Of tolerance and acceptance

OXFORD, England: This past week we witnessed a momentous occasion, something of great importance. No, it wasn’t the stock market plunge, which suggested the American economy might return to reality. And no, it’s not the fact that the Mets finally started playing like they are capable of playing (important, to be sure, but probably not momentous). No, it was none of these things. Instead, I refer to the meeting last week between the Republican Presidential nominee and a group of homosexual Republicans.

Earlier on in the primary season Governor George W. Bush noted that he was willing to meet with any group that expressed interest. When the Log Cabin Republicans did just that, the Governor, bowing to pressure from religious conservatives, declined their invitation. He argued that he was too busy and his views and those of the members of the group were most likely incompatible.

Then last week, having won his party’s nomination and consolidated his hold over the votes of religious conservatives, Bush abruptly changed his mind and agreed to meet with the group. The meeting itself went on for a couple of hours. There were of course plenty of opportunities for members of the press to take photographs. At the conclusion of the event, the Governor made it clear that he had not changed his mind on any of the issues discussed, issues such as same-sex marriage and amending civil rights laws to have them also include sexual preference. He noted that he felt that he was a better person for having attended this meeting. Bush then went on to express his hope that his Republican Party would be seen as a party of inclusion and that all should know that the party was tolerant of different views and lifestyles.

Mr. Bush’s claims of tolerance were far better than those heard eight years ago, specifically from Patrick Buchanan during a primetime speech at the Republican Convention. Yet I wonder about this concept of tolerance and I find it a bit unsettling. It strikes me that homosexuals deserve a bit more than mere tolerance and anything less must eventually be boiled down to a type of second-class citizenship. When I ponder the notion of tolerance what first comes to mind is everyday usage of the word. My roommate tolerates the rather pungent odor of my running shoes. I tolerate the lack of sun in this country. Tolerance is applied to things that one does not like and does not approve of but cannot do anything about.

The appropriate concept is acceptance and respect, something that is much more difficult to achieve. It would be depressing to consider whether acceptance exists on a national level. However, I was very much curious of its place in the Williams community. Are homosexuals accorded the same class of membership in our community as heterosexuals?

Frequently I think most of us congratulate ourselves on our own open-mindedness. We feel we are tolerant of many different things. And we are right, but much of the time that is all we are. There is a large contingent in our community that, while tolerating gays and lesbians, thinks of them of as a separate entity distinct from the rest. They are tolerant to be sure, but not accepting. While I see this as a problem, I also don’t see any easy solutions. One must accept something on one’s own terms and cannot be pushed into it.

So, while I applaud Governor Bush’s actions and I am pleased that we live in a tolerant community, I am not satisfied with either situation. Tolerance is a step in the right direction, but it is well past time that we took another step.

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