Earlier this week, I put out on my social media a short tweet in support of the LGBT+ community.
My office and I viewed it as a simple and benign tweet in support of a campaign run by LGBT+ Conservatives. It was an elected member of Parliament expressing the view that a community should be able to live their lives free from hate. In 2023, this should be uncontroversial. My staff and I viewed it as so. We were extraordinarily surprised by the response to the tweet.
From responses accusing me of trying to erase women’s rights, to comments asking why I had used the word “ally” as if we were at war, to reactions stating that my tweet was actually opposed to equality, it would be easy to look at the reaction to my tweet and despair. Individuals are projecting all sorts of fears onto my tweet. My tweet did not touch trans issues, women’s rights or even dip a toe into the culture wars.
Is “ally” such a provocative word? A word of the left that I have conceded to by using? I don’t buy that. If I had tweeted, “I pledge to be an ally of the farming community”, I doubt that anyone on Twitter would have batted an eyelid. Those who raised in their responses the complicated issues of trans rights intersecting with women’s rights seem to have conflated the need to resolve this difficult debate with the idea of LGBT+ people living their lives free from hate and abuse.
The second kind of response was from young conservatives who encouraged me and were pleased to see an MP tweet support for a community that often feels marginalised. Young people feel differently about sexual and gender identity to my generation. Those who want a “fight” on transgender issues might recall Section 28 and the deep damage that did for the Conservative Party with the LGBT+ community and young people for decades after.
Ultimately, my tweet and the reactions to it boil down to tolerance. I am a straight, middled-aged, happily married man. I have never had to personally wrestle with issues of sexual identity or gender identity. Members of my team identify as LGBT+ and I want them to live in a society free from hate. Listening to their stories it is clear to me that, while we have made great progress, we are not there yet. Sadly, members of my team continue to suffer public abuse purely because of their identity.
Sitting here today, I do not have all of the answers to complicated issues of sexual and gender identity. These are intricate and difficult problems. But we are not going to get anywhere if a simple tweet calling for us to work towards a society where LGBT+ individuals can live their lives without abuse warrants such an aggressive reaction.
Our society seems to have forgotten what tolerance means. It means to agree to disagree and go our way in peace. It ought to mean listening to each other’s experiences with care and compassion even if we don’t understand them. It means not pointlessly dividing our communities by setting groups against each other.
To rediscover tolerance, we must come together as a society and discuss complicated problems with understanding and compassion. We ought never to view our interlocutors in these contested matters as evil or react to differing views with anger; this only brings division and division will never solve complicated problems.
It’s time to agree to disagree gracefully and make progress in a new spirit of forbearance and goodwill.
For more on my thoughts on creating a society of tolerance: https://www.stevebaker.info/2022/08/an-agenda-for-action-reducing-racial-inequality-in-modern-britain/