Meet Brenda Howard
Brenda Howard

Say the name Brenda Howard to most members of the LGBT+ community, and you are likely to be met with a blank look.

But bisexual Howard, who was married to a man, sowed the seed for the most critical event in the LGBT+ calendar – Pride. Despite this and her outspoken bi activism, she isn’t exactly a household name. Indeed, Howard is sometimes even erroneously referred to as straight in documentaries and articles, despite her prolific bi activism and the fact she was responsible for setting up the New York Area Bisexual Network and the first ever bisexual Alcoholics Anonymous chapter.

Pride grew out of the Christopher Street Liberation Day march, which Howard was responsible for organising on the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots in June 1970. She also came up with the idea of organising workshops, talks and other events around the march, giving birth to the concept of not only a Pride march but also a Pride festival. As a bi activist, Howard also worked to increase visibility and understanding of the BDSM and polyamory communities, making her even more groundbreaking for her time. “Bi, poly, switch,” Howard once said during a speech. “I’m not greedy; I know what I want.”

Howard’s relative absence from the history books is a prime example of why we need things like the annual Bi Visibility Day, which fell yesterday (September 23).

Bisexuals are too often erased by the LG(B)T community, accused of having the benefit of “straight privilege” and not being “fully gay” enough to qualify for marginalised status. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Bisexuals are too often rejected in both straight and gay society, existing in a hinterland between the two. We’re too gay to be straight and too straight to be gay. Some people even question our existence full-stop.

That said, significant moves have pushed Howard, who died in 2005, into the spotlight.

PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) launched its Brenda Howard Award, honouring bi advocates, in the year she passed away. Winners include her husband, Larry Nelson, and Denarii Grace awarded the prize for her intersectional work with bi+ identity, disability, Blackness, and fat acceptance. Given that intersectionality was at the heart of everything Howard stood for, an apt choice.

Howard was arrested several times for her activism. Once, she was arrested for protesting against firing an out lesbian in the Georgia state attorney general’s office, and another time she was arrested for protesting for free national healthcare. As Nelson said in Remembering Brenda: An Ode To The “Mother Of Pride”, “You needed some help organising some protest or something in social justice? You had to call her, and she’ll say when and where.”

Howard passed away on June 28 2005 – the 36th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. A summer of Prides is just about petering out, but her legacy remains. So next time you feel tempted to shout “Breeders” at the bi contingent on a Pride march, remember who it all came from. Without this brave bisexual pioneer, you wouldn’t even be there.