Freedom is a fascinating concept when applied to actual life. We live in a nation whose core identity is based on freedom and equality. The Declaration of Independence – the document whose adoption we celebrate July 4 – features these words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal ...”
“Freedom is standing next to you”
LGBTQ people are, of course, no exception. To contemplate the complexity of freedom in our lives, consider: In June, Greater Columbus’ LGBTQ communities basked in the glow of the Stonewall Columbus Pride Festival, a high-profile acknowledgment of our increasing freedoms.
In stark contrast, while we were preparing for Pride, we were also forced to question our assumed freedom to safely walk the streets of Olde Towne East, Merion Village, and the Short North, perceived LGBTQ-friendly neighborhoods, after three high-profile acts of anti-gay violence.
If that’s not enough, ponder the seemingly interminable, alternately hopeful and gut-wrenching wait for rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court about marriage equality. The months that passed between the actual hearings and the announcement of those decisions were both a reminder of our second-class status and a promise that a couple more bricks of our civil rights confinement were closer to disintegration.
Even the idea of individual freedom, that each of us has “certain, unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” according to the Declaration of Independence, is ensconced in a shade of irony, considering individual freedom has almost always been a result of collective effort.
Every civil rights movement in our nation’s history, from women’s suffrage in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to civil rights in the 1960s to our own movement for marriage equality, employment non-discrimination, and other rights, has achieved its goals through the collaboration and support of hundreds, then thousands of people.
As Independence Day dawns, I ask each of us to consider our role in that collective effort for freedom. The obvious means to that end is to “get involved.” Greater Columbus is home to many organizations, from political and social to athletic and artistic, that help raise the visibility of our community. And make no mistake: Visibility is one of the foundations of our freedom.
But also consider straightforward, individual actions that have a ripple effect for other LGBTQ people. When a lesbian couple corrects a cashier who assumes the two are sisters, when an athlete in the airport asked about his trophy responds that he finished second at a gay softball tournament, when the transgender person clarifies his name change at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles – each is laying the groundwork for the freedom of the LGBTQ children, siblings, and friends of the cashier, the airport stranger, and the BMV worker, simply by not hiding.
The generations before us took great risks that have led to the freedoms we have today. When we take relatively minor risks – joining a LGBTQ organization, contributing to a cause, coming out, even to a stranger – we are fighting for freedom. We achieve our rights by reminding the people in our lives, the strangers we encounter, and the world we live in that we are here.
As LGBTQ people, we share something that we may not share with any members of our family of origin, something that spans age, race, ethnicity, gender, and a host of other factors that may otherwise define us as different from one another. Our freedom has been possible because we are part of every community that exists in this nation and world. We really are everywhere. On July 4, celebrate the freedoms we have, recognize those we have yet to gain, and play your role in moving us forward.