Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Speaking Out Against Hate and Discrimination

I don't usually write controversial posts here, but due to some trouble I got myself into on Facebook recently (long story... and this post will be long enough) I ended up engaged in some dialogue that left me with some stuff on my mind.

In one part of the conversation that ensued (via email) I stated that I have no tolerance for mistreatment of those who are marginalized (in reference to the LGBT community in this case, though that sentiment goes for those who are marginalized for other reasons as well), and that statement was twisted around to say that I have no tolerance for "anyone who does not agree with (my) position on LGBT issues." Hmm. I thought long and hard about these two sentences, and what they really mean.

Here is the thing. I am tolerant of alternative viewpoints. You have your beliefs, I have mine. We can debate all day about who should be president, or whether or not there should be standardized testing, vegan vs paleo, or whether we should or shouldn't go to war with another country. There are thousands of issues to which I might have a very different opinion than you, and we can disagree and the world will keep on turning.

But where I draw the line is when someone's beliefs or viewpoints are harmful or discriminatory to other humans. If someone is going to insist that being gay/lesbian/trans or otherwise non-binary is a "sin" (more on that in a moment) and they do things to deny this segment of the population their basic human rights and liberties, then I will not be tolerant of that. I will not stand by and be silent as they tell other humans that they are bad, they are less, they are "disgusting" or that they are not worthy of the same rights as the rest of us. That is not simply "having a different opinion." That is hatespeak, and that is harmful to us all. If you spread this kind of hateful rhetoric, you are propagating hate, plain and simple.

Intolerance of discrimination is not a slam against or an infringement upon anyone's religion. We are ALL entitled to pray to whatever God we want, to practice whatever religious rituals we want, to celebrate whatever holidays we want, or even to not participate in any religion at all, for that matter. But human decency goes beyond religious doctrine. Treating fellow humans the way we would want to be treated is the most important principle in all faiths. 

Let's talk for a minute about this whole "being gay is a sin" concept that so many people use as an excuse to discriminate. It's important to remember that the bible was written a really, really long time ago, long before the time when science determined that humans are BORN gay... it's a biological variation. Research has shown that homosexual brains look visibly different in brain scans. Being gay is not a choice any more than having autism or epilepsy or blue eyes or brown skin or flat feet is a choice. It's how you're born, it's how God made you... how can that possibly be a sin? However, mistreating those who are born different IS a choice. And THAT most definitely goes against the teachings of the bible... "You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these."

Here's another thing about LGBT discrimination, particularly for perceived religious reasons. I know several people who grew up gay/trans/non-binary in religious homes, where homosexuality was considered a sin. They were taught their whole lives that being gay is this terrible thing, which is really traumatic to someone who knows in their heart that they are gay. These people grew up hearing from their parents, their families and their church that THEY were bad, that THEY were sinful, and all suffered deep scars as a result. How is this not child abuse? Since being gay is about biology and not sin, an anti-gay religious family is just as likely to give birth to a gay child as any other family. But the child in the anti-gay home is far more likely to commit suicide or engage in self-harm than the child who comes from a loving, accepting family. And what of the children from these households who are not gay themselves? They are being taught to view other humans as less, to perpetuate discrimination, and that is tragic.

I grew up in a world where being gay was no big thing. There were gay people in our lives, but we never really even talked about the fact they they were gay... they just were, and it was just the way it was. I didn't know that some people thought it was a bad thing until late elementary/middle school, when kids would throw around hateful words like "fag." I'm guessing these bullies learned this stuff from their parents. Horrible.

I'm really proud that I've raised my own kids to be more accepting. By the time my daughter turned five, she had been to three weddings. The first was for my two uncles, the second was for friends... two beautiful brides, and the third was for other friends, a man and a woman. I remember  a few years later having to explain to my kids about how some people thought people of the same gender shouldn't be married. The response? "Well, that's stupid. People should marry whoever they want." From the mouths of babes.

But it's not enough to teach our kids to accept others... it's also important to teach them to stand up against bullies and haters... to protect the rights of those who are marginalized. And that doesn't just apply to homophobia. Decent people stand up for those who need help, whether the bullying is about homophobia, racism, sexism, or any other -ism. Silence is acceptance. I will never be silent. 

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