So there’s this conference. Maybe you’ve heard of it. It’s the Women in Secularism conference hosted by the Center for Inquiry (CFI); the second one happened in May of this year in Washington, DC.
There’s been some controversy surrounding the conference, most notably with the opening talk given by CFI’s CEO Ron Lindsay. It’s an important elephant in the room, and I don’t want to ignore it — but it’s not what I want to get into here. (If for no other reason, events are still unfolding, and I don’t know where they’ll be by the time this piece comes out.)
Instead, I want to talk about the value of a secularist conference dedicated to women. Or to African-Americans. Or to blue-collar and working-class people. (I haven’t seen one of those last ones, and I’d sure like to!) Or to other marginalized groups. I want to talk about the value of going out of our way, when inviting speakers to a conference or group, to make sure that a good number of them are women, and people of color, and working-class/blue collar, and LGBT, and so on. And this isn’t just about speakers at conferences and local events. I’m talking about going out of our way to get marginalized people in positions of leadership in groups and organizations. I’m talking about going out of our way to include marginalized people when we talk about our history and the great leaders and thinkers from our past. I’m talking about going out of our way to get marginalized people to just show up at our local groups, and to stick around in our local groups … so some of them can rise up to become our next speakers, leaders, organizers, and thinkers.
And I want to talk about one of the most common complaints that we hear when special efforts are made to promote diversity—namely, that doing this is “lowering the bar,” that it will “dilute the talent pool.” That, if we go out of our way to diversify the speakers we listen to and the leaders we follow and the heroes from our past that we lionize, the quality will just naturally go down.
Yeah. See, here’s the thing.