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Commemorative or heritage months help us recognize that all people matter in the tapestry of humanity. However, along with these celebrations, there also must be an accompanying call to action toward creating a more inclusive environment.
“I believe that telling our stories, first to ourselves and then to one another and the world, is a revolutionary act.” – Janet Mock, American writer, producer and transgender activist
The United States and many other countries utilize months, weeks and certain days to bring awareness to and celebrate the contributions of individuals, groups or events in areas such as arts and culture, health, education and human and civil rights. What are commonly referred to as commemorative or heritage months in the United States date back to 1914 and are codified in Congressional legislation.
Over time, these commemorative periods have emerged as an industry in and of themselves, in which the most important currency of exchange is the recognition that all people matter in the tapestry of humanity. Dr. Carter G. Woodson, who was integral in establishing what is now known as Black History Month, equates the importance of raising awareness of the contributions of a wide variety of people to their society as integral beyond just preserving their heritage but in preserving their very existence.
June marks the beginning of summer and plays host to an array of recognitions ranging from Hunger Awareness and Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness to Juneteenth and National Caribbean-American Heritage. June also marks LGBTQ Pride Month, paying tribute to the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan.
While our acknowledgment of Pride Month and our embrace of our colleagues, learners and friends from the LGBTQIA+ community is necessary for our collective advancement, it is not sufficient. We must also heed the accompanying call to action toward creating an inclusive environment for our LGBTQIA+ community in our medical education, training and clinical practice.
This call for action is embodied in our School of Medicine’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Statement and is being enacted through a comprehensive curriculum review from a DEI lens and the creation of an OUTlist to promote visibility and connectedness for our LGBTQIA+ faculty and staff. Our internal focus is aligned with national efforts such as the AAMC’s Statement on Gender-Affirming Health Care for Transgender Youth and the association’s recognition that curricular transformation that fosters understanding of LGBT patients is needed. It is further encompassed in the recognition by health care profession leadership and scholars that LGBTQIA+ health is a feature of – and not a bug within – our health care enterprise and “must be a part of the training of clinicians at all levels.”
Overall, commemorative months speak to the richness that our diversity brings. They also speak to the intersectionality that emerges from our unique and shared identities. Although it is necessary that we from time to time focus on a specific aspect of our shared humanity, we do so not to exclude or signal priority. Instead, we do this to amplify the real benefits of our diversity and to elevate us all. For, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”