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Tolerance Is Not Enough

By Thomas B. Watson

YOU may be perfectly willing to tolerate homosexuals. But tolerance is not enough when our society makes it unsafe for gays, lesbians and bisexuals to live. Homophobic violence, suicide, AIDS and Other forms of discrimination are society's war against my right and the right of all gays, lesbians and bisexuals to love. Your Hegemony of heterosexuality does violence to my life.

The first week of school my sophomore year at Harvard, I was violently attacked. I was too scared to call it a gay-bashing at the time. I tried to explain my severely broken nose--a visible injury that required surgery three times and still causes me pain--as a "mugging" even though nothing was taken and they called me "fag" as they hit me.

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I was scared to say what happened because society, including the police that same night, had made it very clear to me that I was somehow "deserving of such treatment.

Cardinal Ratzinger of the Catholic Church has written that gays, lesbians and bisexuals should not be surprised if they are the victims of violence because of their "immorality," Ratzinger heads the Vatican organization that was once responsible for the Inquisition. Did not his predecessors make similar comments to the Jews? He is not alone in trying to justify anti-gay reactions on the basis of who we are.

Will they next blame Blacks for slavery?(Or women for sexism and rape?) Sadly, such anti-gay crimes are not rare. According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Gays, Lesbians and Bisexuals are six times more likely to be the victim of crime than any other demographic group. More than 350 people were killed in the united states last year because of their sexual orientation.

According to a recent study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS),the leading cause of suicide for people under the age of 21 is "problems related to sexual orientation"--responsible for at least one-third of all suicides. Sadly, the HHS report is only available to the public through members of congress. Secretary of HHS Louis Sullivan has refused to release the report because he was unhappy with its results.

Such numbers may seem esoteric until you begin to experience them. Since I have been at Harvard--an Institution conservative groups tell us is ridiculously liberal--I have personally known three people who have attempted suicide because homophobic pressures were too strong.

Perhaps, Harvard's "liberalness" is that they lived. Thank God. I had a cousin back home Indiana who was not so lucky. He killed himself a few months ago because he was gay.

AIDS still rages as problem because our government did not care about the gay men who were dying Only after 12,000 people were sick and Rock Hudson and died did president Reagan even mention the disease, and then he went on to neglect the findings of his own Presidential AIDS Commission.

President Bush has shown similar negligence. In fact, instead of addressing the 6th annual International AIDS Conference this past summer in San Francisco, Bush was Campaigning for Jesse Helms.

You might say that such an address was too much too ask for. But it wasn't too much at previous conferences for France's Francois Mitterand and Canada's Brian Mulroney.

AIDS has now killed more Americans than died in the Vietnam War. If it has not yet affected you personally, it will. And then you will wish you had fought Aids and fought the government's inaction with all you heart and soul. Isn't all this enough to make you angry?

That is what AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power (ACT UP) is about, a group that is often misunderstood. It is not a "gay rights group," but an AIDS activist group that recognizes that progress on AIDS has been severely retarded by homophobia, racism, sexism and classism.

ACT UP's tactics may occasionally offend, but its actions have educated many and saved lives. Can critics of ACT UP say the same thing? Or are they more Concerned about being "offended," than the lives of thousands each year?

BEYOND violence and disease, there is discrimination--the everyday fear and exclusion all gays, Lesbians and bisexuals feel. The idea that we must be "tolerated" is just part of this discrimination. It is also entrenched in the legal system, where we are not even tolerated.

Gays, lesbians and bisexuals are not asking for "extra rights," but simply for the right that most heterosexuals take for granted--the rights to employment, insurance, housing and marriage. You may be suprised that in 48 states, the first three may be denied to anyone solely on the basis of sexual orientation. (If Boston's Bernard Cardinal Law had had his way the same would be true in Massachusetts.)

As for the last, many of us would like the right to marry the person we love. How would any of these essential rights hurt any of you?

Perhaps some people would prefer us to be homeless, unemployed and uninsured, and, indeed, others do prefer us dead. Is this our "kinder, gentler nation"?

TOLERANCE is not enough. The gay, lesbian and bisexual community is not something that needs to be tolerated like a bad cold or a rash. We are the full moral and spiritual equals of heterosexuals, and refuse to continue to be relegated to second class citizenship and fear. There is nothing bad about us to tolerate.

The gay, lesbian and bisexual community demands that the violence against our lives be stopped. That goal demands that everyone fight such violence against our lives, and that everyone fight such violenceloudly. The gay, lesbian and bisexual community demands nothing less than full acceptance because we are part of you.

Yes we are different in some ways, but our diversity is a wonderful and powerful thing. Imagine the vatican without the ceiling of the Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel or modern fiction without The color Purple. Or musicals without West Side Story, Or Harvard without Wigglesworth. The contributions of our community to society have been as enormous as the pains inflicted on us.

Gays, lesbians and bisexuals demand that you respect and value us. We are your roommates, your friends, your brothers and sisters, your parents and may well be your children.

If your life were being threatened because of your love, a love which by most accounts--scientific and psychological--is utterly innate and unchangeable, would you ask for acceptance? Would you want, perhaps even expect, people to join in the fight with you against injustice and to learn about your experience?

Tolerating Blacks is still racism. Tolerating Jews is still anti-Semitism. And Tolerating gays, lesbians and bisexuals is still Homophobia. Accepting us means respecting us, valuing us and loving us for who we are.

That is not too much to ask. We can accept nothing else. And heterosexists who preach tolerance or worse had better change, or enter the closets that we have abandoned.

We are never going back. In the words of Queen Nation, "Get used to it."

Thomas B. Watson '91 is chair of Defeat Homophobia and President of the Harvard-Radcliffe Arts Organization for the Advancement of Sexual Minorities.

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