“Tolerance” is considered a general good, an aspirational goal that, when done right, ameliorates violence and promotes understanding.  But “tolerance” has a number of definitions in play on the current political stage.  The dispute over its meanings is at the heart of a new bill in California that would institute the education of school children about the historical impact of gays.

The FAIR (Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful) Education Act (SB 48), sponsored by Mark Leno (whose party affiliation is deep in the pages of his website, read his bio here), would, according to an email from Equality California, “ensure that all students learn in school about the contributions LGBT people have made to the history of California and the U.S. The Act would also prohibit discriminatory instruction against LGBT people from being included in the classroom. It will make our classrooms a fairer, safer place for LGBT and all youth.”  FAIR, indeed.  But opponents of the bill have framed it as indoctrination of students into a gay lifestyle.

Programs such as Save California‘s Rescue Your Child describe the bill as mandatory instruction of “a gaggle of sexual lifestyles that disturb parents and confuse kids. This costly state mandate targets children for sexual brainwashing, behind the backs of parents, teaching boys and girls to admire those who engage in homosexual, bisexual, or transsexual behavior.”  The Protect Kids website states:

These radical initiatives, disguised as anti-bullying instruction, are harming children and marginalizing parents.  Children are being taught to be intolerant of the values parents teach at home.  School boards are further undermining parents by not allowing them to opt their children out of these controversial classes. These lessons are sexualizing young children, robbing them of their innocence, confusing their gender development, and pressuring them to inappropriately explore their sexuality and engage in sex with a variety of partners at very early ages.

Focus on the Family, which warns parents against “pro-gay revisionist theology,” began True Tolerance last year, an initiative that aims to expose the homosexual indoctrination hidden beneath tolerance and anti-bullying education in public schools.  ”True” tolerance, the name of the site claims, is best expressed by not discussing “alternate lifestyles” (read: homosexual).  Acknowledging that homos exist and don’t deserve discrimination is going too far – it’s indoctrination and dangerous to children, according to Focus.

So can meaningful, effective tolerance be passive?  Is it a means by which cultures, via legislation, guarantee individual liberty or is it an obligation for those who have been pushed to the margins to “not tell” their stories so as to not offend (or challenge) what is being constructed as normal behavior?  I would hedge that the best definition of tolerance comes from those in society who aren’t tolerated.