I’ve been out since 1987 and understand the energetic anger, discourse, protest and campaigning of younger gay souls—I share their aims still at 45–but I am tolerant of intolerance in so far as I ignore it. That’s because, after all these years, bigotry bores me. The tunes of intolerance they hum never change. It fails to stun or shock. The crap from Leviticus I can recite by heart, tell you all about the selective reasoning of haters, the pick-and-choose approach of evangelicals and Catholics to those Biblical prohibitions. Been there, done that. Even to kids today the anti-gay arguments come across as dusty and dull, reaching us from a bygone era when women could be legally raped in marriage and little boys were sent up chimneys.
Sometimes I seem the voice of calm reason and moderation among friends when, really, it’s just familiarity with the same old shit.
All that said, there’s intolerance—a largely passive bleating—and there’s queer-bashing, bullying and murder. These last three stem from that toxic seed of rumbling intolerance, which, if we accept its existence and don’t challenge it can result in the expression of bigotry becoming as socially acceptable as it was in the past. Let it feel safe and allow its advocacy in public and the media, hatred may well grow again, especially in harsh economic times when scapegoats are sought.
We see this right now: who would’ve believed British people would ever turn on the sick and disabled? All it took was the Tories, the same ones using gay marriage to prove their new tolerant credentials, promoting a poisonous discourse on benefits—throwing in some lies, hyping a few myths, tweaking the statistics, sounding reasonable. Physical attacks on the disabled have shot up under this regime. Because some people don’t just buy into hate and grumble—they don’t stick with passive or intellectual intolerance, do they? They take up arms, raise their fists, step out into the night and harm those they dehumanise and determine to be less than themselves.
This is why I think an actual call for tolerating the intolerant as a society is ill-conceived, foolish and was ever most likely to be issued by a privileged, white, heterosexual male like Simon Jenkins in The Guardian. It’s one thing not to become so intolerant ourselves that we harass and bully the haters, becoming haters ourselves—an eye for any eye, whole world blind, yes we know the quote—but quite another to suggest intolerance be somehow accepted, that we all give a collective shrug and smile condescendingly at the street-corner lunatic or Daily Mail enthusiast lying about people in wheelchairs faking their disabilities for money.
If someone expresses sexism, homophobia, racism or any other malignant hatred in my presence, I will challenge it. I will make the intolerant aware that their views are unacceptably expressed in my presence. They can seek out other haters, form underground Hate Clubs and write to their MPs. What I don’t want is to hear their dangerous clap-trap on my TV, on the street or inside my political and social institutions.
It’s just a shame that equal marriage rights are coming about not because of deeply-held conviction but as a result of the Tory leadership wanting to give the old dinosaur party a makeover. It’s no surprise to learn that over fifty percent of their MPs voted against the Bill, or that local Conservation associations in the Home Counties are apoplectic over their bigoted views being ignored. If they got their way, my kind would be rounded up under cover of night and interned. It’s this underlying stew of bilious prejudice that makes last night’s vote so very odd. It was a quirky historic moment that moved society forward but, at the same time, exposed the schizophrenia of the Tory Party once again to public ridicule and disdain.
In the end, I don’t care how we got it. We did. Let’s just see how those unelected Lords treat the Bill. They have an appalling record on progressive legislation. The repeal of the noxious Section 28 had to be railroaded past them in the end, and wasn’t that long ago. The same was true of the equal age of consent.