Cool Tolerance

My son came out to us (his parents) a little over a year ago.  My wife and I, for some blessed reason, were able to rapidly traverse the landmine ridden, 180 degree, whiplash inducing evolution from Prop 8 campaigners to supportive, loving parents of a gay young man.  The catalyst was our son, Jordan; but the medium of our transformation was simply Christ-like love.  The hand of the Lord was present before Jordan came out, shaping our thoughts and preparing us.  Since then, we have been guided and led from time to time, but the Lord is definitely letting us learn and grow by experience.  We have also felt his hand in the new and wonderful relationships we have with many, many LGBT friends.

We have found that our journey is not typical.  As we have become fully aware of the journey and circumstances of many others, we have begun to appreciate the hardship and difficulty of the LGBT experience.  In addition, we have begun to realize the complexity of understanding homosexuality and all its facets.

Shortly after Jordan came out to us, Wendy and I began reaching out to family members and friends.  We met with our Bishop.  We began meeting one by one with Jordan’s youth leaders, some school leaders and generally people we felt would be understanding and in a position to help.  We were looking for acceptance and support for Jordan as well as for ourselves.

By and large our family and community have been wonderful.  Within our ward, there is a lot of genuine love and affection for Jordan.  To their credit, all of our family members have been more than just kind and have treated Jordan no differently than before.  Many would find this to be unparalleled success.  And to be sure, it is success; but Wendy and I have found ourselves wanting more.

Is acceptance the same as support?  Jordan does very well in most social and Church environments, but definitely the more “gay” his mannerisms, the more uncomfortable and cool his acceptance gets.  When we are more vocal about our advocacy for inclusion of LGBT people in say, the Boy Scouts, we are often met with an uncommitted and profound silence.  Not from those that actively oppose such things, but from many of those who profess support.  I have termed our status with most of our friends and family as a Cool Tolerance.

Cool Tolerance consists of friends, family and others who have bucked the more obvious homophobia and hate of previous generations, but still find it too uncomfortable to deal directly with real LGBT individuals or actually vocalize support.  Most are loving people who largely have no experience with LGBT issues or people, and honestly prefer life that way.

Cool Tolerance within religious circles is tolerance that you are “suffering” with a tremendous challenge, but there is really no compromise on perceived cultural threats (ie – Gay marriage threatens the sanctity of marriage).  There is pity and sorrow and some sympathy, but most real support is hindered by an unwillingness to consider accepting choices another person makes that are contrary to official teachings.  For example, with regard to sexual expression, some well-meaning individuals casually suggest that celibacy is a reasonable solution for another, but would never consider such a path for themselves and have never truly explored the real implications of celibacy.  And because they have never traveled down these theological avenues, many default to either keeping a safe distance or just ignoring you.  Both are, in essence, equivalent to shunning.

For LGBT individuals, their parents, straight allies and many others, being on the receiving end of cool tolerance can be rough.  You are accepted on the surface, but only as long as you stay within certain parameters.  For example, Jordan will have all his qualifications for Eagle within the year.  I have brought up the issue with Boy Scout leaders, our Bishop and our Stake President.  We are met with cool tolerance.  Everyone acknowledges that Jordan has earned and deserves his Eagle and that it would be a tragedy if he were refused (acceptance), but no one is advocating for him (support).  When we link national articles via Facebook and email to family and friends about an issue directly relevant to Jordan, there are no replies of support.  Here and there, some of our “supporters” have asked to not be contacted with such information or at least to be blind copied so as to not be associated with a group that could possibly support such things.

Wendy_Jordan_Scout

For those of you who find that the definition of Cool Tolerance might include you, please understand that this is not support.  While your acceptance is clearly appreciated, its conditional nature is actually hurtful.  Your silence is isolating.  Your discomfort and disapproval is felt and hurtful.

So what is the solution to Cool Tolerance?  It is unreasonable to expect that most people can just flip a switch and their perspective changes overnight.  Cultural trends that have existed for decades take time to turn around.  It can be like changing the course of a glacier.

My open hearted plea to all those who find themselves expressing cool tolerance to a gay loved one or their family is to take Christ at his word and just love them.  Suspend the urge to judge or explain or turn the theological argument this way and that in order to make it OK.  Remember, Christ came to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable!  Don’t sit there with the scriptures or some general authorities talk and try to justify marginalizing another.  I literally had a stake leader say to my wife, “I can’t have that influence in my life” as a justification to shun a gay relative.  None of these justifications excuse us from the Lord’s command to love one another as He loves us.

