In the past issue of The Phoenix, Rachel Stone wrote a reply (“Tolerance is Intolerable”) to an article I had written (“Respect vs. Agreement”). I’m very glad she did, as she evidently desires justice for the LGBTQ community.
Anyone in possession of a conscience who hasn’t been living under a rock their whole lives is aware of injustices that gays and lesbians have faced in our country. They have been ostracized, bullied, scorned, and treated as inferiors. They have been the victims of violence. They have been on the receiving end of these and, no doubt, countless other evils which I do not have the space to detail. Suffice to say, we must all stand up against this sort of injustice, and let me be the first to stand side by side with Ms. Stone in doing so.
Ms. Stone’s reply, however, displayed a significant misunderstanding of my argument for tolerance, which was very likely due to a lack of clarity on my part. She took me to be arguing that we ought to tolerate the ideas of others, no matter how reprehensible those ideas are. She rightly condemned this notion, as it is absurd. It is also not at all what I was arguing for. We have no obligation to tolerate the ideas of others. Neither Ms. Stone nor I will “tolerate” the idea that gays and lesbians are somehow lesser. A human being is a human being, and everyone deserves equal respect.
We do, on the other hand—and here’s the all important distinction—have an obligation to respect people, even when we disagree with their ideas. This, I argued, is the essence of true tolerance: respecting the person, despite disagreement. In other words, you respect the person, but you don’t have to respect the ideas. True tolerance is the value that will make the UBCO community a safe place for all, whether gay or straight, Sikh or Muslim, man or woman, Marxist or Democrat.
When it comes to sexuality, there is a wide diversity of beliefs as to what is best. My argument was that it is not intolerant (read, disrespectful) to politely disagree with another’s view of sexuality. For instance, I once tutored a married young man from a non-Western, traditional culture, who asked me, “Why don’t young people in Kelowna get married?” He was shocked that people have sex and live with people, without first getting married. He thought it was wrong. Does that make him an intolerant bigot? No, I don’t think so. He was very respectful to me despite our differences, and I’m sure he would respect anyone whose view of sexuality differed from his.
Some people disagree with the view of tolerance that I presented. I pointed to Dan Savage as an example of someone who doesn’t believe that he has to respect people who disagree with his view of sexuality. Ms. Stone defended his actions as “intolerance acting in tolerance’s defense.” What does this mean? Does it mean that we can ostracize, bully, scorn, and treat as inferior those people who disagree with a certain view of sexuality? I thought that was precisely the sort of behavior that we were fighting against.
The LGBQT community has been the recipient of disrespect for too long, and many people have fought long and hard against prejudice and hatred, and for equal rights. Instead of merely shifting our prejudice and hatred to another group, let’s remember that the same rights which protect the LGBQT community also protect people regardless of their political belief or religion—even if those religions contain unpopular beliefs about sex.