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Will County Executive, Maggie Brooks, be giving an empty promise to fight racism this Friday at the UR Diversity Conference? Given her history, her support for diversity is insincere.

This Friday, the University of Rochester will host the 2nd Annual Conference on Diversity, to celebrate and examine the challenges of promoting diversity in our community. During the opening ceremony, Maggie Brooks will be speaking on behalf of the YWCA’s campaign to fight racism. While Maggie Brooks position against racism is noble, her other views taint the true nature of diversity, respect, and equality – her political actions are proof of that. In 2008 the landmark Martinez v. County of Monroe case ruled that same-sex marriages performed outside the state must be recognized within New York and as such, same-sex couples are entitled to the same rights and benefits as opposite-sex couples. As a result of this ruling, Maggie Brooks issued an appeal to block those benefits from being extended to same-sex couples. Fortunately, the appeal was denied. But the fact remains that Maggie Brooks is an active opponent against equality.

At this conference entitled “Why Diversity?” the keynote address will be delivered by the highly esteemed researcher, scholar and author, Dr. Daryl G. Smith. Dr. Smith is an apt speaker to tackle the question “why diversity?” as her life’s work has been dedicated to a critical understanding of the full spectrum of diversity, particularly in higher education. In a 2009 issue of Diversity & Democracy she writes,

Diversity also means addressing the growing and differentiated issues reflected by different groups across the country, whether related to race, class, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, immigration, or religion. And instead of seeing diversity as a laundry list […] we must address the intersections and multiplicities of identities and recognize how campuses must now engage the complexity of diversity.

A first generation Vietnamese American, I’m excited to hear Dr. Smith speak since I’m personally affected by issues of race, sexual orientation, and where these identities overlap. Being Vietnamese American, I enjoy the richness that my parents’ heritage adds to my American culture, but I also find myself standing against racism and bigotry. Likewise as a gay man, I not only have to fight against ignorance and homophobia, but am also forced to fight for the basic legal privileges and protections that elected officials continue to deny me and the one I love.

In my experience, I’ve found that discrimination against people of color and against people who are gay manifests in different forms and magnitudes, but the basis is rooted in the same hatred, ignorance and fear. I believe one cannot truly be free of personal racism, unless they also look at what makes them continue to hold to ideals that are sexist, heterosexist, classist, etc. This concept is not new and not uniquely held by me; “Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood. This sets the stage for further repression and violence that spread all too easily to victimize the next minority group.” – Coretta Scott King

For these reasons, I am shocked and disappointed that the University extended the privilege of leading a “Pledge Against Racism” to a well-known foe to the gay community. While having controversial speakers on campus is not a new issue, I believe it is wrong to let Maggie Brooks speak on issues of diversity, especially on a campus well-known for its unwavering support for diversity, in all its forms.

Although Maggie Brooks’ words may have face-value, they will ring hollow and disingenuous given her strong stance against equality. Her position on same-sex partner benefits proves that she does not fully comprehend the true meaning of diversity beyond its political correctness.

At a conference celebrating diversity and trying to solve its challenges, at a University that values and protects the differences of its community, it is perfectly reasonable that we hold Maggie Brooks to a higher standard as she visits our community. If anything, the tireless work of groups promoting awareness on campus have taught us to more deeply examine what it means to be supportive of diversity. I challenge Maggie Brooks to do the same.

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