Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tolerance is not good enough.

Back in July, Tim Ravndal, the president of the Montana Big Sky Tea Party Association, had the following exchange on his facebook page.  This was brought up first (to my knowledge) on Andy Towle's blog, Towleroad.  I find this truly sickening.

The relevant comments are about halfway down, starting with this from a Dennis Scranton,  "I think fruits (referring to homosexuals) are decorative.  Hang up where they can be seen and appreciated.  Call Wyoming for display instructions."  To which Randval replies, "@Dennis, Where can I get that Wyoming printed instruction manual?"

In case you are unaware of the Wyoming event being alluded to, Matthew Shephard was a 21-year-old gay man murdered in Laramie, WY, in October 1998, dying in a hospital a few days after being found by a cyclist passing by the fence to which he had been tied and tortured, beaten and pistol-whipped by two homophobic young men.

I've been a racial minority all my life, and have encountered race-based bigotry only a few times.  None were particularly threatening, but they were somewhat disconcerting.  I don't really think about my race all that much - I just am what I am.  I encounter sexuality-based prejudice far more often, though it isn't directed at me since I appear to be a relatively normal heterosexual male.  This is often in the form of humor, but when it is "humor" between two heterosexuals making fun of LGBT type "queers", it really can't be considered humor any more, can it?

Here's the thing.  We minorities, whether racial, social, sexual, or gender, have for too long been asking for tolerance from the majority.  Let's think about that:  Don't you want to be more than just "tolerated"?  I think we've been pussy-footing around what we really want for fear of losing some of our allies, but enough is enough!  Let's say I pass poorly as a transsexual woman - I sure don't want to walk around town with people shooting daggers at me with their eyes knowing that the only thing that makes them "tolerate" my presence is the law.  That is not good enough.  We need to educate people beginning from a very young age and IN THE SCHOOLS that every single person is a human being and should be treated with all of the dignity and respect that you would give any other human being.  It doesn't matter who or even what they love, what they look like, what their profession is, or what their beliefs are.  If they aren't harming someone else, then there is no reason not to show them full respect and acceptance of their humanity.  You don't just tolerate their presence.  You accept them as a fellow human being.

The idea of tolerance means that there is continued argument about the value of some people based not on their contributions to society or generosity to others, but on what they do in their private lives, not hurting anyone.  We need to tackle this issue head-on and right now.  If some tenets of some religions or cultures say that homosexuality is evil, or that women are not as good as men, then we cannot stand by and say, "Oh, well that's just their belief system.  As long as they don't shoot you for being gay we can't do anything."  When you label someone as "evil" that is not a benign label.  People who believe that will consciously or subconsciously consider the "evil" person to be less than human.  To say that women are inferior to men does the same.  That makes it ok to hurt them, whether physically or otherwise.

When a belief is clearly wrong, you don't just let people just keep believing.  So we have to say these people, many of your culture's ideas and ideals are wonderful, but think through this.  Clearly some of the tenets of your religion or cultural heritage are born from historical bigotry and attempts to control the society around them.  Throw those ideas OUT!  Be vocal about it!  Tell your fellow Christians or Muslims or whatever that they would be no less Christian or Muslim if they believed only in the "be good to people" side of their religion and not the exclusionary, spiteful side.  I'm not a religious scholar and I'm not a philosopher.  I am aware of many nuances and arguments around the idea of morality, but at its most basic state, morality is about doing as little harm to others as possible.  Excluding people from the whole is definitely harmful.  Having consensual sexual relations with male or female partners is not. Being a woman and walking on the street unescorted is not.  Driving while woman is not.  Wearing dresses with your XY chromosomes is not.

It is time to stop listening to the ultra-conservatives screaming "Think of the children!" and instead we should actually think about the children.  How young is too young to "indoctrinate" them into believing that everyone should be a potential friend no matter how they look or behave (as long as they aren't hurting someone)?  If we contradict their parents' teachings because their parents are bigoted morons, isn't that our duty?  Parents don't have a right to prevent their children from learning alternative points of view just as the government has no right to tell the parents what to say to their children.  Hopefully, the more open and inclusive view will win the mind of the child, and for now, that's what we need to work for.  Our personal futures are short and it is doubtful we will see meaningful change in how we minorities are perceived, but over a generation or two, IF we can make a change in what kids are being taught, maybe our queer descendants will be able to walk down any street without a second thought as to whether anyone is likely to attack her just for being herself.

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