Don’t feel like you have to get anyone’s permission to love a gay person.  Christ has already given it to you!

You don’t need to have it all figured out.  No one has.  But Christ will never fault you for putting your arms around a gay person and unconditionally loving him or her.  We have been given a higher law.  Put your cool tolerance on the shelf and trust the simplest and highest message in Christianity, “Love One Another (John 13:34).”  Christ will figure out the rest – and help us to do so as well.

27 comments for “Cool Tolerance

  1. Sherri Park
    March 3, 2013 at 8:22 am

    Some people are unable to put themselves in someone else’s place. We belonged to a book club group years ago and, over time, we described our son’s mental problems. We were met with the same attitude. People said they were sympathetic but they didn’t really get it. One couple came back after a few months absence and told us their son was discovered to be schizophrenic as a BYU freshman. They had to take him out of school and put him in a hospital. Suddenly, there was instant understanding of our situation. They apologized for their former coolness. They said they just didn’t realize what we were going through. Why not? Why can’t they say: there but for the grace of God, go I? Some people put things like mental illness and being gay into the same category. Of course, they occur independently. But, people feel that SOMEONE has done something wrong. They believe there is a sin hiding somewhere. They wonder what did the parents or the child do to cause this to happen? Only if they truly accept that no one caused these conditions will they be able to imagine that something like this could happen to them. As long as they believe sin is involved, they can avoid such things by not committing the sin. (For example, a friend told me that her son looked at gay pornography and it made him gay.) That way, they can distance themselves. That’s what is happening here. They are distancing themselves and saying, “This could never happen to me”, as a way of protecting themselves. Maybe they think it’s communicable. The great thing about the new church website is that it says that no one chooses to be gay. Once people fully accept that, then they will realize that being gay is not a sin.

  2. Jeannette
    March 3, 2013 at 8:36 am

    LOVE this! Will be sharing it! Thank you.

  3. Aimee
    March 3, 2013 at 9:13 am

    I hope Jordan receives his Eagle. He has earned it!

  4. Cary
    March 3, 2013 at 9:43 am

    Spot on. “Cool tolerance” is what made church unbearable for me. No one was actively telling me not to come, but I just felt so clearly the message that I made people uncomfortable and it would be better for everyone if I just kind of disappeared. It is very easy for LDS lgbt people to feel like an inconvenient truth to their straight, cis-gendered peers. Those who escape this feeling do so only after tremendous amounts of hard work. If congregations and families want to hold on to their lgbt loved ones, they will have to make their communities at least as accepting and loving as society at large. We all gravitate to where we feel loved and respected. Lgbt LDS people are no different.

  5. Wendy Montgomery
    March 3, 2013 at 11:13 am

    I REALLY love this man! (Both the author and the cute teenage boy! He was 10 in that picture, but still a cutie.) It’s the greatest blessing in my life to be married to a man like this. What a good heart. What a loving and supportive father. Jordan is fortunate, indeed.

  6. Anita
    March 3, 2013 at 11:42 am

    This was beautifully written. You can apply this to so many different situations. Any differences in life that don’t conform to the norm or perceived acceptable way off life. Thanks for a very eloquent piece of writing.

  7. Jane
    March 3, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    To “tolerate” feels to me like you are putting up with something. I ” tolerate” bad traffic or a windy day. I would be insulted if society ” tolerated” me or thought they were doing me a favor by showing me ” tolerance”. God created each of us in His image and we are perfectly created. He doesn’t tolerate us, but embraces each and everyone one of us. If anything, He tolerates our judgment against eachother and waits for us to love more.

  8. Jonthan
    March 3, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    Two thoughts on this.

    First, I’m glad there are people like this author who are realizing this reality- “cool tolerance.” The only other time I’ve heard something similar was when I was introduced to a quote by MLK jr. He wrote it in response to the “White Moderate” and what their efforts were doing to the civil rights movement. “I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another mans freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro the wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating that absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

    If feel that this “cool tolerance” that is coined in this article is much like MLK Jr.’s “white moderate.”

