Saturday, September 28, 2013
Seven years ago the Walla Walla Race Unity Coalition became the Diversity Coalition. Our old name had become a little awkward because we knew that talking of different races was an unscientific and inappropriate way to categorize the human community.
Our new name also reflected our new mission. We very proudly went from a group with a narrow focus — religious, ethnic and racial discrimination — to one that embraced and valued all differences.
Our mission statement broadened to explicitly list many more groups of people who should not be discriminated against because of some part of who they are, such as gender, ability, age, socio-economic status and sexual identity.
Since then, a growing number of states allow gay marriage, and the Supreme Court gave federal recognition to those marriages.
Unfortunately, legal decisions can’t force people to be accepting and respectful. But the actions and words of others can lead the way.
It is within that context that the Diversity Coalition has taken up the issue of respect/equality for all people, regardless of sexual and gender identity, as the theme for the 19th annual Freedom From Discrimination Month.
The coalition has organized three events this month:
• Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center, will give a talk titled, “The Movement of Our Time: LGBT Equality at the Crossroads,” on Oct. 10 at 7 p.m. in Maxey Hall on the Whitman campus. A question-and-answer session will follow.
• Prof. Jack Halberstam of the University of Southern California, author of “Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender and the End of Normal,” will give a lecture on Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. in Maxey Hall. (Halberstam also wrote “Female Masculinity” and “The Queer Art of Failure.”)
• The award-winning film, “Call Me Kuchu,” will be shown on Oct. 29 at 7 p.m. in the Kimball Theatre (Hunter Conservatory) on the Whitman campus. The film documents the struggle for gay rights in Uganda.
It may seem that there is an emphasis on transgender issues in this year’s presentations. While that was not intentional, neither was it discouraged. Gay men and lesbians who have no gender issues are finally beginning to be accepted, but transgender people, both straight and gay, are still facing much discrimination and even outright ridicule or violence.
In addition, intersex people are often ignored or forgotten. It is important to us that the victories the gay community has realized — and those to come — be shared by everyone on the gender/sexuality spectrum.
(Another great coincidence is that Masen Davis will be in town for National Coming Out Day, Oct 11. Coming Out day is an annual opportunity for closeted LGBT people to speak up about who they really are. And, it is a chance for allies to speak up about the dignity of all people.)
We hope our monthlong effort will educate many community members and lead to greater understanding and compassion for all. We also hope that those who now might feel like outsiders in our community will feel more welcome and accepted.
This column has used several terms that might confuse people. To make sure we all understand each other I have included a list of definitions of common words used in conversations about sexuality and gender (see box). Keep in mind that all these definitions are fluid. Some people define the terms differently. Some people prefer different terms, rather like the debate between the words Latino and Hispanic.
What is not fluid and not open to interpretation is how people are treated in our community. Regardless of the labels you identify with — Latino, white, gay, straight, old, young, Jewish, Christian, mentally ill, physically challenged, etc. — you deserve love and respect and equal opportunity to realize your full potential.
Schools should educate you. Police should protect you. Businesses should serve you. Doctors should treat your symptoms.
And everyone you meet should get to know you before deciding if they like you or not. We should not respond to people based on their labels, or their outward appearance; we should respond to the “content of their character.”
The Walla Walla Diversity Coalition hopes you will attend one, two or all three events and will bring a willingness to learn and to set aside preconceptions or stereotypes. Come help make Walla Walla an even friendlier and more welcoming place.
Annie Capestany of Walla Walla is the chairwoman of Freedom From Discrimination Month.