Should white heterosexuals be permitted at a diversity event?

Well, duh. Isn’t it obvious?

Apparently not to some.

Over the past couple of days on the “vote” page at the True Diversity Dinner blog, where people are being encouraged to nominate and vote for awards on “excellence in the representation, advancement, and advocacy of diversity” in Anchorage, at least a couple of people have nominated the ACLU of Alaska for the Excellence in Non-Profit Award. The ACLU is one of the organizations, along with Equality Works, that took a major leadership role in the effort to pass the Anchorage equal rights ordinance, AO 2009-64, which — had Mayor Sullivan not vetoed it a week after its passage — would have added sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of personal characteristics on the basis of which it would be illegal to discriminate in employment, housing, public accommodations, financial practices, education, and municipal practices.

Here’s where disputation began.  I’ll just give you the entire conversation.  Note that John Aronno, an administrator at the True Diversity Dinner blog, removed a portion of the conversation from the comments because they distracted from what the page was for: nominating & voting on the awards.  But I’d subscribed to comments so had the full conversation in email, & can restore them here.

Kevin Smith (9/13/09 2:28 pm): The ACLU in Alaska is led by a white male, Jeffry [sic] Mittman, so I don’t think they would qualify for a diversity award. If Mittman is gay or transgender, I withdraw my objection.

john aronno (9/13/09 4:43 pm): Mr. Smith, no offense intended, but that would also respectively mean that I should bow out, as should my wife, two of our speakers, probably most of the dance group performing, and a good portion of the sponsors and guests attending the event. This is a diversity dinner, not an exclusivity dinner.

Kevin Smith (9/13/09 8:54 pm): Mr. Aronno,

No offense taken and I hope you will not be offended when I say that if all of the people you listed are white then perhaps a percentage of you should not attend. Certainly the sponsors of True Diversity will understand if their sponsored tickets are taken up by more diverse elements of our society.

Diversity cannot be truly celebrated if all you have are white people (even gay ones) with the rest of our diverse society there as mere window dressing.

John Aronno (9/13/09 11:27 pm): I’m not sure that I, or anyone else, should apologize for celebrating, supporting, and encouraging diversity. That doesn’t even make sense. I can’t help that I’m a white, heterosexual male, and I feel that it’s fairly irresponsible for you to suggest that I, or anyone else, should stay home because of it. Are you really saying that I shouldn’t have a say, because of who I am? Doesn’t that spit in the face of absolutely everything we’re trying to accomplish here?

john aronno: Mr. Smith, I’m removing our conversation, because it does no common good for the purpose of this event. However, if you’d like to continue it, please feel free to email your comments to

Kevin Smith (9/14/09 12:21 pm): Mr. Aronno, Enjoy your meal. Your willingness (or lack thereof) to discuss true diversity in a public forum leads me to believe you will be dining with a lot of people that look just like yourself. Bon appetit.

Mel Green (posting as yksinainen, 9/14/09 12:46 pm): Oh good grief. I sat next to John at most of the Assembly meetings listening to countless redshirts spew repetitive homophobia — in fact, he sat there when I couldn’t because it was too painful to listen to the ignorance & hatred — & all through it he acted as one of the best advocates I know of for diversity & equality. And now you Kevin Smith are going to sit there as the litmus test judger of whether or not he’s diverse enough to be at this event? Which would not even be occurring in the first place, were it not for his efforts?

Fine way to throw aside your allies. Well, maybe not your ally — but one I’ve all summer long been pleased to have as mine.

Mel Green,
Diversity “credentials” : lesbian from working class (white) background

An observation:  in John’s first response, was he referring to the sexual orientation and gender identity of the people he referred to, or to their race? — because it is all three that Mr. Smith referred to in disqualifying Jeffrey Mittman as representing diversity.  John did not actually say, as Mr. Smith assumed, thatall of the people [he] listed are white.” And nor are they.

