Following the posting of last month's Transgender Awareness Week display at work, a colleague told me that he thought the oft-used phrase, "Honor Diversity," conveys the wrong idea. He is a Christian who had written an articulate and compassionate protest about the use of the word "Celebrating" in the display title, and I actually found myself agreeing with his argument. When I asked for some clarification, he explained that "Hitler was diverse, and no way he could honor Hitler."
Well, I certainly concur with that sentiment. Not only is Hitler responsible for the slaughter of Jews, in the late 1930's, he also had the institute where Magnus Hirschfield did his pioneering work on the treatment of trans people destroyed. As a member of a minority group that was slaughtered by the Nazis along with Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals, Hitler's probably the last person on earth I'd want to honor. My colleague's statement, though, led me to question just what it means to honor something.
According to Dictionary.com, honor, when used as a verb, means (among other things):
to hold in honor or high respect; revere: to honor one's parents.
to treat with honor.
to confer honor or distinction upon: The university honored him with its leadership award.
to worship (the Supreme Being).
to show a courteous regard for: to honor an invitation.
In the discussion on synonyms following the definitions, it says, "Honor suggests a combination of liking and respect."
It seems to me that definitions 13, 15, and 16 don't get at the meaning of "honoring diversity" at all. Used as a noun, as it is in #14, honor seems to mean "honesty, fairness, or integrity in one's beliefs and actions." That seems appropriate, but def. 17, "to show a courteous regard for," gets more to the intent, I think.
Then what does "diversity" mean?
the state or fact of being diverse; difference; unlikeness.
a point of difference.
So honoring diversity means to show a courteous regard for our differences, for those ways that we are unlike. In keeping with that, the Diversity and Equity Strategic Plan recently adopted by our city includes within it statements like the following: "Diversity and human rights should no longer be viewed as 'programs,' but as core values integrated into the very fiber of the organization."
To me, Hitler was the very antithesis of diversity, and his example provides the dark side of the impetus toward showing courteous regard for our differences. Hitler proclaimed the superiority of the Aryan people, and attempted to eliminate people who were different based on ethnic, racial, sexual orientation, ability, and gender differences through genocide. It would be impossible to honor both Hitler and diversity at the same time; if you honor one, you dishonor the other.
I don't think you need to approve of another's behavior in order to show a courteous regard for how one is different. So long as that behavior stays respectful of each other and our common humanity, there is no reason for disapproval. However, I believe that one of the best ways we can show courteous regard for those who are different is by learning how we are similar. This was a criticism of the Celebrating Transgender Lives display; that to some people, the display seemed to ignore the similarities we all share, and focus on the difference. Yet each profile of the display was intended to highlight those similarities, and cut through the stereotypes that so often limit the opportunities of trans people. Each profile displayed the unique character or accomplishments of one person – his or her humor, talent, courage, creativity, contribution to society, and so on.
And in fact, each one of us is unique; despite the similarities we all share, we are all different. It is that very difference, the uniqueness of each individual, that makes life so varied, interesting, and – well, diverse. We offer always to each other a learning opportunity, a chance to grow. We are all similar, and we are all diverse. Each one of us loves, laughs, cries, mourns, and struggles to be the best we can be. At the same time, each person's unique character and talent contributes value to the whole of who we are as a people, a society, and a species. That includes our unique or specific expression of gender, whether it fits in between the traditional gender binary or not.
That is worth celebrating – and honoring.