Don't let your schooling interfere with your education.
~ Pete Seeger

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Honoring Diversity

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, 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.


variety; multiformity.


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.


Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more---Hitler was the very worst example your friend could have given to not wanting to reward "diversity."

I see and hear the Christian idea of not wanting to "reward" bad behavior all the time. It was the central theme in the book, Be Intolerant by Ryan Dobson (You guessed it, son of Dr. James Dobson, Mr. Focus On The Family, himself.) That book was gifted to me at some point in my college years. I barely made it through the first chapter, and had to stop reading.

In any case, the Christian excuse for being intolerant is something like, "Well, if we allow this bad behavior to exist, are we really doing the will of Christ? Wouldn't he disapprove? If we just tolerate everything, then where do we draw the line? Should we tolerate murder as well? Should we tolerate lying?"

The central case here is that, still, to 99.9% of Christians, being in any realm of the GLBT family is a sin. Frowned upon by God and all of his followers. And in that case, if they "tolerate" or "honor the diversity" of so-called "sins" they would have to tolerate/honor them all. They have trouble reconciling these ideas in their own minds.

If they honor the diversity of GLBT people, they would on some strange level, also have to honor the freedom to murder, etc. Because, to them (the Christians, and many other religious groups,) being homosexual, transgendered, etc, is a sin along with the rest.

Just my two cents.

Anonymous said...

I'd also like to point out that these are some of the reasons I have started advocating ACCEPTANCE rather than tolerance.

CrackerLilo said...

I can't really improve on what either you or aj wrote. But I want to tell you how glad I am that you wrote it.

anne said...

It's so sad that Christianity started out as a way for diverse people to celebrate the miracle of Christ and, though politics of power and greed, devolved into arguments about which creed was the "right" one, let alone destroying millions of people's lives like the Jews and those of "witchy" women and gays. I don't think Hitler was out of context--the German people at that time were xenophobic about almost everyone.

One of the first actions against diversity is to outlaw or alienate languages, as well as to do the same with costume, mores, or religious celebrations. If this country is to hold onto it's original idea of "give me your poor and homeless" it needs to seriously take a look at anything that frowns on diversity from English only groups to "we're a Christian nation" crap to people getting in a huff about a man wearing a dress.

But I sometimes despair. When we were in Florida, Sky got accused in a post office of having a bomb just because he was wearing a tie dye. What kind of a country is that?

I would love to see people honor diversity, but I would be very happy if they only tolerated it.

good post, Seda,
good to have you back


Tobi said...

For quite some time now there's been a criticism of the term "diversity" in ethnic studies and related circles. The problem is that it's a buzz word at best and a euphamism at worst. When there's a "diversity" workshop, we're not talking about how all people are diverse, we're talking about specific culturally salient identities that are set up into oppressive power systems.

Half of the "diversity workshops" I've seen are just white privilege workshops except they don't want to call it that. I do have a geeky background of appreciating being different, but when it comes down to it, I don't want to honor or celebrate the fact that we are all dissimilar. I want to encourage respect for people who we are taught to disrespect. I want to honor those who have fallen against the unrelenting assault of oppression, and celebrate those who manage to survive and even thrive in the face of it.

Ultimately, the difference between my perspective and that which I am criticizing is an acknowledgment of systemic power differences. We don't all come from the same position, we don't all have the same resources growing up, it's not a meritocracy. Treating everyone equally is a valid goal, but not when taken to the end of being "colorblind" or ignoring oppression. It will do nothing to rectify the ways in which we are constantly being treated uneqaully.

Anonymous said...

I really liked your blog, and definitely agree. Especially in a country where there are people that are multi-racial, it is important to honor diversity

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.
~Helen Keller

Reading List for Information about Transpeople

  • Becoming a Visible Man, by Jamison Green
  • Conundrum, by Jan Morris
  • Gender Outlaw, by Kate Bornstein
  • My Husband Betty, by Helen Boyd
  • Right Side Out, by Annah Moore
  • She's Not There, by Jennifer Boylan
  • The Riddle of Gender, by Deborah Rudacille
  • Trans Liberation, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transgender Emergence, by Arlene Istar Lev
  • Transgender Warriors, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transition and Beyond, by Reid Vanderburgh
  • True Selves, by Mildred Brown
  • What Becomes You, by Aaron Link Raz and Hilda Raz
  • Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano
I have come into this world to see this:
the sword drop from men's hands even at the height
of their arc of anger
because we have finally realized there is just one flesh to wound
and it is His - the Christ's, our