Where did tolerance go?

Photo by Elvert Barnes via Wikimedia Commons

With the recent passage of Florida’s new controversial law, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by opponents, one can’t help but stop and think about the society we live in. More and more legislation such as this is being enacted across the country, with a plethora of examples here in Florida. Within the past year, multiple measures that limit individual rights (disproportionately those who belong to marginalized communities) and push for lower tolerance in the state have been passed.

Where did tolerance go?

Most widely known of the Florida bills is the aforementioned “Don’t Say Gay” or “Parental Rights in Education” measure. In summary, the law says that teaching on gender or sexuality in grades K-3 is not allowed, and for higher grades, it must be “age-appropriate.” A large portion of the bill also gives parents more control over their kids in school and brings attention to the idea of parents’  vs. children’s rights. We are regressing as a country when one can’t read books about acceptance. To say that speaking on a certain issue to kids is not allowed is to suggest that just discussing the topic is bad. This is intolerance.

Another anti-queer bill focuses on transgender athletes. The law, passed into law last June, prohibits trans girls from playing on women’s public-school teams from sixth grade to college. Named the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” it faced backlash from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which currently allows trans women to compete as long as they are undergoing treatments to lower their testosterone levels.

Bills such as these limit the rights of LGBTQ community.

Alex Vega is a 20-year-old, mixed, non-binary gay male from South Dade. “They are a step in the wrong direction,” he said in regard to the bills. “The whole purpose of having these conversations is with the intent to educate others, and educating others is what prevents history from being repeated. Limiting these discussions or completely banning them is harmful.”

Two other Florida bills that deal with limiting speech are the “Stop WOKE Act” and anti-critical race theory law. The “Stop WOKE Act” limits talking about race, gender, or sexuality in the workplace and classrooms. Governor Ron DeSantis signed it into law last week.

The anti-critical race theory bill has also been signed into law. It prohibits public schools from teaching or talking about race in a way that makes children “feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the person played no part.”  Bills such as these have been labeled anti-equality bills.

Skye Duke is a 20-year-old bisexual British immigrant to Miami. “When you think about Republican ideals, they preach freedoms but then all of [the bills] are restricting freedoms,” she said. “It highlights a huge lack of compassion within this country. The bills and the legislature that is supposed to protect us are now working against people and actively stripping them of their rights.” 

Then there is the law that bans all abortions past 15 weeks with no exemptions for rape, incest, or human trafficking. This is only one law of many that make abortions harder to get across the country. Before the enactment of this law, abortions were legal in this state up to 24 weeks. 

“Abortions, morally, I believe are wrong,” said Harry Vecchico, a 19-year-old Broward College student from Peru. “However, I also believe that you can’t push your morality onto people… In terms of actual practice in law, I am very pro-choice.”

This is an example of tolerance.

Quite a few of these bills directly target the younger generation, limiting speech and rights within school. All of this is directly at odds with the ideas of the increasingly tolerant generation Z. Sometimes dismissed as “social justice warriors” or “woke,” this generation is more diverse and open to all identities than those that came before it. Ideas of gender and sexuality have expanded, and views on these topics have become less binary and rigid. Terms such as non-binary or asexual have recently become common to describe queer people’s existence, an ideological expansion to include those who feel unseen and unheard — invisible – but who were always there.

Why? Why are we so at odds as a country? Why does what someone else believe or identifies as or does with their body feel like such a threat to oneself that there’s a need to limit them? What does tolerance mean and what should it look like in society? When asked, the group of people interviewed all had a similar response. “The willingness to accept other people’s opinions or behaviors that you don’t agree with,” said Vecchico. Having diversity in a country is important, especially diversity of thought. We don’t all have to agree, but we do have to coexist, and tolerance allows us to do this more peacefully. 

What most of these bills have as a key component is censorship – limiting those who can speak and what they can speak about. But silence is not an option. To be quiet about the issues facing marginalized communities in Florida is to passively support them. Only through active discussion can we make change. Even with a restrictive state legislature, a fundamental aspect of our country is freedom of speech. 

Speak on these issues, and have meaningful conversations with those in your lives, especially those whose identities and life experiences differ from your own. Listen and be aware of the current struggles facing groups within your community.

Together we can grow better.

Olivia Guthrie is a Junior at Florida International University currently majoring in Journalism with a minor in Religious Studies. She hopes, upon graduation, to be a journalist living in a big city making video-based media. She hopes through her work she can help educate the public on issues they are facing.