The United States has often been described as a “melting pot,” defined as diverse cultures and ethnicities coming together to form the rich fabric of our nation. These days, it seems that our fabric is a bit frayed.
DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging) is dawning as a significant conversation. Each and every one of us is unique by age, gender, culture/ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, geographical location, race, and sexual identity – to name just a few aspects of our identity. Keeping these differences in mind, it is evident that none of us fits a “one size fits all” mold.
Some of these differences, such as cross-cultural cuisine and holidays, are enjoyed and celebrated as wonderful opportunities to learn from others, embrace our distinctions, and have them beneficially contribute to our lives. Other differences, however, are not understood or embraced and are, in fact, belittled and stigmatized. Sexual identity falls into this category. It behooves us as a country to become more aware and educated about this category in our identities, in order to understand it, quell our unfounded fear, learn to support one another, and improve our collective mental health.
Recent reports have shown that exposing students and teachers to sexual identity diversity education has sparked some backlash from parents and communities alike. Those opposed are citing concerns over introducing children to LGBTQ+ information, either embedded in the school curriculum or made available in school library reading materials. “Children should remain innocent” seems to be the message. Perhaps parents prefer to discuss this topic privately, at home. Either way, teaching about diversity does not damage one’s innocence or deprive parents of private conversations. In fact, it educates children by improving their awareness, tolerance, and acceptance of others’ differences, and can serve as a catalyst to further parental conversation.
There are kids everywhere who are starting to develop and understand their identities. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for them to know that whichever way they identify is okay, that they are not ‘weird’ or ‘different,’ but that in fact we are all different? Wouldn’t it be great for them to be able to explore and discuss their identities and journeys openly, and not have to hide for fear of retribution or bullying?
It is important for these children to know that they are not alone, that they have options, and that they don’t need to contemplate suicide because they believe that their identity makes them not worthy of being in this world.
Starting the conversation early on in life can empower our youth by planting the seed that people are not “one size fits all,” which is the element responsible for our being unique and human. Diversity can be woven into the rich fabric that defines our nation, rather than be a factor that unravels it.
April was National Diversity Awareness Month and we took time to celebrate our country’s cultural melting pot. By embracing our differences, we can show our children and ourselves how to better navigate diversity, which can help us all fit in.
Dr. Jarkon is a psychiatrist and director of the Center for Behavioral Health at the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine in Old Westbury, N.Y.