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 add your own.
On a construction site, the banter and back-and-forth between workers and management team members can often be full of colorful language, dangerous stereotypes and offensive comments. Throughout his time working for a construction company based in Arizona in the early 2000s, Greg Ward felt the impact of those conversations in a unique way: As a bisexual man, he felt threatened, personally attacked by the anti-LGBT statements some of his co-workers made. To make matters worse, once talk turned to serious discussions about issues facing LGBT issues, his coworkers would clam up and blockade further comments.
It always bothered Greg, but he never fathomed that those negative feelings would ever translate to a deeply engrained rejection of LGBT people or blatant discrimination. Then one day, the jokes seemed to become more serious.
“I remember both of my bosses saying that they would never hire anyone who was gay,” Greg said, adding that it was understood they meant anyone with a sexual orientation or gender identity other than straight and cisgender. Still, he got along with his supervisors well, and he didn’t want to jeopardize his employment. “I felt like an undercover spy, since they had no idea that I was bisexual. I had come out around 2000 to a small group of people.”
In 2006, Greg was laid off from the company because of the national recession. He began to look for other jobs, but construction wasn’t a possibility, because there were few jobs available at all – no one was hiring. He found a job doing manufacturing after several years of day labor work.
In 2012 Greg came out more widely and began more publicly and openly identifying as bisexual – meaning that he had the capacity to be physically, romantically, or mentally attracted to more than one gender (not necessarily in the same way, at the same time, or to the same degree).
Throughout the years, he kept in touch with a friend from the first construction company. “He told me that the other guys would talk about me and how I came out,” Greg said. “I considered going back into the construction game – even if they made fun of me – because it paid very well, and I thought maybe I could change their minds about my bisexuality. I thought that maybe I could prove to them that you can have a bisexual man working for you, and that I do great work.”
Greg asked his friend whether there might be a job again at the company. “He gave me a look and got a little uncomfortable,” Greg said. “He said maybe it’s not a good idea – went kind of silent and wouldn’t say more. And I got the impression that this was about my old employers talking about me and my sexuality.”
Later, he texted his friend: “Do you think they wouldn’t hire me back because I’m bisexual?”
His friend replied: “Well he won’t say it’s that – but yeah, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t.”
Greg remembered what his employers had mentioned a few times – that they would never hire a gay person. “I felt like I was missing out on this great job, and that really bummed me out. I’m hurt by it – I don’t know why my sexuality matters to someone so much that they wouldn’t want to work around me. It made me feel confused.”
Arizona is one of 32 states in the country where LGBT people are not fully protected. In 29 states, people are not explicitly protected from employment, housing, or public accommodations discrimination based on sexual orientation. That leaves bisexual people like Greg vulnerable to the personal feelings and whims of their employer.
“People’s lives are really impacted by discrimination like this,” Greg said. “The reality is that people need to make money – we just came out of a really bad recession, and people got hit pretty bad and are still on the road to recovery. People’s livelihoods are really at stake here. I can’t imagine if other people are not getting the work that they need because of their sexuality – to me, that’s devastating. It’s unfair, and it’s not right.”
In 2013 Greg founded Bisexuals of Metro Phoenix, an organization that eventually became Fluid Arizona, a social group and online community for bi, pan, fluid, and queer (bi+) Arizonans.
“About 15 years ago when I first came out, I was searching for organizations – anything that brought together bisexual people near me and made me feel included – but there just wasn’t anything here in the Valley,” Greg said. “So when I came out in 2012 I decided to look again, and I had this craving to be around people like me and share our experiences – so I just created my own. Originally, it was me and a couple of friends who are bisexual, basically us hanging out, sharing stories, understanding each other’s experiences. Now it’s a thriving online community and we meet in person as a social group.
In September of each year the bi+ community celebrates Bisexual Awareness Week, an occasion to recognize and honor the unique experiences and contributions of bisexual people. In a special event at the White House, Greg was a featured speaker, sharing this story from the #BiStories project.
“It’s incredibly important to have #BiWeek,” Greg said. “You have people saying bisexuals don’t exist – and so it’s great to have the day or the week to get that information out there. I think it’s important for there to be faces out there of everyday people saying they are attracted to any gender. Visibility is vital.”