This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post on April 13, 2018.
In a USA Today opinion column published Thursday, contributor James Bovard takes issue with a new study finding 36 percent of students at colleges and universities experienced food insecurity in the last month. The study looked at data from 43,000 students at two- and four-year schools from 20 states and Washington, D.C. Researchers also found that 36 percent of students experienced housing insecurity in the past year.
Despite what appears to be a crisis for many students across the country, according to Bovard, “better research shows” these young people are simply “overweight and lazy.”
You have been warned: Bovard’s column is rife with hateful stereotyping and mean-spirited bullying.
The study, conducted by researchers at Temple University and the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, found that homosexual students were at greater risk for food and housing insecurity than their heterosexual peers, and that bisexual students were even more vulnerable.
“Almost half of the more than 2,000 bisexual students at universities experienced food and/or housing insecurity, compared to about one-third of their heterosexual peers,” researchers found.
The study also uncovered that “more than one in five bisexual community college students and 18% of homosexual community college students experienced homelessness, compared to 11% of their heterosexual peers.”
These may seem like shocking statistics ― and they are. But given other data about the challenges facing bisexual youth, they are not surprising. More on that data shortly, but first, let’s let Bovard give us his take on what he calls the “dumpster data” in the new report:
More than 10% of the respondents from four-year colleges labeled themselves “bisexual,” and half of bisexual students allegedly go hungry. Are they too busy cavorting with both genders to eat, or what? If there were a national conspiracy to starve bisexuals, we would’ve heard about it before now.
Despite all of my work researching the disparities among bisexual communities, I’d never heard that one: We’re “too busy cavorting with both genders to eat.” I almost want to congratulate Bovard on his fresh brand of bigotry.
Bovard is a libertarian columnist for USA Today and The Hill, and has published several books on the threats to American democracy presented by, well, pretty much everything in our current culture. So I write today not to change his mind, for I fear that might be a Sisyphean task. Instead, I write to educate those who might think he has a point, and to let the bisexual and pansexual students out there who endure food and housing insecurity know that their experiences are valid.
In general, data show that bisexual people are much more likely to be low-income than gay, lesbian and straight people. In a 2013 report, the Pew Research Center found 48 percent of bisexual adults lived on an annual household income of less than $30,000, compared to 28 percent of all U.S. adults.
Thirty-four percent of bisexual women ages 18 to 44 used food stamps in the previous year, compared to 24 percent of heterosexual women, according to a 2016 report by the Williams Institute that looked at a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey from 2011-2013. Forty-two percent of bisexual adults raising children participated in SNAP in the last year, Williams said, citing a 2014 CDC survey.
Bisexual people also face barriers to basic health care. According to a 2017 report from the Movement Advancement Project and the National Center for Transgender Equality, 33 percent of bisexual and pansexual transgender people reported not seeing a doctor in the past year due to cost, compared to 28 percent of gay and lesbian people and 25 percent of heterosexual people.
The statistics on bisexual homelessness paint an even bleaker picture: When the federal Administration on Children, Youth and Families surveyed street outreach programs in 2016, they found that 20 percent of all youth experiencing homelessness identified as bisexual. Not 20 percent of LGBTQ youth. Twenty percent of all youth.
The recent survey of college students theorized that perhaps the disproportionate rates of food and housing insecurity for LGBTQ students “are linked to the higher risk of family estrangement and consequently lower levels of family financial support.”
For bisexual youth, we know this to be true. The Human Rights Campaign’s 2014 study of LGBTQ youth found low levels of family acceptance among bisexual youth. Twenty-seven percent of bisexual youth said their families were “very accepting” of LGBTQ people, compared to 33 percent of lesbian and gay youth.
This lack of family support, combined with the discrimination that bisexual and pansexual youth face at school, has devastating consequences. As I wrote for ReWire recently, bisexual youth report poorer mental health outcomes than gay, lesbian and straight youth. Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in December found that young people who identify as bisexual are more likely to have an elevated suicide risk than their gay, lesbian or questioning peers.
This is why I’m not surprised by the new findings from Temple and the Wisconsin HOPE Lab. Bullying, biphobia, stereotypes, slurs, jokes, harassment, family rejection, invisibility, erasure and discrimination have a tangible impact on bisexual youth.
And this is why Bovard’s column was so hurtful. It’s not just that he wrote a piece full of hatred toward bisexual students; low-income people; people experiencing homelessness and hunger; women; non-binary people; and obese and overweight people. It’s also that bullying like this leads to the disparities Bovard so easily dismisses.
Bisexual youth in colleges and universities are working to educate themselves in a world that erases them. Like all other students, they deserve support and respect, not cruelty and disdain from powerful adults. These young people are our future leaders ― and the callous bigotry of blowhards like Bovard belongs in the dumpster of history.
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