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What Diversity Really Means

During cable's recent Diversity Week, if there was one statement that 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 a 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-day conference of the National Association for Multi-ethnicity in Communications (NAMIC), the terms “the disabled” or “GLBT” (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) 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, whose network received the Kaitz Foundation's corporate diversity award, 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 acknowledge the pride of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities. But it would be a bold step toward genuine diversity during Diversity Week if the “Multi-ethnicity” in NAMIC's good name were replaced with “More diversity.” Gays, lesbians and people with a disability—whether from HIV or the loss of an eye in Iraq—do not 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 of being gay is, in some parts of the community, more serious than the stigma of being a drug user.

In a recent full-page advertisement, Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP, 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.

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.