How Pride Winnipeg’s president feels about marching in 2022 parade as 1st known bisexual leader

The Pride parade this weekend will be Barry Karlenzig’s first as president of Pride Winnipeg — and it will possibly also be a first for the organization.

Karlenzig was appointed president after the Winnipeg Pride Parade in 2019, the last year the big event took place due to the pandemic. 

In preparation for a return in 2022, Karlenzig discovered through internal records that, at least on paper, he appears to be the first serving Pride Winnipeg president to represent the “B” in the 2SLGBTQ acronym (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer).

“It kind of surprised me, because there are so many bisexual-identified individuals within Canada,” he said.

“Then part of it also was — and it still is — is it true? Is there someone who, maybe because of being the president back in the ’90s, decided to identify as gay because being bisexual was still a faux pas?” 

Pride Winnipeg celebrates its 35th anniversary this year. Karlenzig has been involved for the past decade in one way or another.

Karlenzig poses with the bisexual flag at The Forks on Friday ahead of a busy weekend, including the Winnipeg Pride Parade on Sunday. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

As awareness of gender and sexual identities evolves, some might expect broader acceptance of people who exist beyond binary lines, including non-binary, two-spirit or bisexual identities, he said.

But that isn’t necessarily the case, Karlenzig said — he still faces biphobia, including within the queer community.

“I still have people come to me and say, ‘Hey, why can’t you pick a side?'” he said.

That question was once asked by a delegate attending an international conference for queer organizers, Karlenzig said.

“If that’s happening in 2022, go back to 1996, 1997, when Pride [Winnipeg] became an incorporated entity…. Maybe there were more … individuals of the organization who did identify as bi or pan or poly or gender non-conforming, and unfortunately at that time you were this or this.”

The Canadian Community Health Survey suggested there were 900,000 gay, lesbian and bisexual people in the country as of 2018, roughly 3.3 per cent of the population. Slightly more (1.8 per cent versus 1.5 per cent) identified as bisexual than as gay or lesbian.

Women were twice as likely to identify as bisexual than as lesbian or gay, while queer men were nearly 50 per cent more likely to identify as gay than bi.

Rusty Souleymanov is an assistant professor in the faculty of social work at the University of Manitoba who researches 2SLGBTQ issues. (Submitted by Rusty Souleymanov)

Younger people were also more likely to identify as bisexual: 36.2 per cent of bi people surveyed were in the 15 to 24 age group; 13.7 per cent of heterosexual people were in that age group.

Despite what seems to be a growing number of bisexual people, they are less likely to be “out” with the people closest to them, the survey suggests.

“We know that bisexual individuals are so much more likely to hide their identity,” said Rusty Souleymanov, an assistant professor in the faculty of social work at the University of Manitoba. 

“Clear categories like ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ are palatable to us, palatable to society, so once you bring something more complex like bisexuality, society kind of pushes back on that, and I think that’s what is at the heart of it.”

8:20March is Bisexual Health Awareness Month

Bisexual, pansexual and queer people face unique stigma in society. Guest host Emily Brass talks to Rusty Souleymanov, assistant professor in the faculty of social work at the University of Manitoba, about the potential barriers to care as part of Bisexual Health Awareness Month.

A Pew Research analysis in the U.S. in 2019 suggested bisexual people were out to a fifth of the most important people in their lives, compared to three-quarters of gay and lesbian respondents.

Souleymanov said bisexual and pansexual people face unique social and generational pressures to conform to a monosexual identity — attraction to strictly one gender.

Winnipeg artist James Culleton paints a rainbow walkway at The Forks on Friday. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

“We see that kind of bi erasure quite a lot,” said Souleymanov, director of the community-based health research Village Lab at the U of M.

“Bi erasure is the problematic dismissal by some people of the existence of bisexuality, so sometimes we hear, ‘Oh, are you really bisexual? I assure you [you’re] just gay or lesbian.'”

That erasure impacts community health. Bi people have less access to services tailored to their unique sexual health, social and education needs, Souleymanov said.

One study found bisexual women and men reported a six- and seven-fold increased chance, respectively, of suicidal ideation in their lifetimes compared to heterosexuals.

Souleymanov’s research suggests there’s a need for more informed policy, culturally sensitive resources, inclusivity training for health-care providers and greater destigmatization campaigns.

“Sexual identities are really not static. They’re more flexible and that social space is also changing throughout time,” Souleymanov said.

“That’s what’s so beautiful about the category of bisexuality. It really destabilizes … our notions of monosexuality, our notions of homosexuality.… It’s important to acknowledge that people might be at a variety of many intersections.”

Barry Karlenzig, right, and his partner Emery Wilson are engaged. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

Karlenzig is proud to possibly be the first bi president of Pride Winnipeg. 

He also feels a responsibility to advocate for trans, non-binary and Black, Indigenous and other queer people of colour.

“I am a cis[gender] white bisexual male, which yes, is still not equal rights, but it’s a lot better than a lot of our BIPOC community and a lot of our Indigenous communities,” he said. 

“It’s up to me to take that privilege and that power … to help build up the rest of the acronym.”

The progress Pride flag adds a chevron to the traditional rainbow design that includes black and brown stripes to represent people of colour, while the light blue and pink stripes represent trans and non-binary people. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

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