Respect Or Acceptance -- Which Should We Choose?

Over the past year I have been writing and speaking out to introduce people to transgender youth and transgender rights. The lectures are always emotional; they open raw wounds, reminding me of how much my transgender daughter, her friends and their families continue to endure across the nation.

As I fight to keep my emotions in check, I point out that many schools often stop short of really addressing many of the LGBT issues we need to discuss. They use code words such as tolerance, fairness, safety and respect. I explain that transgender kids and their parents want to attend schools that are fair, safe and respectful, but our children do not want to be just tolerated, no child wants to be tolerated. They want to be respected and accepted by their classmates, school staff and their community.

As I looked them in the eye, I explain that I dream of the day that all LGBT youth are accepted and that they will have the same educational opportunities as their classmates. After one lecture I received the following note from a graduate student at the University of Maine.

"Mr. Maines,

First of all, I want to personally thank you for everything you have done for the LGBT community. You are an amazing and effective advocate and educator. You are also an incredible father for fighting for your family the way you have. As I was listening to you speak the other day in the Bangor Room about Transgender Justice, I realized something very important, and I wanted to share that with you today to get your input, because I am in a position now to really make a difference, and I think I could change the world and make it a safer place for everyone.

TOPIC: Respect Vs. Acceptance

Acceptance - The act of assenting or believing; approval, favorable reception.

Respect - deference to a right, privilege, privileged position, or someone or something considered to have certain rights or privileges; courtesy; acknowledgment.

On, these two terms are synonyms to one another, but to me, they are two completely different terms.

Since I can remember, the LGBT community has been asking and pushing for others to accept them for who they are. In your speech the other day, acceptance was the word you used. But, I truly believe that we are reaching for the impossible and by doing so -- we are causing more separation and damage. It is true that all people should be accepted for who they are, no matter what. But will that ever happen? No.

Can we get all people to accept people of color, queer individuals, or a certain religion? No. What we can do is get those people to understand that they are entitled to their thoughts and feelings, but they need to RESPECT that there are people different than them in the world.

Another simple example, I think that Chocolate is better than Vanilla -- that is MY personal opinion, and I am entitled to that opinion. No one is going to make me think that Vanilla tastes better. There are many people that disagree and think that Vanilla is better than Chocolate. Should we try to change people's opinions because they are different from our own? No. We are all different, and we should simply just respect that. When respect is broken, that is where a line is crossed. And respect is often broken because many people feel as if we are trying to get them to ACCEPT something and someone that they do not personally agree with.

As an open Lesbian, I have had many people in my life accept me for who I am, and not accept me. Those who do not accept me -- fine, that is okay with me. But they should RESPECT that what they do not ACCEPT is who I am. Just like I should RESPECT that who I am goes against their personal beliefs. Acceptance is not what we should be asking others for -- respect is what we need from others.

Hudson Taylor is a straight ally building allies among athletes to stop the homophobia and Transphobia in sports. He is an effective advocate because he is a straight man. We need more people like Hudson to step up and make these changes -- to advocate, to be a voice for the LGBT community as a whole and let the world know that it would be a much safer place if we all just respected each other for who we are - respect our differences -- respect our opinions and beliefs.

I would love to hear your thoughts about this, and if it has the potential of really making a difference like I think it can."

A few weeks later had an opportunity to chat with Chelsea and I said that I admired her passion, energy and wisdom. I encouraged her to continue to promote respect around the world. I said that if she can champion "Respect" in our schools maybe the concept of "Tolerance" would fall from favor and maybe together with others we can move towards "Acceptance."

It was not long after that chat, Chelsea sent me another note informing me that she was in the process of making her Respect Differences Campaign a reality. She recruited other students, faculty, community leaders and her amazing mom to be part of her team. She created a non-profit organization called Respect Differences.

When I look into a crowd I always observed tears, focused awareness and unlimited energy. What I did not expect was that Chelsea and her peers across the nation have the wisdom to reach out farther than I thought possible. Again I have become the student and again I find myself learning a great deal from our youth and my friends in LGBT community. All I had to do was listen. Now I am asking you to do the same. I encourage you to join them, to mentor them and help them harness their unlimited drive. If you do so you will grow in ways that you had thought were long lost.