Let’s Go Beyond Tolerance - LGBT, Pride Month 2020

How to be better allies? Examining the unconscious bias preventing us in truly accepting the LGBTQA+ community and taking the first steps to being more conscious, sensitised & empathetic allies.

Happy Faces: whoever we are, wherever we are, we are all instantly connected by a smile. (Image credits: iStock.com/SolStock)

“A simple smile. That’s the start of opening your heart and being compassionate to others.” — Dalai Lama

In October 2013 I received a confirmation to study as an exchange student at the prestigious KTH Institute in Stockholm. Admittedly, till that point, I had hardly done any research about Sweden. The only picture I had in my mind was formed by what one of my colleagues had told me: “Sweden is a very progressive country. You will learn a lot. And please don’t come back.”

Soon after, I had to visit the Swedish embassy in Delhi soon for the visa requirements. While I waited there for my turn to give the biometrics, I found a coffee table book lying on the table in front of me:

Image credits: www.sweden.se

It wasn’t hard to decipher that it was about an introduction to life in Sweden. Curious, I opened the book and the first thing I saw was a double page spread image of the Stockholm pride. Notably, it’s Scandinavia’s biggest Pride and is attended by over 60,000 folks. (I did attend the pride in 2014 and it was nothing like I had ever seen in my life.) So yes, they do have something to boast about there.

The 1st Stockholm Pride was held in 1998. Pictured here is pride 2016. Photo: Magnus Liam Karlson/

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The image was accompanied by a text that said something to the tune of:

“Sweden, one of the world’s most tolerant nations”.

Looking at the image, I could see reflections of pride, equality and a sense of happiness, however I also felt that something wasn’t fitting. This lingered on in my mind. Later, I realised, it was the word “tolerant” that wasn’t making sense to me and also probably the fact that someone was proud of being so ‘tolerant’.

The Word

Google puts the origins of the word tolerant back to the late Middle English (denoting the action of bearing hardship, or the ability to bear pain and hardship): via Old French from Latin tolerantia, from tolerare. It goes on to define it as:

Screen grab from Google search

While Cambridge dictionary describes it as:

Definition of tolerance from the © Cambridge University Press

Note the essential components of these definitions:

behaviour that one dislikes or disagrees with;

capacity to endure continued subjection;

bear something unpleasant or annoying

In two other major Indian languages — Hindi and Urdu, the synonyms for the word would be ‘sehan karna’ and ‘bardaasht karna’. Blame it on Bollywood, if you will, but these words don’t have a very positive usage or connotation in India. In contrast to this, the word “acceptance” is defined as a “favourable reception” or an approval (Merriam-Webster), which also comes across as more welcoming and open hearted.

Reflections

So what am I trying to say here actually? To me, the usage of this word suggests that:

the thing being tolerated is actually disliked or unwanted or unpleasant, and

there is a (suggestive) limit to tolerance [beyond which people may react?!].

And, hence individuals, communities & countries are essentially taking pride in this ‘degree of tolerance’. This is what I find odd and it makes me wonder how will someone be truly ‘accepted’, if at all?

“How would you feel if I told you [proudly] that I am very tolerant of you?”

I hail Sweden for the kind of gender equality they offer to all its people. The one year I had spent in Sweden really opened up my mind about what it means to really respect all individuals, how to welcome all opinions and think objectively and what freedom of thought & expressions truly mean, however this one example makes me feel that there is still a lot that needs to be done in order to sensitise people and build a more ‘accepting’ society, rather than a tolerating one. And it all starts with you!

What You Can Do (as an Ally)

Read/ Be Aware

The first step is to be more aware about LGBTQA+ so that they are no more ‘strangers’ to you. Read more about it and be involved in as many community efforts as possible either as a volunteer or as an attendee. To help you start, there are a couple of resources at the end of this article.

Listen

This is one thing that the LGBTQA+ folks probably need the most. Be there to listen to them sans any judgement. Empathise with them. If you need time to get comfortable with some of what you may hear, give yourself that time but don’t judge.

Talk/ Speak Up

Talk among your friends and community about things that you know as well the things that you may not yet fully understand. The more the allies talk about it, the easier it would be for the LGBTQA+ folks. At the same time, speak out/ challenge/ report any abusive or discriminatory behaviour around you, even if it does not relate to you directly.

Appreciate Differences

Identify, accept and appreciate any differences you may find. We are all the same and yet we are so unique. Make the effort to understand what may be comfortable (and ‘normal’) to you but makes them uncomfortable. Let’s learn from our differences and evolve with them (rather than “tolerating” them).

Be Compassionate & Spread Love

Last, but the most important, open your heart and spread lot’s of love to everyone, regardless of their identity on the spectrum (or even beyond). And you know how to start — with a smile!

Here’s to a better & more accepting world!

If you liked the article, or could relate to it, show it some love by clapping & sharing with your friends. If you have any thoughts or any experiences that came to your mind (while reading this), please share them in comments. I would love to hear them. I am also sharing a couple of resources for further reading.

Resources

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Vidhu V Saxena

Vidhu V Saxena

Designer @Microsoft. Getting paid for being curious ;D