Being “tolerated’ is not enough

So, this past weekend I was reminded that there are still spaces where you’re vulnerable as an LGBT+ person and there are still people who believe that to be a gay man as I am, indeed to be any member of the Queer community, makes you somehow ‘wrong,’ somehow ‘broken,’ somehow not ‘normal.’This past weekend I was on a panel debating people who, because of their interpretation of their religion’s code, cannot ever accept, affirm and celebrate me for who I am and who I love.

I got told that I was to be ‘tolerated.’

I don’t wish to be ‘tolerated.’

‘Tolerated’ means that you’re not accepted or wanted, but people will put up with you if they have to.

I challenged these views robustly. ..and other tropes which I won’t repeat here, because of how offensive they are…but it reminded me that being publicly LGBT+, especially as an activist, can leave you in a very vulnerable position.

Now, other people at the event couldn’t have been more supportive, more gracious, more accepting.

I’m not sorry I took part.

Because if there’s no one there to challenge prejudiced views, how are they ever overcome?

But, I did come home and have a bit of a weep.

I wept because I was reminded that me being who I am and loving who I love is still offensive to some people and-according to them-their God.

My God, however, Is Love.

He always puts first the Least, the Last and the Lost.

This experience, whilst wearying, has reminded me why I’m an LGBT+ Rights Campaigner.

Why I’m an out and proud gay man.

Why I’ll always fight, each and every day, until everyone in our communities, has acceptance, dignity, justice and equality.

The bigots and the haters will not win.

Love Is Love.

* Mathew Hulbert is a parish Councillor in Leicestershire.

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  • Sadly, being tolerated, by a large proportion of the UK is where we are. In my lifetime we have come a long way but, as your article suggests there is still a long way to go.
    As long as public figures refuse to unequivocally embrace ‘love is love’, and even preach that being different is ‘cureable’, progress will be slow.

  • Matt (Bristol) 9th Jul '19 - 11:29am

    Matthew, I accept who you are and that you are unique and valuable to society.
    I do not intend to merely tolerate you, because you have a right to shape and be a voice in and of society. Your views are valuable, and in a poly-cultural society your belief is legitimate.

    But can I ask that when it comes to the role of the party, do you envisage the party as a voice to speak and argue against these views, or as a legislator to eliminate and ban the expression of these views?

    (And at this stage I speak of views and speech only, as opposed to those who act on their views to abuse or force conformity).

  • Chris Bertram 9th Jul '19 - 12:57pm

    I think you may be getting too hung up about the meaning of the word “tolerated”. The fact is that nobody has the *right* to be liked, let alone loved. Sometimes toleration – the acceptance of your right to exist without molestation – is the best you can hope for from some people. This doesn’t just apply to LGBT, of course, it applies in many spheres of life. In politics it applies to being a member of the Lib Dems, for Pete’s sake! So I’d suggest that you consider what’s likely to be effective in terms of awareness campaigns, taking that into account. As for the advocates of “cures for gayness”, the best means of countering them is with complete ignoral. Anything else gives them publicity that they don’t deserve.

  • Malcolm Todd 9th Jul '19 - 2:04pm

    The opposite of tolerance is not love: it is intolerance. Which I’m against, generally.

    Tolerance means “live and let live”, essentially. I don’t think anyone has the right to demand approval from their neighbours, and I’m not sure why you’d want to.

  • There are I think two sense of “tolerate” that people widely use.

    I meet people who talk about being tolerated as in: people are telling me that they hate who and what I am and think it should not be allowed but feel obliged, by dint of employment or not wanting to wind up in court or what have you, to pretend that they think of me as an equal human.

    Sadly the form in which I am sure those oh-so “tolerant” panellists meant it.

    And I meet people who use that same word and by it mean: we tolerate things we do not understand because we know we can’t understand everything and we accept that people are probably, usually, living the best version of themselves they can manage just now.

    The second of these I like greatly. It’s what I hope people mean when they talk about wanting to build a “tolerant society”. That we tolerate that other people have a different experience and we do not expect it to be perpetually explained or indeed mocked simply for difference in the way that those of us who grew up in the 70s or 80s etc knew as the normal reaction to difference. Because there are so many differences among 7 billion people that I cannot imagine I will ever learn to know about them all, so this cannot just be about getting enough education about human difference.

    I want a tolerant society, where our default response to someone living their life differently from how we live our own is “I’m happy that works for you” not “how dare you not live just like me”. Not the tolerance of the panel…

    Sometimes it has never felt further away.

