After flying high over campus all of last week, the Pride flag has been lowered and Outweek celebrations have concluded for another year. The annual celebration raises awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, transexual, two-spirit, and intersex (LGBTQTTI) issues, and it promotes—among other things—tolerance, inclusivity, diversity, and acceptance. The events are meant to create an atmosphere on campus of belonging and freedom for
There’s a problem, though. Outweek isn’t inclusive. It’s exclusive. It isn’t a neutral celebration that includes everybody. Rather, Outweek is a celebration of a specific view of human sexuality that not everyone shares or agrees with. In fact, not everyone thinks that the view of sexuality celebrated by Outweek is good, and some might even go so far as to say that it is morally wrong.
This puts us in a bit of a contradiction, it would seem. On one hand, Outweek is supposed to be a celebration of diversity, inclusivity, and tolerance, but on the other hand, it excludes all of those students, faculty, and staff who don’t agree with the view of sexuality being celebrated.
We might be tempted to label those people who don’t agree with Outweek as intolerant, as if to say, “We don’t need to tolerate intolerance or include intolerant people.” But what makes those people intolerant for disagreeing with the view of sexuality celebrated during Outweek, provided they do so respectfully? If we say they are intolerant for disagreeing with us, aren’t we intolerant for disagreeing with them? And if we say that they are intolerant for judging others, aren’t we intolerant for judging them?
Somehow the word “tolerance” has come to mean something akin to accepting other people’s moral beliefs—especially accepting other people’s views of sexuality. As a result, we label as intolerant people who believe, for instance, that gay sex is morally wrong. But by this definition of tolerance, we are just as intolerant as them (only we don’t think we are). We believe A. They believe B. We think they’re wrong to believe B. They think we’re wrong to believe A. We reject their view as much as they reject ours.
The sad irony is that when we start calling others intolerant for having a different view of morality or sexuality than our own, we begin to justify trampling all over them, and treating them with contempt and disrespect. This false view of tolerance leads to real intolerance. A fitting example of this is the case of Dan Savage and Rick Santorum.
In 2003, Savage, a well-known sex advice columnist from Washington, took issue when an American politician named Rick Santorum said in an interview that the state has the right to regulate homosexual acts in the same way that it regulates other sexual acts such as adultery, polygamy, incest, and bestiality. “If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home,” he said, “then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything.” How did Savage react to these comments? He held a contest to redefine the Senator’s name, “Santorum,” as a gay sex act. In the end “santorum” was defined, not as a sex act, but as something I’ll politely leave out of print. The message from Dan Savage is clear: if you don’t agree with his view of sexuality, he doesn’t need to respect you. In fact, he’ll drag your name through the mud.
True tolerance cannot be, as we seem to assume, accepting everyone’s moral beliefs. People will always disagree. If we all agreed then there would be no need to tolerate each other (notice that the very word “tolerance” implies disagreement). Instead, we need to understand tolerance as it was traditionally meant: respecting other people despite disagreement. No matter how strongly you disagree with someone’s ideas, you respect the person. You don’t agree with my view of sexuality? Fine. But let’s respect each other. The real test of tolerance is how we treat those we disagree with.
When we claim that others are being exclusive and intolerant simply because they don’t hold to our view of sexuality, we are hypocrites. Instead, let’s show true tolerance by respecting each other—regardless of sexual orientation or beliefs about sexuality.