Friends of mine lived near Ground Zero and were never able to sleep in their apartment again. As a bicultural couple, they had the option to relocate anywhere in America or Europe. As a gay couple, they were more selective. Where did they end up? The Netherlands.
My friend who's American wanted to study international law in the Netherlands, which led to his present work of helping to establish nuclear, biological and chemical weapons treaties around the world. His European partner took a position at an organization working to get rid of chemical weapons -- and followed that with a position at United Nations AIDS. Super cool guys, doing great work! A big part of the pull to the Netherlands though was its reputation for tolerance and its LGBT-friendly culture.
For the most part, the Netherlands is a place where individual choice is not just tolerated, but it's also respected and encouraged. And that includes everything from religious affiliation to right-to-die.
My friends were confident that the Netherlands was a place where they could be themselves, where they would be accepted, and where they could build a good life without restrictions or prejudice. And yes, it turned out well for them.
In the European Union, LGBT rights are protected by law. Same-sex sexual activity is legal in all EU countries, and discrimination in employment has been banned since 2000. For other life choices, including marriage and adoption by same sex couples, individual countries must decide for themselves.
Progress has been in motion for decades. Most Western European countries have legalized same-sex marriage. And laws against homosexual hate crimes are also in place. Germany was the first country in Europe to enact a law that allows its citizens to not identify gender on a birth certificate. And in Italy, people have been allowed to legally change their gender since 1982.
America is finally getting the appropriate and necessary laws in place as well. And strict enforcement will give men, women and children the support and protection they need and are entitled to.
How do we end hate though?
Persecution of any group begins with people who believe that: "I can't be all right unless you do something different, so you need to change." They're so afraid of not having what they need that they can't make room for someone else's needs.
It may take the next generation to clean it all up and make equal rights a reality. So teaching our children tolerance is essential. And the only real way to do that is to demonstrate it -- by living tolerantly.