  • I couldn’t agree more, Matthew. One tolerates the things one doesn’t like but can’t change, like the heat on the bus because you have to get to work, or the screaming child in the back of the plane because you can’t get off at 30,000 feet. No-one wants to feel that others are merely holding their tongue, particularly if one is in a vulnerable position to begin with.

    As for Matt from Bristol’s point, it’s right and proper to legislate to protect against hate speech and to eradicate systemic unfairness, but I don’t see how one can legislate positively *for* acceptance. That’s a cultural thing, and it’s absolutely the place of the Lib Dems to help continue to shift that culture. It’s interesting that in the last twelve months more and more people have been talking about moving from ‘tolerance’ to ‘acceptance’, and it suggests that this cultural shift is already underway. Hearing Jo Swinson and Ed Davey on the subject in hustings is a good example of this underway.

  • chris moore 9th Jul '19 - 6:30pm

    @ expats: as long as public figures ….. even preach that being different is ‘cureable’, progress will be slow.

    Such outbursts of ignorance and prejudice, I believe, move things forward, distressing though they are.

    Anne Widdicombe is a joke figure amongst the vast majority of the public. Her views are widely ridiculed and regarded as out of date and out of touch with reality.

    Keep up the good work, Mathew. Solidarity from Spain, where there’s a clear generational shift for the better. Though far to go, still!

  • Matt (Bristol) 10th Jul '19 - 10:05am

    John Grout, moving on to the more abstract point, a culture of acceptance is important — but I do not personally want legislation to enforce it unless people are being materially hurt and coerced (which is a separate point).

    But when people do not conform in their speech to the culture we (broadly speaking) wish to create, what are we to do? Enforce conformity or keep arguing against? (And we need to accept that individuals will vary in how they will ‘acceptance’ working out, and allow for freedom of conscience).

    Arguing against, and provoking the conscience of others, as Matthew is seeking to do, is in my view the only way for a mature democratic society.

    My worry is that the culture of acceptance the party wants to build could at some future point tip over into a culture of shutting out the ‘other’ who is judged to be non-accepting, of allowing culture apartheid to further divide our society, and acting like things are illegal, when in fact we find them unacceptable (which is different).

    All the intentions are good, in battling homophobia and removing the legacy of damaging conformist legislation like Section 28, but for a party that does not wish to see conformity enforced by law, we must not become the new conformists.

  • Innocent Bystander 10th Jul '19 - 11:31am

    Like some others, I don’t quite understand?
    I only ask to be ‘tolerated’, that is to be left in peace to live within the law. I would hope to be loved by my family but I have no expectation that wider society would “want or accept” me.
    Why would they? As a complete stranger?

  • Sue Sutherland 10th Jul '19 - 12:44pm

    If words make someone weep from hurt you can be pretty sure that they shouldn’t have been spoken. The old proverb “Sticks and stones” etc couldn’t have been more wrong. If racist speech isn’t tolerated then why should homophobic abuse be tolerated?
    Many people are so intolerant they can’t accept any other way of doing things no matter how trivial. The fact that this may come from a deep insecurity, that if someone does things differently they see it as an attack on their own behaviour, doesn’t make it acceptable. People need to be challenged for their intolerance and taught how unacceptable it is.
    I have a silly experience of intolerance that shouldn’t really upset me but it does. I have M.E. and as a part of that my sinuses can’t tolerate even the slightest breeze. So, on a summer’s day I have to wear a scarf around my face. People often make a comment about it, not necessarily unkindly, though I have been laughed at. This has the effect of making me feel abnormal and embarrassed about having to wear a scarf, so I can understand people feeling upset when their very being, their basic humanity is being challenged. I don’t think people should be allowed to do that.

  • Innocent Bystander 10th Jul ’19 – 11:31am………………………Like some others, I don’t quite understand?
    I only ask to be ‘tolerated’, that is to be left in peace to live within the law. I would hope to be loved by my family but Innocent Bystander 10th Jul ’19 – 11:31am
    Like some others, I don’t quite understand?
    I only ask to be ‘tolerated’, that is to be left in peace to live within the law. I would hope to be loved by my family but I have no expectation that wider society would “want or accept” me.
    Why would they? As a complete stranger?
    Why would they? As a complete stranger?…………………………..

    There is a world of difference between being ‘tolerated’ and ‘accepted’…

    As for “want or accept” me… It has nothing to do with an individual. Few of us would accept a judgement based only on sex, race, religion or culture?

    Why should it be different for sexual orientation?

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