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“Acceptance” and “Tolerance”

A short time ago I had the opportunity to speak before a group of teenage students in Groningen. And a burning issue emerged from these very students after giving an address geared towards sensitizing them about LGBT issues. During the speech I had a chance to tell about myself, career and life experiences. I spoke about my migration to the Netherlands and after telling my story it was time for questions from the students and it was a very interactive group. They had several questions. But the ones that hit me very hard and set me thinking, were the following three, which also motivated this month’s blog.

* Do you feel safe here in the Netherlands?
* Do you feel comfortable in Groningen being gay?
* Would you ever walk with your partner hand in hand in this country?

So you may ask, why those questions were so important or even became an issue so I will tell you. Since coming here in 2015, I have heard an ongoing discussion from both Dutch people and refugees alike. That topic involved “are you really free to express yourself”. In November, law enforcement officer explained to me: “I have no problem with any gay people here in Holland. But I don’t support all these so call rights and freedoms being sort after.”

An 56 year old taxi driver from Amsterdam, who works closely with LGBT organizations told me: “I lived here all my life and have seen the growing LGBT population. I did not support it before. But a few years ago, I came home and my son told me he wanted to talk to both me and his mother. During the discussion my son told me that he is gay and have been for some time now. I did not know how to respond. But his mother and I spoke about it and we told him we accepted him. That was very important, since you hear all these stories of people who don’t get the support from their families”.

In Groningen an 34 year old woman said: “I don’t see why gay people feel the need to seek all these rights and freedoms. They are just like everyone else. I feel the fact that they fight for all these equalities makes it an issue. I think gay people should just live like a straight person. You don’t see a straight person saying they was equality”. A gay café worker explained to me, that while he is comfortable with his sexuality, he doesn’t tell people he is gay, because it causes some unwanted issues. And this is where I began thinking… the question may be overused, but are members of the LGBT Community free indeed? In fact it sparks a debate about “Acceptance or tolerance”.

So are people tolerant or acceptant of LGBT persons? There is a lot been spoken about “acceptance” and “tolerance”, when it comes to homosexuality, and personally I can’t help but think that those are the wrong words. I accept the fact that I have to pay taxes. I tolerate the fact that I have to go to the dentist. Why should either of those words apply to how a person feels about someone’s sexuality? It may also meet, because of this people Dutch or refuges feel unable to either come out or truly be who they are.

A 37 year old professional had an experience recently where he finally got the courage to tell his straight best friend he was gay. The after effects were devastation. The friendship suffered. And in fact they are now no longer friends…this after the “so call” best friend said he accepted that his friend was gay and that “nothing would change”

It is my humble opinion that hate like acceptance and tolerance is a choice. Some people choose to hate what they don’t understand, and I think what scares them and what some of their religion tells them is wrong. (And speaking of religion, that’s a choice too.) Nothing about hate is inherent. And it is always a tragedy when anyone chooses to let their hate make their decisions for them. So let’s talk about choices because by now we all know and understand that being gay is not a choice.

I remain firm in my opinion that you cannot say you love a person and not accept that he or she is gay. Loving a person means loving a whole person. We don’t get to pick and choose the parts. Now don’t get me wrong I can hate the fact that my friend is always 20 minutes late when we go out, or be angry about someone smoking in my face when I don’t. But those aren’t defining characteristics. Orientation is a fundamental part of who we are. Loving someone but hating the fact that he or she is gay would be like loving someone but hating the fact that he or she has a nose and mouth.

With many people here in Holland who were born and raised here still feeling they are accepted or tolerate or even maybe not, gives people who flee their country seeking shelter and safety feel somewhat unsafe. Words like “accept” and “tolerate” do not indicate good things; in the context of homosexuality, they imply that there is something wrong with being gay that friends, family, co-workers and classmates have to put up with. That is not a good message. So back to the three question from the students, how many of us can answer those questions in the affirmative? I would love to know so feel free to share that information with us.

It is my hope that we need to once and for all get rid of the words “accept” and “tolerate” and replace them with “cherish” and “celebrate.” When we cherish and celebrate who our friends, family, co-workers and classmates are, then maybe the scared gay people in this country and around the world would stop worrying about whether their friends, family, co-workers and classmates will “still” love them and will simply know they are loved unconditionally.

If you have any questions or would like to share your stories and experiences feel free to email me at asiel@cocgd.nl.

We would like to invite you to send us your own personal stories and comments. You can reach us by sending an e-mail to asiel@cocgd.nl. You can also read Larry’s previous blogs of April 2017 here March 2017 here and December 2016 here.