Why Tolerance Isn’t Acceptable

I see so many people lobby for tolerance when we should be lobbying for acceptance. I do not see tolerance as an acceptable goal. Tolerance allows people to still hold bigoted beliefs and opinions, tolerance allows people to still pass laws against queer people and their rights, tolerance still allows hate. Tolerance is a null point to me. Tolerance is a way of accepting defeat in my eyes. Tolerance should be considered a goal marker and a stepping stone when it comes to the lives of queer people. I do not want people to merely tolerate my existence; I want them to accept there is nothing wrong with me.

By the very definitions of the words, tolerance and acceptance are very different. Merriam-Webster defines tolerance as “sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own”. They define accept as, “to give admittance or approval to” or “to endure without protest or reaction” or most importantly “to regard as proper, normal, or inevitable”.  By the very definitions, tolerance does not equal acceptance. So many people are using tolerance when they mean acceptance. Tolerance is “love the sinner, hate the sin” and “I don’t hate gay people, but…”. Those are examples of tolerance. Tolerance is not a neutral standing. Tolerance is not about going into something with an open-mind and open-heart. Acceptance is the neutral starting point. Acceptance is the open-mind and open-heart. Acceptance should be the goal, not merely tolerance.

So why do people lobby for tolerance over acceptance? I feel the reasons run deeper than a semantic misunderstanding of the definitions of the words. Tolerance is a much easier and accepted goal. It does not flat out tell people they are wrong, but gently persuades them that their beliefs are ok to hold and that they can still keep them, as long as they leave others alone. However, by allowing people to hold these beliefs, even if they are not actively lobbying against beliefs, they are still allowed to continue to spread their hate, bigotry, and misinformation. Tolerance, by virtue, allows people to remain openly spiteful. Tolerance allows environments of hatred, emotional violence, and bigotry to remain and flourish. Tolerance is a two-way street; it allows the avenues to remain open on both ends. If people must tolerate queer people, we must tolerate their bigotry.

So the same thing must be said about acceptance, right? This is not true. If people are supposed to accept queer people, it automatically casts those who do not in unfavorable lights. We don’t have to accept racial bigotry because we accept racial equality. That doesn’t make sense, does it? It is the same thing for acceptance of sexual, romantic, and gender variances among people. Just because we accept these as equally valid as heterosexual and cisgender identities, does not mean we have to accept bigotry towards these people. Acceptance of one thing casts the non-acceptance in a negative way. Thus, unlike tolerance, acceptance allows a more positive environment for people.

I do not believe we will ever live in a utopia where everyone will be allowed to freely live their lives. There are too many people in this world with too many differing views. Tolerance is, as I said before, a goal towards acceptance. I do not believe we will ever have true, no-strings attached acceptance. However, we are working towards it. Slowly, those who cast queer people in unfavorable lights are becoming the minority. They are slowly gaining the negative light that those who are racist are cast in. While this is mostly true for those who are gay and lesbian, people are slowly focusing on gender, romantic, and other sexual minorities. In the future, those who see all queer people negatively will be viewed on the same level as racism.

However, since racism is still plenty alive in America, there is a lot of work to do on the acceptance for all. While a perfect utopia may never exist, I believe that accepting people and casting those who do not as the ones in the wrong is a start. This is not tolerance. Tolerance, is allowing people to have these beliefs and tell them it is ok to have these beliefs. It is not ok to hate. Acceptance is about a world free of hate of people for being who they are. Acceptance is about knowing, understanding, and well, accepting the variance of the human condition. Tolerance is not about that. Tolerance is about allowing people to hate and letting them feel ok in their hate. Tolerance is about letting people feel free to hate and not be shunned for it. That is the difference between tolerance and acceptance and it is not a small difference in the slightest.

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