Amy Andre

Bi Leadership Up North: Health Pioneer Cheryl Dobinson

Filed By Amy Andre | January 25, 2012 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, The Movement
Tags: bisexual, research, support group, toronto

Cheryl_Dobinson.jpgCanadian Cheryl Dobinson, MA, is one of the leaders in the bi health movement - and a major mover-and-shaker in the bi community among our neighbors to the north.

A bisexual writer, researcher, and activist, Cheryl is currently the Director of Community Programming at Planned Parenthood Toronto, and she is also involved in research on bisexual mental health issues as well as on sexual orientation and health disparities through the Centre for Addiction & Mental Health.

In addition to working on projects such as the bi women's zine she founded in 2002, The Fence, she facilitates support groups, leads workshops and teaches courses on bisexuality.

In 2003, Cheryl changed the way North Americans thought about bi health - if it was thought of at all! - when she wrote "Improving the Access and Quality of Public Health Services for Bisexuals," a 40-page report published by the Ontario Public Health Association (OPHA). Recently, I caught up with Cheryl to see what she's been up to in the time since this foundational piece was released.

Amy Andre: It's been 9 years since your publication for the OPHA came out. What changes have you seen, when it comes to bi health, in the near decade since you wrote it?

Cheryl Dobinson: When I started reviewing the literature available at that time, I was surprised to find out how little was known about bisexual health specifically. Most research grouped bi people with gay men or lesbians, which meant that we didn't have a picture of whether or how our health as a community might differ from that of gay, lesbian and heterosexual people's health.

The main change I've seen since then is an increase in research and knowledge about bisexual health, including population-based research, which has helped build our current understanding of the health disparities that bisexuals experience compared to other sexual orientation groups. For example, we now know that our community reports a higher incidence of mental health issues, the most prominent and alarming being suicidality. There has also been some exploration of potential reasons for these health inequities, with a focus on experiences of minority stress and the impact biphobia has on our health. As we develop an understanding of what our unique health issues are and the underlying causes, we're better able to work towards positive change.

A recent example of action coming out of research is a bisexual anti-stigma campaign developed in 2011 by the Re:searching for LGBTQ Health at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.

Amy Andre: What are you working on now?

Cheryl Dobinson: I'm involved with an amazing research study at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, led by Dr. Lori Ross, called "Risk and Resilience among Bisexual People in Ontario: A Community-Based Study of Bisexual Mental Health." This 3 year project will survey 800 bisexual people from across Ontario to learn about their mental health and their experiences with mental health services.

I also co-facilitate a bi education and support group called "The B Side" which is offered through Sherbourne Health Center here in Toronto. We've been offering the group 1-2 times a year for about 5 years now and it's a really popular and successful program.

Even though I do in fact have a full-time day job, it's important to me to stay involved in the field of bisexual health.

Amy Andre: Where do you see the future of the bi movement?

Cheryl Dobinson: I see the future of the bi movement as one in which we work with and as part of the larger LGBT movement while continuing to create our own spaces and take action on bi-specific issues when needed. I also envision the bi movement growing as more and more non-bi allies join in challenging biphobia and supporting bi inclusion. I've seen this trend over the last decade and am optimistic that things will keep moving in that direction. I also think that we'll continue to connect online and through bi conferences to maintain a strong bi movement that extends beyond our local settings. I personally find it very meaningful and empowering to be linked to bi activists from across Canada, the US, and beyond.

Amy Andre: How would you describe the bi community in Toronto?

Cheryl Dobinson: I love being part of the bi community in Toronto; I've found it to be a welcoming home within the larger queer community. There are a lot of different things going on right now in Toronto for bi people, from Toronto Bisexual Network peer support meetings and monthly brunches to more structured groups like Fluid (for bi youth) and The B Side. There are also virtual ways to connect and be part of bi community here, such as email lists and Facebook groups.

At the same time, it's definitely been the case that in the last year or two there have been fewer large scale community or public events and less involvement in Pride activities. This seems to be part of the ebb and flow of bi community organizing; when everyone is a volunteer and resources are minimal it can be hard to consistently keep up energy levels. I look forward to seeing what the next wave of bi community organizing in Toronto will bring!

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