I need to address something, not as a member of the Rotary International DEI task force, nor as the president of the Rotary Club for Global Action, but as a Rotarian and an individual who is shocked by the recent comments by Past Rotary International Director José Alfredo Pretoni.
I have been involved in Rotary International since I was a teenager and my experience with Rotarians around the world has been overwhelming inclusive. I have known Rotary International senior leadership to be supportive of everyone and so it is disheartening to see someone respected in the organization making such homophobic, racist and ageist statements.
We all have a responsibility to create an environment in our clubs, our districts and our beloved organization where everyone feels they belong. By his own admission, PRID Pretoni has made these types of statements before and I want him to know that in my own opinion, racism, homophobia, ageism and discrimination of any kind do not have a place in our organization.
When I think about my journey in Rotary, I think back to a concept that was first taught to me by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. That concept is “ubuntu”, a Nguni Bantu word that loosely translates to “I am because we are – my humanity is tied up, is inextricably bound up in yours, and we can only be human together." In Rotary we come together as one family, a human family, and it is our diversity that strengthens us, that propels us forward to be change makers for good.
In listening to the uninformed opinions of PRID Pretoni, I was of course shocked by the blatant homophobia and casual racism. But I was most upset about his comments regarding young people in our organization. The truth is, intergenerational interaction within Rotary contributes to our being a thriving, successful organization and there is much to be gained from a combination of new ideas and energy brought by younger people combined with the wisdom provided by more seasoned Rotarians.
Despite all the positive momentum we have seen in Rotary around Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, hateful statements such as these are a reminder of just how far we still have to go. When we see racism, homophobia, ageism, discrimination and other offensive behaviors, we MUST speak up – no matter how influential the offender might be. Discrimination cannot be tolerated. It’s an insult to our organization. It’s not what we stand for … it’s not who we are.