Tuesday, September 25, 2007

On Diversity, Much More Work To Do

Last week, was Diversity Week within the Cable industry. If one statement crystallized how much more work needs to be done in the area, it was MTV President Christina Norman’s bold assertion that even MTV—long considered an industry leader in creating a more diverse workplace—was still “only rounding second base.”

For people with a disability—like HIV—and for gays and lesbians, sitting on second base would be a pretty lofty perch, when just getting on the playing field is frequently an issue. Throughout the two days of the NAMIC conference, the terms “the disabled,” or “GLBT” were rarely mentioned, if at all, as qualifications for the definition of “diversity.” Of all the major speakers throughout the week, only ESPN/ABC’s George Bodenheimer, who received the Kaitz Foundation’s corporate diversity award on behalf of his network, expressed an inclusive vision of diversity when he said that his network would continue to be sensitive to issues of “race, gender, orientation and disability.”

True, the pre-printed, 2007 calendar that NAMIC handed out at the end of its conference included one month (October) devoted to recognizing the disabled, and one month (June) to acknowledging the pride of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender communities. But, it would be a bold step toward genuine diversity during “Diversity Week,” when the Multi-ethnicity in NAMIC’s good name is replaced with “More diversity.” Neither gays, lesbians, nor people with a disability—whether from HIV or the loss of an eye in Iraq—comprise an “ethnicity.”

The irony is that particularly in communities of color—Black, Latino, Asian—being gay or being HIV positive, can be dangerous to one’s health. Black men would sooner have their families believe that they contracted HIV through IV drug use then through unprotected sex with other men, because the stigma toward being gay is, in some parts of the community, more hostile than the stigma toward being a drug-user. Black & Latino churches—after decades of leading the nation to the high ground on civil and human rights matters of life, death and survival, have, in some cases, become hotbeds of homophobia, driving gay Black & Latino men deeper into the closet, and keeping HIV positive men and women of color away from getting the medical care they need, until the disease is too far advanced. And, in Asian/Pacific Islander communities across the nation—and around the world—a culture of shame surrounding sexuality has pushed teen suicide to record levels.

No less a life-long fighter for civil and human rights than Julian Bond, Chairman of the NAACP, has recognized the urgency for traditional civil rights & diversity organizations to lock arms with GLBT groups, to halt hate together. In a recent full-page advertisement for the NAACP in Roll Call, an influential Capitol Hill publication, Bond insisted that the Hate Crimes Bill before Congress include “sexual orientation,” resisting the sinister strategy of some to split off historic civil rights organizations from their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

In the ad, Bond and the NAACP herald a clarion call to battling all types of hate:

“Somewhere in America a hate crime occurs every hour. Churches are burned because of the people in attendance or the God worshipped within. People are attacked because of who they are, who they love, what they look like, and where they were born.”

It’s long past time, for the Cable industry’s outstanding diversity organizations—and the industry’s top corporate leadership—to act on the message of Julian Bond and the NAACP, and leave no group—bearing the scars of discrimination and exclusion—behind. True commitment to diversity dictates nothing less.


Bobby Amirshahi said...

Bravo Steve. It's 2007 and yet we as a society and an industry still omit certain people from the discussion of diversity and inclusion. The time has come to not just tolerate but to embrace great talent into our organizations, whether a person is disabled, transgender, old, young or whatever. I challenge NAMIC and WICT, two powerful organizations, to show more leadership on the issue of true inclusion.