Gary Abernathy: Tolerance Should Be a Two-Way Street

From a Washington Post column by Gary Abernathy headlined “Tolerance should be a two-way street”:

Many Americans, aside from the most politically progressive, are routinely perplexed by modern-day news cycles dominated by subjects of gender and sexual identification.

From transgender swimmer Lia Thomas winning the 500-yard women’s freestyle in the NCAA championships, to Disney theme parks replacing greetings referencing “ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls” with gender-neutral language, to the outsize response to Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill prohibiting “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity” in grades K-3, most of our leading media blatantly side with the progressive movement, including adopting its preferred verbiage.

Thomas was celebrated by some as a trailblazer. After Disney chief executive Bob Chapek initially tried to distance the company from Florida’s political kerfuffle, he caved and apologized following a barrage of negative publicity. And media outlets overwhelmingly embraced the “don’t say gay” moniker invented by critics of the new Florida bill.

Much of the media has gone beyond merely reporting on these cases to all but taking the reins. Meanwhile, millions of Americans stand on the roadside shaking their heads as the bandwagon rolls by. And, in response to their reluctance to climb aboard, they are frequently labeled as bigoted, intolerant or just ignorant.

In fact, most bear no ill will toward anyone regardless of orientation or choices. But based on their long-held traditional or religious principles — coupled with what they consider mere common sense — many believe the following:

  • Athletes who formerly competed as men and then do so as women have unfair advantages.
  • The refusal to use an innocuous phrase such as “boys and girls” in an effort not to offend is, in fact, offensive to millions of Americans.
  • Gender-neutral language such as “pregnant people” and “birth-giver” devalues the experiences of mothers and women in general — and it’s not necessary for experts to affirm it, although there are plenty who will.

There is a lively debate to be had on these subjects. But we should all agree on this: Public school children in grades K-3 (if not well beyond) should be spared from a curriculum, or even a teacher’s opinion, on subjects of gender identity and associated political issues.

Opponents of the Florida law ask, “What if Mary asks the teacher why Johnny has two dads? The teacher could be in trouble for just answering the question.” Actually, the teacher’s wisest answer could be to encourage Mary to respectfully ask Johnny to answer her question. Presumably, Johnny’s dads have talked to their son about how to respond to that question. The explanation by Johnny’s parents might differ significantly from the answer from Mary’s parents based on their political or religious beliefs, and that’s fine.

But that’s not enough for activists who increasingly insist that institutions embrace progressive doctrine or face reputational or economic consequences. The fight for LGBTQ rights is analogous to the race-based civil rights movement, they say, although many Americans disagree with that comparison, including many African Americans.

There was a time when tolerance was preached as the antidote for a divided nation. Indeed, many social and religious conservatives adopted a libertarian philosophy: Live and let live. But, as demonstrated in the case of Chapek, being neutral is no longer enough. Silence is violence, we’re told. Tolerance must metamorphize into advocacy. You are with us or we are at war with you.

We live in a world that by nature becomes more liberal with each generation. Conservatism serves to slow, never stop, the steady march to the left. Legal barriers to gay couples enjoying the same rights as their straight counterparts took generations to tear down, but they were always based primarily on religious doctrine and entrenched traditions more than logic or sound legal precepts. In a pluralistic society where religious beliefs are protected but not imposed, it was right that the barriers fell to the wayside.

By contrast, many of the progressive demands being made today are seen by conservatives not so much as a challenge to the old order as an assault on basic logic and common sense.

These are complicated topics with serious implications, and decency and mutual respect should guide us. Loving each other, even as we strongly disagree, is crucial to coexisting, and so tolerance is the better goal than some unattainable universal agreement.

Some will insist otherwise, but the traditional advice might still work best: Silence is golden.

Gary Abernathy, a contributing columnist for The Post, is a freelance writer based in the Cincinnati, Ohio, region.

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