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Home » Diversity Report » A New Direction for Diversity

A New Direction for Diversity


by Beth Zare, AFM Diversity Committee Chair and Secretary-Treasurer, Local 6 (San Francisco, CA)

I wish to thank AFM International President Tino Gagliardi for his confidence in appointing me chair of the Diversity Committee. During this month dedicated to Black History, I feel called to reflect on the past and future of the AFM’s efforts toward diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), celebrating what we have achieved and identifying where we still need to improve.


The Diversity Committee became a standing committee at the 95th AFM Convention in 2003, born from the Diversity Council, which was appointed by former AFM President Steve Young in 1996. In the later part of the last millennium, the word “diversity” was just entering our common language and our collective consciousness.

The Durban World Conference Against Racism, in 2001, addressed issues of racism, xenophobia, and related intolerances. Definitions of diversity have evolved in the 20-plus years since, especially after George Floyd’s death, which sparked a global conversation about systemic racism, inequality, and social justice.

Whatever evolution the decades have wrought, these words from Otis Ducker, chair of the original Diversity Committee, ring as true as ever: “The AFM, by the very nature and identity of its members, is one of the most, if not the most, diversified organizations in the US and Canada. We believe that, if we devote time, energy, and sensitivity to the celebration of that diversity, the AFM will remain strong and viable in representing its members and attracting new members, particularly young musicians. We are fully committed to that effort.”

Thanks to his direction and that of my predecessor, Lovie Smith-Wright of Local 65-699 (Houston, TX), we are poised to continue and expand on their efforts. To fully embrace diversity, we must surmount obstacles like fear of change, assumed economic or political backlash, misconceived stereotypes, or threats to privilege. Through education and awareness, inclusive policies, open dialogue, leadership, and representation—to borrow a phrase—we shall overcome!


It is important to acknowledge the areas in which we already excel. For example, our collective bargaining is strong as it pertains to the equal treatment of workers, regardless of their backgrounds or identities. Aligning with DEI principles, we include clauses that protect workers from discrimination based on characteristics such as race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation. We advocate anti-harassment in the workplace, fostering a safe and inclusive work environment.

The AFL-CIO Department for Professional Employees (DPE) recently cited the AFM in their updated Racial Justice Toolkit. When naming examples of how professionals are bargaining for racial justice, AFM contracts have provisions to encourage diverse hiring, including auditions that take place behind a screen to anonymize physical appearance.

The challenge lies in serving those members not protected by collective bargaining agreements. We have a diverse musical community within the AFM. While we remain steadfast in our dedication to creating an inclusive and welcoming space for all, we recognize that freelance musicians who come from diverse groups are the least likely to be represented. The correlation between classical music having its origins with mostly white (male) musicians and jazz or Latin bands containing mostly musicians of color speaks to the inequity in organizing efforts. Shouldn’t freelancers have the same opportunities as classical musicians for workplace protections, including pension and pay minimums?

Historically, unions have played an important role in ensuring civil rights progress. Organizing for change means reaching out to people we aren’t already talking to. According to the PEW Research Center, only 56% of all workers think DEI is a good thing. Unions are uniquely equipped to change this because the health of unions themselves depends on representing as many people as possible, which entails representing diverse populations.

Tourism is a $2 trillion industry. The music industry is another $4.9 billion, the wedding industry is $70 billion, and the festival industry, growing exponentially, is estimated to reach $16 billion this year. Musicians have a stake in each of these industries, yet we continue to beg for crumbs. Workers win when they come together across race, religion, language, and work types to understand and fight for each other’s interests. Imagine if every musician, from every genre, across all lines, came together to seize their own piece of the pie.

To ensure the strongest possible union, we must embrace diversity and prioritize organizing freelancers from all genres of music. The evolving landscape of our organization and dynamic nature of our industry offers the potential for the AFM to become the place for musicians of all backgrounds and experiences. We envision a future where the AFM reflects the diverse musical communities and also leads in championing DEI across all genres—and beyond.

Personal Responsibility

We are committed to transparency and open communications. When President Gagliardi asked if I would chair, I didn’t hesitate, even though the perception of a white person leading the Diversity Committee might be met with skepticism. Just the word “white” is sometimes synonymous with privilege—or worse yet: oppressor.

I am uncomfortable pretending to be something I am not, which is why I don’t try to hide that I am a Jewish lesbian. I have served on the Diversity Committee since 2010 and feel confident in my ability to have difficult conversations that lead us to solutions.

It is easy to fall into the trap of remaining silent for fear of saying the wrong thing. We must all feel not only empowered, but also responsible to speak out when we see injustice, whether those oppressed look like us or not. Just as we cannot expect people of color to be the only ones who care about diversity, those operating from a position of power must do some of the heavy lifting for the AFM to reach its fullest DEI potential.

Diversity work includes addressing racism, sexism, classism, ageism, and any other category used to divide us. Part of the trauma of racism or any -ism is that it renders too many of us unable to engage in difficult conversations with each other and disagree civilly.

Racism has a stranglehold on our ability to converse without getting overly emotional or angry. If we can navigate these differences, we will bring more musicians from historically marginalized communities into the fold.

Our workforce is not yet as diverse, equitable, and inclusive as it could be. As union musicians we understand the rallying cry of solidarity. When we stand shoulder to shoulder, we champion a new direction for diversity. Together, in music, we can help to heal the world.

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