I don’t want tolerance! I want acceptance!

July 29, 2011

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Working in Public Relations often means the battle of words and sometimes also the battle for the right words to be used. This is especially true when it comes to minority groups. Now that we are right in the middle of pride season there is one thing that is aggravates me each and every year. These days the media are full of articles and news features calling for tolerance towards the LGBT community. But not just mainstream media do so, some LGBT groups proclaim the same.

It might sound strange but I have to disagree with the call for more tolerance. And no, I'm not a homophobe driven by self-hatred. Rather I'd describe myself as fetishist for the correct usage of words. I guess I simply cannot deny what I earn my money with everyday. So what do I want instead if not tolerance? There is a simple answer to that: I want acceptance.

Now you may ask yourself is there a difference and if yes, what is it? Being short of a English language dictionary here in the Frankfurt office I don't really have a choice but to present you the Wikipedia definition:

  • Tolerance is the practice of permitting a thing of which one disapproves, such as social, ethnic, sexual, or religious practices.
  • Acceptance has to deal with positive welcome; favor and endorsement. In which, a person could like someone and, have acceptance for them due to their approval of that person.

Reading these two definitions carefully easily shows their very different meaning. Translating them into the situation of the LGBT community a call for tolerance means nothing else but people do not need to like us but they should at least not fight against us. Now this is the very basic level all minorities should enjoy in a democracy. And if the majority of a society is not willing to do so then the whole system might not be democratic in its entirety. Of course, in Germany as well as in most other “Western” countries there are individuals or groups who still fight us but the majority tolerates us. Thus, calling for more tolerance cannot be our goal anymore.

Very much to the contrary, acceptance acknowledges differences between individuals – straight opposed to LGBT in our case – but positively embraces the differences and integrates the minority into the prevailing social system. And that is exactly what I want and that is exactly what the vast majority of LGBT individuals in countries such as the USA or Germany want. Tolerance can always only be the first step but acceptance is the ultimate goal we should be striving for.

When dealing with sensitive issues such as equal rights for the LGBT community you should also be sensitive about the words you use to make your point. To some people tolerance and acceptance may have the same meaning but as much as we praise the diversity of sexual identities we should praise the diversity of words our languages offer us and respect their actual meanings. Be precise in your wording and your target audience will accept you because you have demonstrated that you actually understand their interests and needs.

So next time you want to reach out to your LGBT community and show them your solidarity make sure to hire either a PR agent or at least consult a dictionary.