    Second, while this is clearly a better understanding and obviously comes from a place of greater love and acceptance, it bother’s me when anyone chooses to love someone because “Christ said so.” I’m the end, this isn’t so far from “cool tolerance.” The love is not genuine. It is love for the sake of checking off that box next to “love one another.” And when the Church releases some ridiculous statement about how they “love their gay brothers and sisters,” that’s exactly what they are doing- checking the teaching to “love one another” off their list without actually considering what it is to “love” gay people. You can’t love someone because another person told you too (including Christ). You have to make room in your heart for that love to develop by ridding yourself of prejudices, judgements, misconceptions, practices, beliefs and attitudes that forbid real love from forming. And those things don’t disappear just by agreeing with some teaching that you should love everyone. That is just obligation. Pity love. Politically correct love. It takes work to actually learn what real love is- and too many people are unwilling to do it. They refuse to reconsider what the truth is and instead try to love inside the confines of the truth that they are comfortable with. And that isn’t real love. Those people are sacrificing real unconditional love for the sake for their own comfort and stability. Most gay Mormons have had to struggle in a very deep and real way to question the “truth” they were taught about gay people. That struggle to question the traditions and beliefs of their fathers is in no way convenient or painless. The whole world gets turned upsidedown. Certainty vanishes and you find yourself lost in a world that couldn’t possibly understand. It is painful beyond belief. But gay Mormons have to go through that if they have any chance of survival. Until allies are willing to go through that same painful and confusing process, those of us on the receiving end of “love” will always feel a sense of obligitary love, acceptance and support. “I love you because you are my son.” “I love you because Christ said so.” And while that kind of love is a great improvement for a lot of situations, it still isn’t enough.

    • Anita
      March 3, 2013 at 4:08 pm

      Very well said

      • Tonya Sandoval
        April 11, 2013 at 3:25 pm

        My faith in human beings and their ability to demonstrate common sense is restored restored when I read posts like this. You’re right! Tolerance in its most simple form isn’t enough! The bystander who chooses not to step in and demand equality is at fault as well. One could argue that they are even more culpable because they should know better.

  9. Bob Northrup
    March 3, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    This “cool tolerance” concept is so exactly what my wife and I have experienced with ward members and some family members. It’s only been a year and a half since our returned missionary came out. This month will Mark the 1 year anniversary of it gets better at BYU where my son is the thumbnail. During this time not only has his life changes but so has ours. I was probably one of those cool tolerance people before this. Never again. When I hear misspell, I do and will speak up. It is quite a journey. I am so glad to know I am not alone. Great post, thank you.

  10. Adrienne
    March 3, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    Well done Tom, but is it horrible that I so wish that this was not your reality? Love your family! Wish we were closer in miles!

  11. Dean Tingey
    March 3, 2013 at 7:10 pm

    I think this is an excellent companion piece to Wendy’s post yesterday about what does and does not help. I learned that acceptance morphed into cool tolerance when I began working with my local gay men’s chorus. It moved to rejection once I started dating. As hard as I have tried to maintain relationships it is evident that I am no longer welcome among most of my Mormon and Baptist friends. As I mentioned in my post here the other day, the conversations have stopped. One of the few Mormon allies who is not afraid to speak up says many other people are silently cheering me on. I told him that silent cheers don’t mean much to me. As I said on yesterday’s post, thank you for being the loving and supportive parents that you are to Jordan.

  12. Bryce cook
    March 3, 2013 at 11:06 pm

    Great article, Tom. Tolerance is certainly a long way from love.

  13. D. Michael Martindale
    March 4, 2013 at 2:29 am

    I don’t know you or Jordan from Adam. But I hereby officially come out in full, enthusiastic support for him. He can exhibit as many flamboyantly gay characteristcs as he wants around me and I won’t turn a cool shoulder to him.

    I don’t accept the excuse that people can’t flip a switch and change their perspective overnight. I did. I was as much a defender of the church’s position on gays as anyone. Then I went to a Sunstone Symposium presentation where gay LDS member told their heartbreaking stories.

    That’s all it took. They went from being an abstract concept to me to being real people struggling with tremendous challenges.

    I look with disdain upon any of the people who know and claim to care about Jordan, then exhibit “cool tolerance” toward him. These are people with hearts of stone. These are hypocrites who don’t understand their own Christian doctrine.

