The language of diversity | City CornerFirst public forum Nov. 5
Edmonds is a city of more than 40,000 citizens, the third largest in Snohomish County, and also the oldest city in the county, incorporated in 1890.
Throughout our history, enterprising and civic-minded individuals have grown and treasured the city, and that spirit continues today among our diverse residents, all who see and bring something different to Edmonds.
According to the 2010 census, nearly 8 in 10 Edmonds residents are white. As of 2013, nearly 1 in 10 residents live below the poverty line, and 1 in 5 are 65 or older. About 13 percent live with a disability, and nearly the same percentage speak a language other than English.
Edmonds is also home to an engaged and visible LGBTQ population, and a wide array of active religious and faith-based communities. In the last six years, our community has continued to grow and many of these demographics are shifting.
Because of our growing and changing community, late in 2015 the City Council established the Edmonds Diversity Commission, with members appointed by the council or mayor. As a member of the Diversity Commission, I am honored to be able to share this, our first quarterly column to the Edmonds Beacon.
Throughout the year, we hope to provide new insights shared by your fellow community members, information about upcoming events, and tools and lessons from ours and other communities striving for inclusivity and opportunity for all residents.
In the short term, the commission has focused on building relationships and becoming more knowledgeable of unique qualities and challenges to groups within Edmonds, from culture to accessibility, from race to gender identification, and more.
Collecting stories from fellow neighbors, we have heard of individuals experiencing challenges catching a local bus, families experiencing verbal abuse regarding religious beliefs, and people threatened because of race.
But as you would expect in Edmonds, even more accounts of kindness and acceptance have been shared, and more importantly, a desire and commitment to do more, to learn how to be inclusive, and to show respect for each other have motivated Edmonds residents to speak to the commission.
Diversity is much more than a single-issue topic.
To have a wide-reaching dialogue as a community, language can contribute to or hamper our progress. Far from an exercise in political correctness, we are inviting residents to recognize what words mean, to yourself and to others.
People from different groups are not universally comfortable with the same words or labels, but words can be expressed and based on respect and equality, rather than accommodation or marginalization. Using expressions that label a person by a physical trait or medical diagnosis likely do not contribute to an open conversation.
For example, today, “accessible” bathrooms or parking are generally preferred to “handicapped” or “disabled.” “Transgender” or “gay” or “Hispanic” and “black” are preferred to a variety of other descriptives.
We, as a country, continue to refine language to better reflect the humans behind the labels, so rather than provide a list of acceptable terms, the commission is learning that language shapes both what we believe and how we see ourselves.
As we grow as a community of access and inclusion, we will continue to question and contribute to the national discussion of why words matter.
The first public forum organized by the Diversity Commission will be held on Saturday, Nov. 5, but space is limited – watch for more information in the Beacon.
For more information about the Edmonds Diversity Commission and how you can get involved, please join our public meetings on the first Wednesday of every month (6-7:30 p.m. at the Edmonds Senior Center) or go to the commission’s website: http://www.edmondswa.gov/diversity-commission-home.html.
Mission Statement: Edmonds Diversity Commission
Promote and embrace diversity through action, education, and guidance; foster an understanding that includes, accepts, respects and appreciates each individual member of our community by:
• providing information, education, and communication that facilitates understanding of diversity and to celebrate and respect individual differences;
• recommending to the Mayor and City Council opportunities to promote diversity programs, and providing guidance to ensure an accessible, safe, welcoming and inclusive government and community; and
• supporting, challenging, and guiding government and the community to eliminate and prevent all forms of discrimination.
Maria Montalvo is a member of the Edmonds Diversity Commission.