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I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it – attributed to Voltaire

One of the biggest controversies swirling on social and mainstream media these days is about the beliefs expressed by the head of a fast food outlet in the U.S. Without question, I disagree and disapprove of the beliefs held by this man and the groups that his company supports. I would boycott the restaurant if I lived in the U.S. I might send letters and protest, join in whatever campaign that I felt would help to educate others and encourage tolerance.

I try not to tell any one they can’t have or express their opinion, even when it is on the complete other end of the spectrum from mine. It is important to remember though, that expressing your opinion and creating a negative, hateful or discriminatory environment are two completely different things.

In an interesting tactic, some groups who support “traditional family values” put forth the argument that they are being discriminated against for their beliefs. Sometimes it goes like this: in comment sections of news articles, you will find significant amounts of arguing of points that might start with: “the bible/God says gay marriage/being gay is wrong”. Possible response: “you call yourself a Christian?”

Back and forth it goes, usually getting nastier with each exchange. And then, a zinger appears….someone on “my” side is accused of not being tolerant. Not accepting that there are different points of view and being a bigot themselves.

The first time I read this I passed it over. When it kept cropping up, I got curious and spent way too much time searching it out on the internet. This argument is not new and is a cry from the side that doesn’t actually know what discrimination and intolerance really look like in 2012.

I was reminded of an incident at work in the spring, shortly after we recognized The Day of Pink at the school where I work. One of our teachers had read a book about families and in that book, there were two moms. I figured there might be some splashback about the book, but I was surprised that a parent went to the principal and ask that her children be excused from class whenever discussions relating to LGBTQIA individuals are going to take place. The parent identified as Christian. And openly homophobic.

When this topic was discussed at a staff meeting, it was contentious and the idea that this family should be granted this request was at the heart of the issue. This is public education, after all, and we need – and are mandated – to teach tolerance. People are allowed to have their children excused from activities due to religious beliefs but by withdrawing your children from discussions about families that don’t look like yours, you are saying, this is so wrong, I will not even allow you to hear the other side of the debate.

Again, it is one thing to tolerate your views; it is another to allow you to be intolerant without calling you on it. I do not want to enable discrimination, bottom line. Perhaps I would not die defending your right after all.

The highlight of the debate for me came when a teacher questioned administration on the idea that if she, the teacher, were gay, would the parent be allowed to request a different teacher? And if there is only one teacher per grade (which is the case in our school), would that teacher be given a different teaching assignment? Would the teacher be expected to never talk about her home life in the way that many educators do? Where is that line?

The Mayor of Boston took a controversial stand by telling Chick-fil-a they were not welcome in his city. As another blogger stated, that action may be seen as being intolerant. My thoughts were, well, where is that line? I don’t know. I need to be tolerant if I want tolerance. It’s just really hard when the opposing point of view is so destructive and discriminatory.

I give the last word to Jack Layton, who almost a year ago wrote a Letter to Canadians just before he died. His words are guideposts in this and many other debates.

“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.” – Jack Layton