The Ithaca Statement

Grant Denkinson reflects on the fortieth anniversary of The Ithaca Statement 

I think of being bisexual and think first of who I fancied: childhood feelings for girls, later re-evaluated feelings towards men. Thanks to bi and bi-friendly friends who cared about happiness and didn’t much care about gender combinations I was surprised, but not shocked, to consider myself bi.

I call myself bisexual in the present moment – but what if I’m not imagining someone lovely at this very moment? In the past I’ve loved people of various genders and have done so recently: should my ‘bi’ card ever expire? Extrapolating to my future, I don’t know who I will meet and love.

Why go to a bisexual event? I was welcomed and listened to through my anxiety. I was offered food, companionship and community that could ‘contain’ difference. I chose to be brave and found a more complex understanding of life.

As a friend spoke on sexuality at a local prison, I remembered Donny the Punk’s obituary and found that we were approaching the fortieth anniversary of an organised bisexual movement. Donny lived a rough life, in uncompromising punk fashion, and campaigned on prison rape. He facilitated The Ithaca Statement that came out of the Friends (Quaker) General Conference in Ithaca, New York, in June 1972. It was reported in the US gay magazine The Advocate and the Friends Journal.

Archivist Patricia C O’Donnell, at Swarthmore Friends Historical Library, Philadelphia, sent scans. I read The Advocate at the Hall-Carpenter Archives at the London School of Economics. I gained a context reading the Friends Journal at the Library of the Religious Society of Friends in London. Discussions there of love, sexuality and what makes a good marriage deepened my conversations on Quakers and love with a lover who had recently transferred membership to a London Meeting.

As Robert A Martin Jr, aka Donny the Punk, wrote: ‘… the first organized effort by bisexuals to organize themselves in American history was taking place… one hundred and thirty Friends showed up’.

The Ithaca Statement asks:

  • ‘Are Friends open to examining in our Meetings facets of sexuality, including bisexuality, with openness and loving understanding?
  • ‘Are Friends aware that Friends are suffering in our Meetings because they are not exclusively heterosexual? That Friends have felt oppressed and excluded, often without conscious intent; have felt inhibited from speaking Truth as they experience it? That Quaker institutions have threatened their employees with loss of jobs should their orientations become known?
  • ‘Are Friends, with their long tradition of concern for social justice, aware of the massive and inescapable bigotry in this area directed and perpetuated by virtually all United States institutions, to wit: all branches of government; churches; schools; employers; landlords; medical, bar and other professional associations; insurance companies; news media; and countless others?
  • ‘Are Friends aware of their own tendency to falsely assume that any interest in the same sex necessarily indicates an exclusively homosexual orientation and to further falsely assume that interest in the opposite sex necessarily indicates an exclusively heterosexual orientation?’

Questions on false assumptions, unconscious exclusion and openness to examining sexuality, including bisexuality, remain relevant. Legal equality is incomplete. How will it be in another forty years?

The anniversary of The Ithaca Statement was on the 24 June – 1 July 2012. This article was published by The Friend, the Quaker weekly journal, on 12 Jul 2012.