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Dispute over 'tolerance' rather than 'acceptance' splits equality campaigners in Australia

A petition calling for 'tolerance' has received high-profile supporters, but also a great deal of online criticism

Dispute over 'tolerance' rather than 'acceptance' splits equality campaigners in Australia
Sydney Mardi Gras is one of biggest events for LGBYI community

Debates over the terms ‘tolerance’ and ‘acceptance’ have gotten heated in Australia in light of a new LGBTI anti-bullying campaign.

On Tuesday, Ben Grubb, a Sydney man, wrote an open letter to Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull urging him to provide A$6 million (£4 million; $4.5 million) to fund a new LGBTI anti-bullying program.

According to the letter, the program would look to address ‘all forms of bullying, including that which is based on religion, race, gender, faith, sexuality, disability, skin conditions, social standing or political persuasions.’

This new campaign proposal is very similar to The Safe Schools Coalition, which was founded in 2014 but came to an end after backlash from conservative Christian politicians and groups who claimed the content was ‘inappropriate’ for teenagers.

The new proposal, published on, had celebrity endorsements, including actor Guy Pearce and singers Troye Sivan and Missy Higgins. The Australian Christian Lobby even ‘cautiously welcomed’ this new program.

But, surprisingly, the proposal received a lot of negative feedback from members of Australia’s LGBTI community. Why? Because it used the word ‘tolerance’ as opposed to ‘acceptance.’

‘Make no mistake of our request: we do not seek a program that seeks approval of the way certain members of our society live. We seek only mutual respect and tolerance,’ the proposal stated.

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‘Asking for tolerance is disgusting,’ said Leanne Donnelly, a Sydney-based mother of a transgender teenager.

‘It sounds to me like I’m supposed to beg people to be tolerant of my child’s existence,’ she continued. ‘Equality and acceptance is the starting point, not downgrading to tolerance.’

‘This is a decision I deeply regret and I am truly sorry for’

After this backlash, Grubb wrote an apologetic statement.

‘One of the biggest mistakes I made— and it was made by me alone — was in the drafting of the letter, with the word ‘acceptance’ omitted from the framework proposed for teaching, and the letter referring to not seeking ‘approval’ of the way certain members of our society live,’ he explained.

‘Instead, the words ‘tolerance’ and ‘mutual respect’ were used. Acceptance was removed during the drafting after confidentially consulting a Canberra decision-maker on what they believed the government would potentially back to fund such a program,’ he continued.

‘Given the purpose of this letter was about achieving an outcome that would help LGBTI youth — which would require the federal government to fund it — I made the decision to omit the word highlighted above.

‘This is a decision I deeply regret and I am truly sorry for. I am sorry to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex community, many of whom have told me that by doing this represented the letter pandering to conservative views.’

Petition to be removed

Other criticisms Grubb apologized for in this statement include the minimization of the struggles transgender and intersex students face, and the lack of diverse signatures on the petition (too many allies, not enough signatures from transgender and intersex people).

‘If anything good can come from this, it is my hope that LGBTI kids in Australia are looked after and that it starts a necessary conversation about what happens next for LGBTI youth and anti-bullying education in schools on a national basis,’ Grub stated.

‘Out of respect to those who have highlighted the above issues and more, I will today request for the letter to be removed from the petition platform, which was used to gain further signatures for it.’