Editor's note: This piece is in response to Mike Murphy's Op/Ed "Whither Pride St. Louis" which was published earlier this week.
“Diversity” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the inclusion of different types of people (such as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization. I agree entirely with the assertion that “diversity means more than just visible traits or characteristics.” The issue of diversity is a deeper, more nuanced concept than simply how a person – or an organization – appears.
The next statement in the op-ed, however, was one that left me rather taken aback: “…There is a stunning lack of racial, ethnic, and gender diversity.” A portion of this sentence links to the staff webpage for the organization. Is a measure of diversity a cursory glance at a webpage, and a judgement based on visible traits and characteristics and what a certain race or gender “looks like”? I would argue that it is not.
Without a person-to-person conversation, one might not realize that two Latinx people, one Asian-American, a Native American, and an African-American serve on the board, making almost 40% of the board people of color. Does the organization need more people of color involved? Absolutely. But to say that there’s only one person of color on the board is to discount the experiences and lives those who one may not perceive to be people of color.
Gender, like race, cannot be determined by appearance. Around same portion of the board, approximately 40%, identify somewhere underneath the transgender umbrella. Similarly, class can often not be determined by appearance. At least 20% of the board has been homeless at some point or another.
As it happens, I fit into all three of these categories. I am a trans person of color who has experienced homelessness. It is implied that myself and several others are “middle-class, white, gay men.” Using visible traits and characteristics, the conclusion has been drawn that I am not an Asian-American – that I am not a person of color – because I don’t have “enough” melanin in my skin to qualify me. The conclusion has been drawn that I am not trans because I don’t “look” trans enough, as if there existed a proper way to “look trans”. The conclusion has been drawn that I haven’t experienced the devastating effects of classism, when in fact I have experienced homelessness.
Does this sound like “a project largely by and for middle-class, white, gay men”? If the true representation of the board, or my own identities and experiences, don’t create a convincing argument, then we should look at some of the specific activities hosted in the past year: “Queer 101”, “Intersex 101”, “Reproductive Options for LGBT Families”, a racial bias training hosted in conjunction with QTPOC (Queer and Trans People of Color), “Trans 101” hosted with MTUG (the Metro Trans Umbrella Group), and two holiday dinners hosted by Pride St. Louis, MTUG, QTPOC, and St. Louis Black Pride.PrideCenter hosts many community groups, ranging from support groups on mental health, to trans clothing drives, to educational seminars on underrepresented identities, to self-defense classes.
Assuming someone’s identity and experience closely walks the line of racism, cissexism, classism. Confirmation bias leads to inaccuracies and erasure of identities. I do not deny that there are organizational problems needing to be addressed, but in raising these issues for discussion, there must be an approach of respect and the willingness to listen to one another.
Relegating diversity to mean only the face value of a person or a group, what they “looklike”, is ignoring the contributions and experiences of countless individuals with unique and beautiful combinations of identities. We must each recognize our own privilege, recognize each other’s oppression, and work together to build a St. Louis that embodies “pride”. Only in open communication, willingness to collaborate, and an attitude of unity and love can we create true and lasting solidarity.
"In diversity there is beauty and there is strength." - Maya Angelou
Landon J. Brownfield
To join the Pride St. Louis Diversity Awareness Council (DAC), the committee addressing diversity and inclusion issues, email DAC "at" pridestl.org. To access all public records, visit the Pride St. Louis website at http://pridestl.org/about#documents.
I am not writing this article on behalf of the organization and it isn’t a statement by the organization. I simply wish to respond as a member of this community to an op-ed that affected me personally.