Why We're Toasting Diversity and Pushing for Inclusivity
Fighting for equality during Pride month and all year longKatherine Miller
June 18, 2019
James Beard Foundation vice president of Impact Katherine Miller recognizes Pride month by reflecting on the achievements of activist chefs and restaurant industry professionals in the fight for equity, and the work still needed to make the food and beverage world truly hospitable.
Each June we come together in pride—a time to celebrate the diverse and vibrant LGBTQIA+ community. It is also an opportunity to reflect on both how far the global movement for equality has come, and how far we still have to go.
As the nation’s second-largest employer, the restaurant and food service industry is made up of nearly 15 million Americans—many of whom are part of the LGBTQIA+ community. They are restaurant owners, managers, chefs, bartenders, wait staff, kitchen staff, farmers, bakers, and fishermen who are helping our industry flourish.
Yet, in 2015, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received nearly 1,500 claims of workplace discrimination on the basis of a worker’s sexual orientation. The challenges and fear are especially acute for the transgender community—that same year, 26 percent of trans people reported being fired for being transgender or gender non-conforming, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality. Among transgender survey respondents in a 2017 survey, 25.7 percent reported avoiding public places such as stores and restaurants for fear of discrimination or harassment—including being denied equal services or even being physically attacked.
Imagine being so anxious about how you will be treated that you simply don’t apply for a job or go out to a restaurant.
This reality for so many Americans is in direct opposition to the values at the heart of hospitality.
The James Beard Foundation is built on the memory and actions of a gay man, James Beard. His life’s work defined American cuisine and, today, after years of struggle and hardship, we are entering a time when more and more chefs and restaurateurs feel empowered to fight for diversity and inclusion in the circles of power that define and guide this industry.
James Beard Award–winning chef and author Michael Twitty; chef and activist Preeti Mistry; chef and founder of Queer Soup Night Liz Alpern; chef Deborah VanTrece; JaynesBeard founders Sabrina Chen and Alana McMillan; restaurateur Michaela Mendelsohn; and 2019 James Beard Outstanding Chef Award winner Ashley Christensen—these are just a few of the powerful people leading the work in the food and beverage world. They support marriage equality, opposed laws codifying discrimination, and are demanding to not only be seen but also heard in important forums.
These leaders are using their platforms to encourage tough conversations about inclusivity and diversity. They are fighting to make sure that every person—regardless of how they identify—can live their life and pursue their career free of fear, discrimination, and harassment.
At times, they push our organization to work harder and make sure that our programs (including the James Beard Awards) are as representative and inclusive as they can be each year.
We are honored to spend this and every June celebrating these leaders and their work. Through dinners at the James Beard House, partnerships with other organizations, policy fights, and protests we use our standing as the Beard Foundation to amplify their voices.
The work doesn’t just start and end this month, however. Educating everyone not to question a trans person’s right to move safely and securely through public spaces—including bathrooms—takes time. Positive policy change can take months, even years.
We are happy to have the opportunity to toast these efforts at our Cheers, Queers! event, but know that it is also our responsibility to continue to support this work, in direct consultation with the community, until harassment is no longer present, and hospitality in the U.S. is truly inclusive, no matter how long it takes.