  14. Anonymous
    March 4, 2013 at 9:06 am

    I am frankly surprised that there are any wards where “cool tolerance” is actually happening. I know it isn’t enough, but it’s so much better than outright rejection. Once in an RS lesson a sister in my ward said that she found out a friend of hers was a lesbian, so she told her children that they could no longer associate with her. This woman is now my visiting teaching companion. I go visiting with her every month, knowing that if she knew who I really was, she would no longer associate with me and would tell her children (who I taught in Sunday School for years) to avoid me. At this point, any kind of tolerance would be a great blessing for me.

    • Thomas Montgomery
      March 4, 2013 at 10:52 am

      Dear Anonymous, you are absolutely correct that “Cool Tolerance” would be an upgrade in many wards and places. We are fortunate in finding a great deal of acceptance in both the ward and our family for which we are very grateful. But with most whom we associate, Cool Tolerance is the norm. For many, including yourself, it sounds like Cool Tolerance would be an improvement.

  15. Wendy Montgomery
    March 4, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    From my aunt:
    I find myself maybe being within the realm of the “cool tolerance” but hope that it is on the warmer side. I am lucky to be the aunt of Wendy and Tom Montgomery and a great aunt to Jordan. I have stood by watching this little family walk a path that they had not foreseen. I can only explain my own feelings on trying to love and support my precious niece, her husband and son. I love them with all my heart. The only way I know how to support is to do just that…love…love…love them and enjoy them. Many of us trying to learn and grow along the way find ourselves being a passenger in the car. We have no control over the car and it is a bit uncomfortable because of the speed in which it is traveling. The driver is trying to get us to relax and enjoy the view, but it is such foreign landscape that we feel unsure. The best that this old gal can do is to love my dear ones as I have always done and to walk this life with joy in every moment we can share. There will be times when I feel more comfortable as the passenger and times that will send my heart racing….it rather imitates what life is all about I guess.

    • D. Michael Martindale
      March 4, 2013 at 4:26 pm

      To your aunt:

      I guess that’s nice, but geez, why is it so hard to just love people and let them be responsible for their own lives and choices? Especially a beloved relative?

  16. Janice Marcus
    April 10, 2013 at 8:12 am

    I will become the new president of Salt Lake City PFLAG (Parents & Friends of Lesbians and Gays) in a month. Yesterday, I wrote on a facebook page that, “My son shouldn’t just be tolerated, but should be loved and accepted.” I have disliked the term tolerate for many years because it doesn’t involve really embracing and accepting the individual unconditionally. You’re comments touched my heart and I wish you and your wonderful family nothing but happiness. I never thought that I’d live to see my son get married, but in August he and his partner/fiance are getting married in New York. I can hardly wait to see them commit their life to each other.

  17. Brian from the Coast
    April 10, 2013 at 9:40 am

    Good article. I myself am a proud gay man. A sucessful human being just getting ready to celebrate 11 years with my love. We have built a life together. We hope to be together until the end of our days. We have the complete love and support of both of our families. THEY are full of love and it shows. (I tease my partner that my kid sister likes him better than she like me… not really) I long ago decided that I needed to be true to myself. A word to Tom and Wendy. I’m not sure how old your son is now. I’m suspecting around 18-19. Soon to be of ‘legal’ age. Many young gay people flee from their families when they sense that the love for them is nothing more than ‘cool tolerance.’ (Love the word and will use it). Oh, they keep in touch, they come home for the holidays, but eventually they find a new life, and drift away from the one they have now. When I came out and found a new life (NOT a lifestyle), I also found a lot of immediate acceptance that I hadn’t quite gotten to with my so called friends. I have a rich life full of love and friendship. A sense of community. My point is that I have the best of both worlds. Let your son explore this new aspect of his life. It will be very good for him and his sense of community. But love him with ALL of your heart so that he too can enjoy both worlds. Otherwise he may not pick the one that he is in right now. Everyone on here so far seems to be of a loving kind. Go to some of the other gay forum sites and see the kind of hate that some people will spew at your son without ever having met him. These are the ones that we need your help in battling against. Sorry that this is rambling a bit. I would like to come back to this forum when I have more time to chat. Good luck. You will come to find that your son’s gayness will be the best blessing that could be given to a loving family like your. REALLY I mean it.

    • Daniel Parkinson
      April 10, 2013 at 9:50 am

      Thanks for you comment Brian and this is great advice to any parent of a gay son. (In this case I happen to know that the author of this post and his wife are ahead of the ball, and have really informed themselves about the struggles their son will face and have become advocates and activists for their son’s cause. They are an inspiration to a lot of people.)

