Fit for Print: More than a catch phrase

Celebrating diversity is something I do almost every day. Honestly, most of that is because at my day job, I work closely with a department that’s committed to making sure that representation of all nationalities, ethnicities, backgrounds, orientations and gender identities are celebrated, recognized and embraced.

It’s a big task, and one that is admittedly exhausting. Every month has a designated heritage associated with it – Black History Month is February, Hispanic Heritage Month is mid-September to mid-October, LGBTQ Pride month is June and May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

I used to think it would be nice to live in a time and place when such months weren’t needed. If everyone would just accept everyone else, then we wouldn’t need so many different rotating months to recognize unique communities and heritages. Right?


Even if the world was a peaceful one in which people from all races, orientations and identities could agree not to hate each other just because they’re different, heritage months should still be a thing. Learning about others is what makes us well-rounded and more likely to want to meet new and interesting people.

I am fortunate to work in a place that has a diverse network of team members, which in turn has helped expand my circle of friends to include a diverse cast of all colors, religions, orientations and gender identities. I learn from this diverse circle of friends and am happy to see their respective communities get the spotlight that is so deserved.

When watching reading or listening to the news, it’s obvious that hate crimes are the result of misinformation and a lack of education. If you see or experience something unfamiliar, a natural instinct (at least for many) is to see someone as “other” rather than an opportunity for growth and connection.

For many who fear differences, they want to shut them down or silence others altogether. It’s frustrating and sometimes hard to understand, but I can admit that I had to do some personal growth myself.

When I first moved to Florida, I had just graduated from college and despite being out about my sexuality, I still had a lot to learn about people who were anything other than white, Christian-raised and from the Midwest. I think back in horror at some of the “jokes” I would tell and remember a specific incident where I insulted a Jewish colleague of mine without even realizing I had done so.

I was fortunate that he understood my lack of education and forgave me for my faux pas. He appreciated my apology and my willingness to learn more about his background, culture and religion.

Did I fully understand what it means to be Jewish? No. But I can now appreciate that those cultural differences are important to that community. I didn’t become Jewish and I don’t celebrate any Jewish holidays. But when a friend is off work because of their religious beliefs, I wish them well.

Really, it’s not that difficult of a practice.

I don’t have the secrets to life, but I feel like this one approach – accepting those who are different and wishing them well – is one of the most basic tenets to remaining happy. If you’re doing something I don’t understand, fine. Just don’t hurt anyone in the process and we’ll get along.

You don’t have to be a certain thing to accept it or be supportive.

I don’t understand what it’s like to be a lesbian, but that doesn’t mean I can’t support my best friend or the happy lesbian couples I know. The same can be said about the transgender community. I have absolutely no idea what it feels like to be transgender. I’ve had countless conversations about this subject with people who do, however, and I appreciate them sharing their perspectives and experiences.

While I can offer my support and love them, I will never fully understand their journey because it’s not something I’ve experienced personally.

There is strength in numbers, and however many times we have to update the acronym that represents our community, I am in full support. We are a community of different opinions, sexualities, identities, sexual practices and beliefs. I am so tired of hearing about members of our own community trying to decide who does and doesn’t belong.

We all belong and the only way we’re going to be treated as equal is if we work together and show a united front. History can’t be rewritten and can serve as an example.

Black and African American citizens got the right to vote because of their determination and because they had allies going to bat right alongside them. Same-sex marriage became reality because we had the support of a majority of straight voters, who marched alongside us. Transgender activists were front and center at the beginning of the gay rights movement in the 1960s and catapulted us to where we are today.

Celebrating diversity should be more than just a fun phrase to put on a T-shirt. When we learn that a specific month is dedicated to a certain community, we should applaud them and take the opportunity to learn a little bit about what makes them unique, rather than exclude ourselves.

Trust me. Celebrating will bring you more happiness than hating ever could.

Steve Blanchard is the former editor of Watermark and currently works in public relations. He is a native of St. Louis, Mo. but has lived in Tampa Bay for two decades.

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