To the University audience — when someone doesn’t agree with your political or world view, they are not automatically racist. They are not automatically sexist. They are not automatically ableist, homophobic, transphobic or — and I can’t believe I actually have to type this — a fascist. Insinuating the opposite is hurtful, intolerant and actively detracting from the University’s desired culture of intellectual growth.
I am not defending racism, sexism, homophobia or any of the other aforementioned prejudices — they are diseases that are woven by history into society and I’m proud to be at a university that contributes to striking down injustices — working toward obliterating them completely. However, I am not proud of the University’s culture of intolerance by always labeling differing opinions as ‘prejudice.’ I am not referring to hateful opinions. I am referring to common and sensible ones — religious freedoms, the Second Amendment, capitalism and the free market.
We, as a student body, have grown into a dangerous tendency to ostracize and silence the other side by making immediate claims of intolerance when we hear something we don’t agree with. The question we must ask ourselves is — if we are actively and purposefully avoiding discussion, who is really intolerant?
My roommate and Cavalier Daily Opinion Columnist, Devan Coombes, is a conservative. She is not, in fact, homophobic, transphobic, racist or bigoted in any way. I was shocked at Opinion Columnist Bryce Wyles’ article that stated point blank, “Coombes claims to defend freedom of speech, only as long as it keeps other people’s mouths shut — in this case, queer people who want to get married.” Wyles’ argument couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve talked to Coombes about my potential future wedding — to another girl. Not once has she tried to keep my mouth shut. Instead, she actively supports me and who I am. Should anyone have the nerve to attack my sexuality, Coombes wouldn’t hesitate to fight back on my behalf. Clearly, Coombes does not possess “instinctive queerphobia.”
It seems Wyles has fallen into the trap of assuming intolerance from someone he disagrees with. It is, unfortunately, easy to fall into this trap — mindlessly shutting down our peers that don’t agree with us on the grounds of bigotry. As a university, we seem to have shifted the definition of free speech to only benefit the left’s political agenda. As my roommate intelligently pointed out, some argue that protests should be afforded First Amendment protections, but the practice of religion should not. If a sign on the Lawn is welcome to define the University’s cops as affiliated with the KKK, and its operating cost as genocide, then the FCA should be allowed, as a religious organization, to practice their own definition of marriage — both are protected under the First Amendment. The blatant intolerance is authoritarianism and a moderation of academic discussion that only benefits one side.
Tolerance is a two way street. We can scream all we want about the oppression of LGBTQ+ individuals at U.Va., but the fact remains — in Charlottesville, I have seen more hate and slander for reasonable conservative beliefs than I ever have about my sexuality. All struggles that come with identifying as non-cisgender and non-heterosexual are valid. However, we must start respecting everyone’s existence, as long as they are not causing harm — whether or not we agree with their political beliefs, their lifestyle or their religion. Respecting someone’s existence does not entail instantaneously slandering their character when they stray from our world view. This reaches far beyond my roommate — it is troubling behavior I see every day on Grounds. Consider this — nearly half of the electorate voted for Donald Trump. Do we really believe that half the country is comprised of genuinely hateful people?
At this University, I am beyond grateful that — as a lesbian — I am celebrated. I am deeply regretful that the celebration comes at the cost of harmful and inaccurate portrayals of my roommates, my peers and my closest friends. If the University ever wants to attain a healthy culture of intellectual growth, we must learn to tolerate each other, and stop these outrageous claims that those with valid political disagreements don't tolerate us.
Kalie Ward is a third-year in the School of Engineering.
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.