But here’s the crux of the matter:

Diversity isn’t an individual characteristic. Does the fact that I’m a lesbian make me diverse? No, it only makes me a lesbian.  Does the fact that John is a white heterosexual male make him not diverse? No, it just makes him a white heterosexual male.  Neither of us can be diverse or not diverse all on our own: diversity or its lack is a quality of groups and systems, not of individuals.  It’s the differences between the members of the system, that makes the system as a whole richer, stronger, and more viable.   (Not to mention less boring.)

Me with some of the cool white heterosexuals in my life: my dad, brothers, and sister, April 2009. No wonder Im not a lesbian separatist!

Me with some of the cool white heterosexuals in my life: my dad, brothers, and sister, April 2009. No wonder I'm not a lesbian separatist!

It should be obvious that being unwelcoming to a particular group within a diverse population doesn’t strengthen diversity or the community.  It weakens it. That understanding has been fundamental to our fight this past summer for the Anchorage equal rights argument: LGBTQ people shouldn’t be excluded from equal protection under the law any more than other Anchorage citizens.  But if LGBTQ people should be included, what’s the possible logic in excluding white heterosexuals, or even just white heterosexual males? Should we, the several bloggers organizing this dinner, print on the $10 tickets being sold for the event: “Don’t buy this ticket if you’re white and straight”? Hardly.  Should we qualify nominations for the diversity awards that will be given out at the dinner to state that no one should be nominated who is straight and white?  Hardly.

Especially when some of those straight white people have done just so much for the effort in the battle for equality and diversity in Anchorage as they have done — more, in some cases, than many LGBTQ or nonwhite people have done.  They have done so because they value the same thing that I do: a community in which we are valued for our differences as much as for what we share: in which the rich heritage of human diversity is honored, respected, and cherished.

I’m glad to have people like this on my side.  I’m on their side, too. My appreciation to John Aronno of Alaska Commons, Heather Aronno of, Janson Jones of the blog Floridana Alaskiana v2.5, Linda Kellen Biegel of Celtic Diva’s Blue Oasis, AK Muckraker of the Mudflats, Shannyn Moore of Just a Girl from Homer, Phil Munger of Progressive Alaska, Gryphen of Immoral Minority, Jeffrey Mittman of the Alaska ACLU, my friend and coworker Pam Kelley of the UAA Justice Center, my nephew Miles Green, and all the other white heterosexuals (or presumed to be so) who blogged, organized, testified, wrote letters and emails, and/or showed up at the Loussac Library in support of equality in Anchorage over the past summer — because you love diversity too. And a special thank you to the white heterosexuals (or presumed to be so) on the Anchorage Assembly who joined Elvi Gray-Jackson (who I also thank) in voting on August 11 for the Anchorage equal rights ordinance: Patrick Flynn, Sheila Selkregg, Jennifer Johnston, Mike Gutierrez, Matt Claman, and Harriet Drummond.

I look forward to seeing you, along with all of us who are not white and/or heterosexual, at the True Diversity Dinner on September 25.

Note of addendum 3:35 PM: I’ve just been informed privately that one of the people in the above list of “presumed to be” heterosexuals is, in fact, not heterosexual.  Which just goes to show: just as many people are wrongly assumed to be gay, other people are wrongly assumed to be heterosexual.  In either case, discrimination on the basis of actual or assumed sexual orientation is wrong, wrong, wrong.  Let’s also remember that diversity includes ethnic and religious diversity — so just reducing people to the description “white” doesn’t cut it either.

Three bloggers all in a row. John Aronno of Alaska Commons, Heather Aronno of, and Mel Green (that is, me) of in the Anchorage Assembly chambers on August 11, 2009, when the Assembly passed the Anchorage equal rights ordinance by a vote of 7 to 4. Mayor Dan Sullivan vetoed the measure the following Monday.

Three bloggers all in a row. John Aronno of Alaska Commons, Heather Aronno of, and Mel Green (that is, me) of in the Anchorage Assembly chambers on August 11, 2009, when the Assembly passed the Anchorage equal rights ordinance by a vote of 7 to 4. Mayor Dan Sullivan, host of the upcoming "Unity" Dinner, vetoed the ordinance on August 17.

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