Guest Blogger

Why tolerate "tolerance?"

Filed By Guest Blogger | September 14, 2007 10:41 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: gay rights, LGBT civil rights, tolerance, visibility, Waymon Hudson

[EDITOR'S NOTE:] The following guest post comes to us from Waymon Hudson. Waymon is President and Co-Founder of Fight OUT Loud, a national non-profit organization dedicated to helping LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) individuals fight discrimination and hate. He is a vocal community activist and LGBT rights advocate. He is also a political columnist for the online magazine Waymon has been one of the leaders in the fight against Mayor Jim Naugle of Fort Lauderdale and his recent string of anti-gay comments.

waymon.jpgWe must be tolerant of others. It is something we hear far too often from political leaders. It is an issue that has come into sharp focus as we move into the height of the political season. It is preached at every campaign stop, every debate. More often than not, it is aimed at the LGBT community. Even those within our own community jump on the “tolerance train” and say that our fight is for “tolerance and respect.” I disagree. Our fight has not now, nor has it ever been, about the need for others to tolerate us. It is about full acceptance into society as a whole, with full equality and rights under the law.

The word “tolerance” conjures up some very negative connotations and when used in regards to the LGBT community, it carries some very serious and damaging baggage. When you say we need people to tolerate our lives, it suggests that we are vastly different and alien than others, something “out of the norm.” By playing into this suggestion, we have already made the efforts against us that much stronger. We must accept and show that our lives, relationships, and families are no different than anyone else’s and have just as much value. We have to start pushing that fact out to the forefront. If we happen to love someone of the same gender, does that somehow lessen the love we feel? If we express our gender identity in a way some might not fully understand, does that make it any less true? Of course not. The very word tolerance puts our relationships and lives in a lesser category than others. It seems to suggest that who we are as LGBT citizens is something to be merely “put up with.”

The battle for equality is not about simply being tolerated. It is about full acceptance. It is about making ourselves part of society. Our lives are just as valid and meaningful as everyone else’s, even if some may have some religious-based or moral objections to it. I realize we can’t change everyone’s minds and opinions about LGBT people. That is not what I am suggesting. What we can and must change is how the rest of society views those who would use their small-minded views to keep us from full equality and acceptance. By arguing to be tolerated, we have already lost half of that battle. We have played into the hands of the enemy by conceding that being LGBT is something bad, something to be ashamed of. The LGBT community must keep pushing for greater visibility and acceptance of our lives into society. We must fight for full acceptance under the law and not settle for anything less.

I know that asking for acceptance is a much longer road to go down, but it so much more important than simply being tolerated. The argument that we must take small steps and not ask for too much is completely flawed. This notion that we have to fight just for what is easily attainable instead of what we truly want and need is laughable! A good example of this “attainable versus desirable” debate is the fight over civil unions versus full-marriage. Gaining full marriage rights will be a longer and tougher battle than settling for civil unions, but do we really want to accept “separate but equal” status? Full marriage rights may not be immediately "attainable", but by demanding them, we have by default gained momentum for civil unions. Even most republicans now support some form of civil unions. If we just pushed for the easier goals, we would never make any real movement. We cannot settle. By demanding the rights that we deserve, we are drawing a line in the sand and giving society no choice but to catch up to us.

It is time that we really changed our way of thinking as a community. While it may be a hard fight to make society accept us, ultimately it is what we must do to reach our true goals. To be tolerated is nothing more than being looked down upon. We will never get the rights and freedoms we deserve without first demanding acceptance of our lives and relationships. I want full recognition and acceptance of who I am and who I love. I will not tolerate or accept anything less.

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Thank you very much. What am important message!

Too often we settle and take the crumbs thrown to us by those in power. You are correct that we need to push harder and farther, with the goal of pushing to full acceptance. Live openly and honestly, and the rest will follow.

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | September 14, 2007 1:47 PM

We absolutely should not accept tolerance. Tolerance makes homosexuality seem like something that "normal" people find distasteful, but refrain from making negative comments on in polite society. Who needs that?

Being gay is just another way of being human and we are full deserving of respect. I do not care if non-LGBT people accept me, but I will not allow them to disrespect me or treat me as a second class citizen.

I am so glad that you wrote on this topic. It is so true that we need to look past "tolerance" and focus on our need for equality. So often both words are used synonymously and we need to pause and reflect on how they are two extremely different concepts. I do not live my life to be tolerated by those around me, I live my life to be equal to those around me in my rights and in my restrictions. Thank you for your words both so eloquent and so true!

-Desiree Russano

Whooo! Yeah!

It is about full acceptance into society as a whole, with full equality and rights under the law.

But I'd go even further than that - let's bring a new definition of equality about that only sees the law as a tool of bringing it about!

The word tolerate has always bothered me.. I remember reading once a passage, and it suddenly dawned on me why I hate it so much..
It said something to the effect that: to tolerate something is something kin to siting in the a room while stabbing yourself in the leg with a fork and trying to hold back the vomit while someone you are TOLERATING is in the room.
I really never thought that was much of a goal to shoot for..
Mutial human respect is much better I think..

What a great post, Waymon. I'm with you 110%. "Tolerance" has always bothered me too - even as I've started tolerating it's usage. I don't want to be tolerated. I want to be equal.

Great post, Waymon, and I totally agree with you, with one caveat: We need to exercise far greater common sense than we do in prioritizing our agenda.

For example, now is the time to push for the hate crimes bill and ENDA, bills that can actually be passed in Congress, rather than continuing to focus on same-sex marriage to the extent some in our community do. Given that neither Congress nor the President currently can extend nor deny marriage rights, we need to focus our efforts at the federal level on goals which can be achieved there, and direct our marriage-related advocacy toward the state legislators who will actually play a role in making those goals a reality.

Right now, far too much of our efforts are wasted on trying to promote certain goals to officials who can't do anything significant to help us accomplish them. It may seem to make sense to the big-money Queers who really don't care about anything or anyone other than themselves, but in reality all we are doing is making it harder on ourselves when we try to argue the fairness of marriage equality when we still haven't successfully won equality in employment or housing in most of the country.

The question certain factions of our community ignore is how do you advocate for the right to marry the person you love when you still haven't won the right not to be fired or denied employment, thrown out of your home, or even have an assault against you as a GLBT person properly investigated or even simply tracked by federal law enforcement authorities?

We should never settle for anything less than full equality. At the same time, however, we should stand against the efforts of the selfish few (yes, I mean HRC) to put their own agenda first and foremost to the detriment of the rest of us. Once the rich and self-involved stop harming our community's efforts by squandering valuable face time with political leaders by insisting on spending that time debating issues they can do little or nothing about, perhaps we'll finally have a chance to find a realistic path to true equality.


I completely agree with you. I was merely using the marriage debate as an example. It is by no means the only or most important battle our community faces. Right now we definitely should be focusing on EDNA and the hate crimes bill. This was simply a discussion and observation on language and rhetoric.

Thanks for the great feedback!