As a conservationist, I find myself thinking a lot about the word “diversity”. Concerning nature, the word is “biodiversity”, and we use it as a proxy for the health of ecosystems.
This refers not only to the types of plants and animals in an area, but also their genetic diversity, which produces the strongest, healthiest, and most adaptable organisms, as well as the types of landscapes they inhabit and adapt to. Diversity leads to resilience, and it is the reason we, and every other living thing on the planet exist. It is why we have fireflies that glow in the dark, and whales that sing across oceans, and feathery fractal ferns that drink water out of the air. It is the reason we have trees that live for millennia, oysters that make their own gemstones, and a fruit called a peacotum (which is what you get when you cross a plum with a peach with an apricot, and it’s every bit as awesome as it sounds).
Humans come up with a lot of strange ideas. Some of them are so strange that they make no sense at all out of context, and when I’m not pondering the etymology of the word “diversity” (from the Latin divertere, meaning “to face both ways”, for those of you curious) I wonder how humans came up with all these diverse ideas. Sometimes it helps to think of ideas as if they were living things. After all, they reproduce if we choose to share them with others, and they live in the context of other ideas, thoughts, and habits. We call this collection of self-replicating ideas a culture.
If a culture is an ecosystem of ideas, do the same rules for creating health, wonder, and resilience apply? What does it mean to cultivate diversity?
As a queer person, I find myself thinking a lot about rainbows. Not just because it’s Pride month and they’re everywhere, but what our flag represents: a spectrum of light, an infinite gradation of colors we have a limited vocabulary for.
Nature exists along a spectrum. This doesn’t always sit with our human desire to neatly label everything, because nothing natural exists in a homogeneous little box. Just as we like to label every species, sub-species, and variants of sub-species, we also like to label each other and ourselves. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans: we put a plus sign after LGBTQ because the diversity of human gender and sexuality was threatening to run out of alphabet before we ran out of identities－don’t worry, it’s not a test designed to fail the un-woke! It’s there because the grand spectrum of human potential has more words to describe it than we have letters to list.
Labels can be helpful even when they are not perfect. No one label strictly defines us, none fully captures us, and we all have a collection of labels for ourselves vying for relevance in any given situation. This collection of labels is called “intersectionality” (from the word “intersect”, meaning a thing that passes through or comes together with another). We usually talk about intersectionality when we are talking about privilege and people’s advantages and disadvantages in society. Sex, gender, race, class, religion, ability… these labels and more go into the variance within us; they make us who we are as much as our genetics shape our physical body, and much like our genetics, our intersectionality benefits greatly from a healthy dose of diversity.
As a scientist, I find myself thinking a lot about the truth. What is it, and how do we find it? How do we generate new ideas, and create a culture that promotes scientific discovery? Science is a process that concerns itself greatly with what is repeatable and relevant; what is true. We are human. The truth is our sex, sexuality, and gender exist along a spectrum, and we are as diverse in our internal identities as external ones. A culture that values those truths will reap the benefits of the people who live them－after all, we will never recognize the truth outside of ourselves if we do not begin by being true to ourselves.
To all of my fellow queer conservationists, scientists, and nature lovers; to all of our friends, families, and allies; and to everyone willing to protect and celebrate diversity and authenticity: Happy Pride!