    • Wendy Montgomery
      April 10, 2013 at 11:11 am

      Hi Brian –
      I’m the wife of the author of this post and mother to Jordan, our 14 year old gay son. He came out to us a year ago, at 13. He’s an absolutely fantastic kid, the son EVERYONE wants! He’s just about perfect in every way, including being gay. In fact, some of my favorite things about my son are qualities he likely possesses BECAUSE he is gay. I wouldn’t change him for the world. He has (and will ALWAYS have) our full and complete love and support, regardless of where life takes him. I have spent the past year defending, supporting and advocating for him, as has my husband. This “mama bear” protects her cubs! :) Thank you for your comments and advice above. I wish you and yours all the happiness in the world.

  18. Audrey Chavez
    April 12, 2013 at 12:40 am

    I LOVE you Jordan! As you are;)
    I LOVE your Family for being a family!
    I LOVE your authentic gospel response to being gay.
    You are a remarkable young man who serves Christ, family, and community. What better Boy Scout of America can there be?
    Looking forward to working alongside of you for your eagle scout award project. As a Catholic woman of faith, I know I do not need to ask permission to love any gay friends, gay family, or gay people. I do so because we are all called to LOVE one another and see Christ in one another. And dear Jordan and family, He is present in each of you. Thank you for freeing Him by refusing to be imprisoned by social “norms” which promote hate. Even in the ugly “disguise” of religion… Often it is us Christians who are so unlike Christ. Bless you for reminding us of the sacredness of life, and the importance of LOVE! BLESSINGS and please know, I am OUT and with you EVERY step of the way! LOVE, Audrey Chavez (Bakersfield, CA.)

  19. M. Evan Parker-Calderon
    June 22, 2013 at 8:49 am

    Dear Tom (and Wendy),

    I read about your family and your acceptance of your gay son, and while I am not LDS, I feel a need to reach out to you. I am a 50 year old gay male, but 34 years ago, I was the gay teen whose mother discovered his troubled writings and questioned him about his sexual orientation. Like Jordan, I was very active in my church, devoted to my family, and a Boy Scout. Also, like Jordon, I remember my parents voting against gay rights, because they were misinformed and believed that gay rights were special rights.

    If you felt that you were unprepared and ignorant of what it means to have a gay child, imagine the lack of information available to my parents in late 70s. When I came out, my family didn’t. My mother sought comfort in our church, only to be told, “It’s not God’s way”, and my father spent years in denial, regularly checking with me to see if I had a girlfriend. For me, there was no family conversation and acceptance. As a result, I left my church, left Scouts, and grew apart from family and friends, seeking acceptance and support from virtual strangers, only to be let down time and time again.

    Eventually, my mother joined a local chapter of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), where for the first time, she met other parents of gay children as well as gay men and gay women who dispelled much of what she had been raised to believe. My relationship with my father improved, and I will never forget the day that he told me how proud he was of the man that I grew up to be.

    My partner and I await the day when we are accepted as fully equal members of society. Marriage rights are the first step, but this is an ongoing process. The day will come, as Martin Luther King, Jr. espoused, when all are judged by the content of our character. Through your support, you have moved Jordan, and all of us, closer to that ideal.

    Thank you and best wishes,
    Evan

  20. Robin
    October 15, 2014 at 2:39 am

    Tom…once again you hit it out of the ballpark. Tolerance has never been enough. We ALL know how that “cool tolerance” feels where once warm and friendly encounters, though still courteous (tolerant) feel as though a literal wall has gone up; THEY may not be able to see it or feel it, but we can….our kids can. This is not how the Savior would advise treating these beautiful, hyper-spiritual and intuitive souls. Thank you for always writing the most salient and profound articles. How I love your sweet family. And, how BLESSED we all are to have the privilege of raising and associating with the GREATEST among us.

  21. Sharon dutra
    October 15, 2014 at 10:44 am

    The love story is truly the only story of our lives. It is the only accounting of our lives.
    I must say I am guilty of “cool tolerance” but not for the gay community instead my “cool tolerance” is for those who truly do not understand. They might find their passion for their sense of rightness a misguided directive and in the end will find themselves quite surprised their lives were guided by their own narrow perspective.
    And that is a great loss for everyone.

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