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Memorial Day’s Relevance in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Headshot of Moorea Swango, the post's author. She is a young white blonde woman wearing a black t-shirt.

A couple of weeks ago, we saw many individuals and families returning home from their Memorial Day mini vacations and backyard barbecues. In our observance of Memorial Day, these community-building activities are just a part of the many ways that we opt to celebrate members of the military and commemorate the lives of those lost in service.

Memorial Day began in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971. The Civil War, which ended in 1865, claimed more lives than any conflict in U.S. history. By the late 1860s, Americans in various towns and cities had begun holding springtime tributes to countless fallen soldiers by decorating their graves with flowers and reciting prayers. Memorial Day’s significance continued to evolve, and in 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May and created a three-day weekend for federal employees.

Because this holiday holds special importance to so many, it becomes imperative that this day be included in the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) conversations that create belonging in our workforce. Celebration of this holiday week fosters DEI not only in the unique ways that it touches individuals but also in its honoring of the servicemembers who make our military diverse.

Women in the military have historically faced inequitable conditions, which underscores the importance of DEI initiatives. Disproportionally affected by sexual harassment, assault, implicit and explicit biases, and severe underrepresentation in positions of leadership, women have long endured discrimination based on the gendered experience.

Black soldiers, alongside fellow service members, enlist in the pursuit of American ideals such as freedom, liberty, justice, and democracy. They did so despite facing Jim Crow segregation and other periods when Black Americans were denied citizenship, voting rights, and full recognition as individuals. Even decades later, racism and discrimination persist, systematically placing Black Americans and other people of color at a disadvantage in our nation.

Throughout history, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and genderqueer (LGBTQIA+) individuals have been part of the U.S. military. However, because of homophobic and transphobic environments and prejudicial policies, these servicemembers often conceal significant aspects of their identities as they fight for the freedom of others.

Fully honoring ALL heroes necessitates unequivocal opposition to the systems that marginalize communities that are courageously and continually serving our nation. As much as Memorial Day is a day of remembrance, it’s also important to recognize the various groups of people who are currently serving and have their own battles against discrimination in the very country they are fighting for.