suicidality, eating disorders, sexual risk behavior, unintended pregnancy, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STI), and sexual violence. Indeed, the IOM report makes an explicit call for more research on the specific health issues faced by bisexual individuals.

Bisexual Health at IU

It is for these reasons that Center for Sexual Health Promotion faculty members Drs. Brian Dodge and Dennis Fortenberry, in the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington, are excited to announce the launch of a new series of research, education and training activities – Bisexual Health @ IU – focused on sexual health among bisexual individuals and communities in March 2015, which also coincides with Bisexual Health Awareness Month. In collaboration with academic and community partners near and far, Dodge has maintained a bisexual health research agenda since his time as a postdoctoral research fellow at Columbia University. In less than a decade, he has conducted a series of exploratory studies on sexual health among diverse groups of bisexual men and women as close as Indianapolis and as distant as Mumbai, India, which have been funded by NIH and a range of other agencies. Fortenberry, an internationally renowned senior scientist with an unparalleled track record of funded research in adolescent sexual health and a long an illustrious history of training supervision, has mentored Dodge and was instrumental in envisioning and elevating the bisexual health-related activities at the center to a programmatic level. After attaining core support for the initiative, Drs. Dodge and Fortenberry plan to use Bisexual Health @ IU to incubate further innovative and insightful research, to provide mentorship and support for students and junior scholars, and to continue to engage in collaboration with colleagues across a wide range of academic and community-based organizations, particularly a newly formed multi-institutional initiative in which Indiana University will play a significant role with putting and keeping bisexual health on the map.

While formalizing the Bisexual Health @ IU initiative locally, Dodge and Fortenberry have joined forces with Drs. Wendy Bostwick of Northern Illinois University and Judith Bradford of The Fenway Institute, Ms. Ellyn Ruthstrom of The Bisexual Resource Center, and other members of the recently formed Bisexual Research Collaborative on Health (BiRCH). The group includes over 20 academic, community, and policy experts – whose home bases range from The Fenway Institute, University of California at Berkeley, Harvard University, University of British Columbia, the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR), and many more– who convened in Boston in June 2014, spearheaded by Bostwick and Bradford with institutional support from The Fenway Institute and funding from NIH. The members of the collective agreed to move forward with the mission of advocating for further scientific research on bisexual health in order to raise awareness, enhance visibility, and create change.

The ultimate goals of the collaborative are to diminish health disparities and improve health and wellbeing among bisexual individuals and communities globally. Knowing these are no easy tasks, the team identified and applied for competitive financial support and were recently awarded with a $30,000 grant from Indiana University; the funds will allow the group to retain a consultant who will maintain internal and external communication systems and structures, and will also provide resources for a subsequent national meeting of BiRCH members and guests. The group also plans a series of strategic scientific publications and presentations over the next two years in which they will engage in dialogue with academic, community, and policy audiences and share ongoing work. The group is active and has no shortage of activities on which to report. For example, Dr. Bostwick has just received funding for a two year R21 study on mental health among diverse bisexual women, entitled “E-diaries to Assess Health Effects of Microaggressions,” from the National Institute on Minority Health & Health Disparities. Dr. Dodge has been on a circuit of invited presentations for his own research on bisexual men, including a recent event at the George Washington University Graduate Program in LGBT Health Policy & Practice, as well as an upcoming school-wide talk at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health on April 7, 2015, sponsored by the JHSPH LGBT Working Group. As part of the new local initiative, Dodge wants to bring cutting-edge bisexual health experts to share their work at IU.

To commemorate the launch of Bisexual Health @ IU, the team will welcome Dr. Miguel Muñoz-Laboy, Associate Professor at the Temple University School of Social Work, who will visit Indiana University-Bloomington on March 24, 2015, to share an overview of a decade of truly unique research on sexual health among bisexual Latino men. Muñoz-Laboy and Dodge met while in the postdoctoral fellowship at Columbia University and have remained close colleagues and friends since then, collaborating on a number of initiatives including a co-authored paper on Latino bisexual men’s HIV/STI risk in American Journal of Public Health. Muñoz-Laboy’s presentation, playing off a title of the classic book by the master Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, will include findings from “The Bicultural Project,” funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, a multi-year mixed methods R01 study aimed at examining the intersections of sexual health and mental health risk factors among behaviorally bisexual Latino men in New York City. This lecture will be the first in a series of ongoing seminars (tentatively one in the spring semester and one in the fall semester) focused broadly on bisexual health research, education, and practice. The lectures will be open to the Bloomington community and will also be archived on the Center for Sexual Health Promotion’s website.

 “After many long and often painful years of invisibility and exclusion, it is so encouraging to see such a flurry of good news and exciting activities involving bisexual health,” Dodge said. “The significance of the health disparities that bisexual individuals and communities face cannot be overstated, and the lack of any discussion or validation of these disparities acts to drive them down even further. We are hopeful that 2015 will be the year that bisexual health finally becomes part of our everyday conversations in public health, not just in LGBT health but in public health, locally and globally.”


 BIRCH

Because there are as many self-identified bisexual people as there are gay and lesbian people combined ... and because bisexual people tend to report the poorest physical, mental, and other health outcomes, as well as unique health care needs ... the Bisexual Research Collaborative on Health (BiRCH) endorses Bisexual Health Awareness Month and advocates for further scientific research on bisexual health in order to raise awareness, enhance visibility, and create change with the ultimate goals of diminishing health disparities and improving health and wellbeing among bisexual individuals and communities globally.