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“Tolerance, n., willingness to accept behavior and beliefs that are different than your own although you may not agree or approve of them.” Cambridge Online Dictionary
Why is tolerance so lacking in America? In a modern, pluralistic, democratic society “live and let live” is essential. Tolerance is necessary to freedom and the functioning of society. You can not be free unless your neighbor is also free to be different. We constantly pontificate about freedom but don’t want to grant it to other people.
Intolerance, hate, bigotry, and racism have many causes most of them rooted in ignorance. We know little about other people, cultures, nations, religions, and history. We are a pridefully ignorant people. The typical American lacks accurate knowledge on many subjects. This has been amply demonstrated by many surveys. Knowledge of science is especially poor. Anti-environmentalism, opposition to evolution, and denial of climate change are examples. The continuing strength of fundamental religious beliefs which elevate “faith” over known fact is another. Lack of understanding of human sexuality is especially common.
The most misunderstood and maligned members of our society, according the Southern Poverty Law Center, are those with sexual differences. LGBT people are far more likely than any other minority group to be victimized by violence and hate crimes. This article was originally about the ridiculous controversy over what restroom transsexuals can use and the ignorance behind this non-issue. But then the mass shooting in Orlando happened. It appears from press reports that this crime was motivated by hate and homophobia. So talking about tolerance and dispelling some of the ignorance regarding human sexuality are especially appropriate at this time.
Human sexuality and gender are complex. Biologists cannot state conclusively what causes gender identity and sexual orientation. The consensus is that genetic, hormonal, brain structure, and environmental factors may all play a role in determining biological sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Most experts agree that human sexuality has naturally occurring variations other than heterosexual male and female.
Human sexual development is a process. It begins at conception with chromosomes contributed by the father and mother. As the fetus develops chromosomes and hormones cause sexual differentiation. A person with XX chromosomes generally becomes a female, while a person with XY chromosomes generally becomes a male. But other variations of chromosomes ( XXY, XYY for example) are possible. Also some fetuses don’t respond in the womb to the correct male or female hormones. They develop body parts that don’t match their chromosomes. Diversity and variations exist everywhere in nature. This is true in human sexuality.
Sexual orientation describes a person’s enduring physical or emotional attraction to another person (straight, gay, lesbian, or bisexual). Gender identity is someone’s internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman. Transgender people have a mismatch between the sex they were assigned at birth and their own internal gender identity. Transgender people may be straight, lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Gender identity and sexual orientation are two completely different things. Neither is a mental illness. Neither is a learned behavior, the result of upbringing, or a “choice.”
Sexual behavior is also different from orientation and identity. Heterosexuals, homosexuals, and transgenders may, or may not, be sexually active. All may engage in heterosexual or homosexual sex. It is known that many heterosexuals do have homosexual sex. There is no evidence that same-sex couples are any more or less harmful to children than heterosexual couples. They are not more likely to molest children. In fact, most analysis shows that over 90% of child molestation is committed by heterosexual men. There is no factual basis for employment discrimination for positions that involve responsibility for or supervision of others or contact with children.
Transgender and homosexual people are people. They come from a variety of ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds. They have been part of human societies from ancient times. There is no “gay lifestyle” just as there is no standard heterosexual lifestyle. They just want to live as part of society the same as anyone else. They want to be accepted, not condemned, by their families and communities.
So the legislation on restroom use is not only unnecessary, unenforceable, and ridiculous, it is based on ignorance. It is a classic example of finding solutions for non-existent problems. Media Matters for America comments on the experience of of states with laws prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations. They say,
“Experts in 12 states -- including law enforcement officials, government employees, and advocates for victims of sexual assault -- have debunked the right-wing myth that sexual predators will exploit transgender non-discrimination laws to sneak into women’s restrooms, calling the myth baseless and beyond specious.” ( HYPERLINK “http://mediamatters.org/research/2014/03/20/15-experts-debunk-right-wing-transgender-bathro/198533”http://mediamatters.org/research/2014/03/20/15-experts-debunk-right-wing-transgender-bathro/198533)
What this controversy does accomplish is to increase the fear, paranoia, and the potential for violence. By perpetuating ignorance and intolerance, the discriminatory policies only help make mass killings more possible.
As long as we have demagogues willing to promote hate to advance their own megalomania, or politicians willing to “divide and conquer” with wedge issues, or religious leaders willing to preach fear and ignorance we will have mass killings. The media contributes by providing insipid “infotainment” devoid of facts and perspective. The arms merchants help by putting profits from a divided, fearful, misinformed public over public safety.
In a supposedly free society people should be allowed to be themselves and to live their lives without unnecessary restrictions as long as it does not harm others. If we do not learn to be tolerant we will surely continue to decline into hate and violence.