A recent fluff piece in our local paper reported on how difficult it is for “LGBT” people in rural areas to find dating partners. The response to the article was mixed. A lot of straight people responded with rapturous support. One man questioned whether dating was a topic that deserved space in a newspaper. He got some criticism for his “phobia,” but the comment that took outrage beyond Facebook onto other social media was from a woman quoting the Bible about “homosexuality” being a sin.
Some people responded that Christianity was wrong or she was wrong about how she interpreted the Bible, or even called her a “bigot.” Others were upset about how “unsafe” and “unwelcoming” and “non-inclusive” this comment made our rural community, and this is where the argument expanded. Mostly it was liberal straights seizing the opportunity to virtue signal. Whatever. Many took it further. People said they were “not going to sit idly by” for this kind of comment and that “something needs to be done” and that “there needs to be accountability” etc. etc. and in one case suggested the woman should be fired from her job. The woman stuck to her guns, quoted more scripture, and typed about what God does and doesn’t want for us. It inflamed another argument about who was and wasn’t going to Hell.
I personally began to feel a bit frightened by where this conversation went. As a bisexual woman who campaigned for gay rights at a time when you could lose your job for being out, and as a person with many controversial views, the escalation to what sounded like threats made me feel very unsafe. Not about the Bible quote–you think I haven’t heard that crap before? But the vague threats of action and the specific mention of jobs, so very familiar. People have a right to their opinions, even dumb ones, and having experienced fear for openly expressing my views, and even being persecuted for them, I don’t cotton to this idea that unpopular speech needs to be countered by people who “won’t sit idly by.”
Argue with a dumbass if you must, but don’t think you’re supporting me with chilling threats of “taking action.” You’re violating everything I have stood for. I don’t want the tables turned. I don’t want to see people who think same-sex relationships or Goddess worship or socialism or radical feminism is evil punished for their views. I don’t want to see heated rhetoric and name calling progress into arm-twisting and silencing techniques. I’ve lived in that kind of a world.
I don’t think most people understand what acceptance and “live and let live” means. It doesn’t mean enforcing the views that you think mean “tolerance.” It’s not about coercion and correct belief. That doesn’t bring a sense of safety–not in the 21st century when most oppression is structural, consisting of things like violence, economic struggle, workplace abuse, political disenfranchisement, and censorship. Having the “right” belief doesn’t mean you changed any of that, and forcing other people to have the right beliefs (or pretend that they do) isn’t going to change that either.
I’m not saying we should tolerate threats of violence or loss of livelihood. Libel, deliberately lying for malicious purposes, is rightly actionable by law. But people have a right to express their views. Even stupid ones. Even if they’re mean and rude about it. What would make ME feel safer, as a person who has experienced many kinds of abuse, is for people to develop a thicker skin.