Editors’ Note: This story is a part of the #BiStories project, the first national survey exploring the intersections of bisexual Americans and the need for comprehensive non-discrimination protections. The #BiStories Project is proudly led by BiNet USA and Freedom for All Americans. Learn more about the #BiStories Project here – and click here to submit your own.
For Christi Sessa, living as openly bisexual in her small Indiana town has been challenging, but it’s an identity she has come to embrace and which directly influences her passionate support of LGBT nondiscrimination protections and equal treatment for all people.
Christi grew up in a very small evangelical community where few people were openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. She recalls having her first crush on a girl at around age 10, but immediately buried her feelings, believing it was wrong to feel that way and that she was not allowed to act on them. “There was really no open conversation or visibility for anyone who did not identify strictly as straight,” she says.
That experience caused her to repress her sexual orientation for some time and not allow herself to feel any attraction at all — until she met someone she truly bonded with and whom she dated for a little over a year. She opened up to him, explaining that she felt she may also like girls. With his support and the support of several friends in her high school who were openly LGBT, Christi began to realize that maybe being bisexual was not such a bad thing. She acknowledges that much of her bisexual identity also stemmed from understanding her gender identity as nonbinary, explaining, “I knew I was not a boy, but I never saw myself as a girl either.”
She came to terms with being nonbinary at about 15 years old, and came out as bisexual shortly afterwards. Christi’s parents were initially hesitant about bisexuality as a valid identity, and believed in some dangerous stereotypes for several years: that bisexuality is not real, people who identify as bisexual are promiscuous, and even if you do think you’re bisexual, you should choose to date the opposite gender. But after she came out to them, they were welcoming, and have grown to become even more supportive.
Today, Christi is caught in the middle of one of the most high-profile states in recent years in the nondiscrimination fight, due to Governor Mike Pence’s staunch opposition to LGBT protections and his signing of the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act in spring 2015, which allows individuals and businesses to discriminate against LGBT individuals. The legislation caused enormous national criticism. Following tremendous pressure, Gov. Pence signed legislation limiting the ways the law could be used against LGBT Hoosiers, but LGBT people are far from protected by discrimination in state law.
For Christi, the lack of legislation has personal consequences. She recalls working as a waitress at a restaurant that was extremely unwelcoming and where she did not feel she could be openly bisexual. “I definitely would have felt differently and more comfortable if I knew there was a law in place that protected me,” she says. “The restaurant was very stern about traditional gender roles. Kitchen work was for men, and serving was for women. Breaking from those roles — and embracing any sexual orientation or gender identity that was not straight and cisgender — was very much frowned upon.”
Last year, she attended a public forum for the Goshen City Council on the proposed nondiscrimination ordinance at only 19 years old, speaking about her discomfort coming out at her job as a waitress without any protections. She was the youngest person to speak in front of the council. “I knew, even though I was in a small town, there was no way I could be the only person feeling this way.”
A vote on the ordinance has now been delayed until after the election, but Christi hopes to continue her LGBT advocacy once she completes her studies. “I definitely want to do more activism in the future, and I want to work specifically with LGBT youth. Here in the midwest, a lot of homeless shelters are run by Christian organizations and a lot of LGBT youth don’t feel safe there. I’ve been surrounded by Christianity my entire life, but I don’t think many Christians quite realize that the way they treat LGBT people within their community is a form of violence. It’s sad.” Because of Indiana’s anti-LGBT RFRA, many of the shelters Christi mentions in her home state are free to turn away LGBT youth.
For Christi, #BiWeek is an important time to talk about the unique challenges and forms of discrimination faced by bisexual people — not just in employment, but across the spectrum of their unique lives. “Out of any group that does not identify as straight in their sexual orientation, the bisexual community makes up the largest group,” she points out. “There are the most of us, and yet we are the ones who are discriminated against and completely ignored. There is also a large intersection between rates of assault and being LGBT. Research shows that for a bisexual person with a female body, like myself, I am more likely to be sexually assaulted in my life than not. It’s a big problem, and more needs to be done.”