The importance of diversity: three object lessons

Diversity is a lot more than a liberal feel-good cause, a way to shoehorn visible minorities into public and private institutions just for the sake of it. Or just to disenfranchise white heterosexual men.

When universities argue against affirmative action bans, it’s not because they’re lefties; it’s because they realize a diverse student body (and faculty) makes their institutions stronger.

When I look at a political contest and see two roughly equivalent candidates, I give preference to the woman, the minority, the member of the LGBTQ community, because their perspectives make our politics better.

We have three object lessons from this week’s news, two right here in Vermont, each illustrating the importance of diversity.

First, the State Senate passed a bill that would ban so-called “conversion therapy” for people under age 18. Conversion therapy is the absolutely unscientific practice of convincing gay (or gay-leaning) people to go straight.

This isn’t a problem in Vermont, not exactly fertile ground for this kind of radical Christianist nonsense. But that didn’t stop a gay state senator from realizing the importance of taking this step, even if it’s basically symbolic. Democrat Brian Campion’s own life experiences informed his pursuit of the legislation. A straight lawmaker, no matter how gay-friendly, would be much less likely to see the issue as a priority.

Second, another instance of good old Vermont racial insensitivity. This time, a former staffer at Rutland Regional Medical Center has filed suit arguing racial discrimination and wrongful dismissal.

… Roger Speid claims he was frequently subjected to jokes and racially motivated comments, including some from supervisors.

… In his complaint, Speid alleges the harassment came to a head last fall when a noose was hung on a door in his work area. Speid claims it was allowed to remain there for more than three weeks and despite repeated requests, no one from the hospital investigated.

A noose, need it be said, is one of the most potent symbols of white power and black subjugation you can find. If Speid’s allegations are true, then hospital staff and administrators were criminally color-blind. That is, they were blind to the legitimate concerns of a black employee. And, of course, some of them were just plain racist.

I don’t know whether the hospital has any people of color in supervisory or managerial positions. I bet not, though. That’s the only reason why this kind of thing could fester for so long, derailing a man’s career and throwing the institution into a potentially costly court case. I have a hard time believing that any person of color could have looked at that noose and not taken immediate action.

Our third example comes from the U.S. Supreme Court, Now 100% More Scalia-Free! But still infested with entitled white men. The occasion was a court case on contraceptive provision through the Affordable Care Act. Talking Points Memo’s Tierney Sneed was there to document the abundant cluelessness.

Judging by the questions from conservatives on the court — all men — they’re still not fully aware of how every day people — particularly women — receive health care in the United States, or how health insurance actually works.

The conservative Supremes’ ignorance was thickest when it came to contraceptives. They seemed to dismiss the notion that any limits on contraceptive coverage could possibly inconvenience any women or prevent them from accessing birth control. Over and over again they displayed their obtuseness. Sneed’s account makes for painful reading — and, not that it’s nice to celebrate anyone’s death, but it makes me damn glad Antonin Scalia is safely in the grave. Otherwise, he would likely have provided a deciding fifth vote against women’s interests.

The presence of women on the high court helps provide a bit of counterbalance to the testosterone-fueled ambience of that august body. And it helps ensure that the voices of women will be heard.

This is why I give extra credence to women, people of color, and gender nonconformists when it comes to participation in society. And particularly, since this is a blog of political observation, when it comes to participation in our politics. It’s not just because I’m a liberal softie who secretly hates my own male privilege; it’s because our politics and our policies are better when we include all kinds of people in the process.



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